MAS­TER­ING THE BA­SICS

Cuisine - - PREVIEW -

CON­SID­ER­ING YOUR EN­VI­RON­MENT First ex­am­ine where you are cook­ing – is it in­side or out­side? This may af­fect the flow of air through the fire. When set­ting up, keep in mind that all fire re­quires ven­ti­la­tion.

WHAT ARE THE WEATHER CON­DI­TIONS? Is it hot or cold, dry or hu­mid? Cold or wet con­di­tions may make it harder to light a fire. Is your fire sub­ject to wind con­di­tions? If so, you may need to shel­ter it.

WHAT TYPE OF WOOD DO YOU HAVE? Know your wood and its burn­ing prop­er­ties as some woods burn at higher tem­per­a­tures or a quicker rate

WHAT IS YOUR FIRE SET UP? Are you us­ing a firepit or a wood­fired oven? Make sure it suits your re­quire­ments and you un­der­stand how it works. The ideal en­vi­ron­ment for cook­ing over fire is an open area that is not too ex­posed. You are look­ing for dry con­di­tions.

READ­ING THE FIRE Be aware of the sounds and vis­ual signs of your fire. Learn to un­der­stand and recog­nise the six stages of fire while iden­ti­fy­ing the hottest and the coolest part of the fire. Lis­ten­ing to the fire gives you an in­di­ca­tion of how vig­or­ously it is burn­ing. Smoke is as­so­ci­ated with var­i­ous stages of burn­ing. The pres­ence of flame and the colour of em­bers is a good in­di­ca­tion of heat. COOK­ING OVER FIRE It takes time to de­velop a sixth sense for the sub­tle art of cook­ing over fire. In truth, one is never truly in con­trol of a fire; you just need to work with it. There is no tem­per­a­ture gauge; the act of cook­ing is re­duced to ex­pe­ri­ence, pa­tience and in­stinct. But ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that chal­lenge is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, and the fruits of your labour will be re­ward­ing.

Cook­ing over fire is about cap­tur­ing a mo­ment, en­joy­ing the process of se­lect­ing an in­gre­di­ent and then ap­pre­ci­at­ing the way that in­gre­di­ent cooks sim­ply over nat­u­ral heat. It is not just about the fin­ished dish. It is ev­ery step you take along the way that makes the fin­ished dish so spe­cial.

While there are many meth­ods for us­ing fire as a form of cook­ing, there are only two ways the heat can be ap­plied: di­rectly and in­di­rectly. This de­ter­mines how in­ti­mately the in­gre­di­ent is in con­tact with the heat.

DI­RECT Per­haps the most straight­for­ward and recog­nis­able method, ap­ply­ing di­rect heat sees the in­gre­di­ent cooked di­rectly over the em­bers, which may be in­tense and fast, or gen­tle and slow (see the fire life cy­cle guide on page 108). This tech­nique ap­plies to grilling and also to cook­ing di­rectly on or among the em­bers or ashes.

IN­DI­RECT In­di­rect meth­ods work via con­duc­tion, ra­di­a­tion or con­vec­tion. Th­ese can oc­cur through phys­i­cal medi­ums such as a cast-iron pan or a grid­dle placed on top of the fire. Salt bak­ing and clay bak­ing also fall into this cat­e­gory. Food can also be placed ad­ja­cent to the heat source; I re­fer to this as in­di­rect off­set cook­ing. This form of cook­ing over fire is use­ful for long slow ren­der­ing of fats, as it avoids ex­ces­sive fat drip­ping di­rectly onto the coals and cre­at­ing a flare up (see pork chop, page 102).

Some­times you may choose to com­bine both meth­ods, cook­ing by di­rect means fol­lowed by in­di­rect means or vice-versa. Equally, you may re­quire both meth­ods for cook­ing more than one in­gre­di­ent at the same time. This can be achieved by es­tab­lish­ing two zones. One zone is for burn­ing wood, which can be used for in­di­rect cook­ing. This also cre­ates em­bers, which can then be moved to a se­cond zone for di­rect or in­di­rect cook­ing.

For your first time, gather some sim­ple in­gre­di­ents, light the fire, let it de­velop and wait for the flames to die down to burn­ing em­bers. Hold the back of your hand 30cm above the heat source. How long can you hold your hand over the em­bers? You’ll feel hot­ter spots and cooler ar­eas within the em­bers. The in­ten­sity should give you an in­di­ca­tion of when the em­bers are ready for cook­ing.

SHARP­EN­ING YOUR IN­STINCTS

The fire tells you when it is ready for cook­ing and the in­gre­di­ent tells you when it is cooked; you just need to lis­ten and learn. It is vis­ceral, not an aca­demic ex­er­cise. Hon­ing your senses will help you mas­ter cook­ing with fire. The more you do it, the more you will come to un­der­stand how in­gre­di­ents re­spond to the heat.

Hav­ing learnt the six stages of the fire you must ex­er­cise pa­tience. You can’t rush a fire and you can’t just walk away and ex­pect it to look af­ter it­self.

You’ll hear dif­fer­ent sounds com­ing from the grill, whether it be mar­ron flesh danc­ing and pop­ping in its shell, fish skin crisp­ing as the fat ren­ders be­neath it, the whis­tle of egg­plant steam­ing on the in­side – or just the burn of the fire. The first time I grilled abalone there were gen­tle crack­ing noises as it cooked over em­bers and I found it as­tound­ingly beau­ti­ful.

With time, in­ter­pret­ing th­ese sounds be­comes se­cond na­ture. It may sound odd, but when I cook with fire I feel at one with the in­gre­di­ent. I’m con­sumed by fire and im­mersed in the mo­ment. It is a pro­found con­nec­tion that en­ables me to get the best out of the in­gre­di­ent.

KNOW­ING YOUR LIM­I­TA­TIONS

Don’t try to feed 10 peo­ple on your first go. There’s plenty of time to cook for groups and the recipes in this book will help you do that. But first you need to gain ex­pe­ri­ence.

Like all good things in life, you only get out what you put in. If you put some­thing on the grill you need to com­mit, stay there and see the mo­ment through. You’ve cho­sen that mo­ment in time, so hon­our it. Fo­cus and cook. With such high heat, the mo­ment could be over in a flash. Timers don’t work when cook­ing over fire; you need to watch, lis­ten, smell, feel and be brave. It will be worth it.

This is an edited ex­tract from Find­ing Fire by Len­nox Hastie, pub­lished by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $64.99, avail­able in stores na­tion­ally. Pho­tog­ra­pher: ©Nikki To

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