Cooking with fire

Photos: Simon Lambert
Photos: Simon Lambert
The summer holidays are approaching and this year I’m getting back to basics with the whanau. The tent will be up and we will be cooking outdoors — just like I remember when I was young.

Gone are the days of simply throwing sausages on the barbie and scraping off the burnt crust before finding the meat. Times have changed and there are a lot more expectations when cooking with fire.

Fire is never the same, you cannot get complacent or leave it unattended. The fire needs the correct wood or charcoal and you need to constantly be feeding it and moving the coals so you get hot spots and cooler spots and you need to have another patch where you stoke the fire. I might be sounding as if I am taking this seriously, but there is a huge almost cult-like following about cooking with fire.

The benefits are vast and the flavours you release from your ingredients are taken to another level. Not only is it the familiar smoky flavour, but you can play around with this using different varieties of wood which, of course, have different smoke points and flavours. You can blister vegetables and fruit directly over the embers, char meats and fish over the grill, bake bread and cakes in the ashes and, of course, toast marshmallows over the coals.

I have thought about ingredients that are accessible when camping - either from foraging, hunting or from the local store. I have added some fantastically simple recipes from simple grilled toast to punchy marinades/dressing, which will take your humble ingredients to the next level.

Happy and safe holidays everyone, x

Red chilli, parsley and lemon grilled prawns

The prawns are optional as this delicious combo works well with veges, squid, crayfish drizzled over fish or pork, but I splashed out with whole prawns - it is Christmas after all.

MAKES 6

6 whole tiger prawns, shell on
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zest and juiced
4-6 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

Thread the whole prawns on the skewers.

Mix the remaining ingredients together and place into a shallow dish.

To cook the prawns

Get a good mound of hot coals under your grill.

Place the skewered prawns on the grill. You will immediately see the shells start to turn orange and you will be hit with a delicious smell.

Turn the prawns after a couple of minutes and allow them to colour and turn once again.

When the prawns have gone a deep orange colour, remove and plunge into the chilli and parsley dressing.

Allow to cool slightly and peel the shells from the prawns, dip the juicy flesh into the chilli sauce and repeat and repeat.

 

Fired toast, blistered tomatoes and ember garlic

It really is the simple things in life that leave a lasting memory. This simple dish should always be a summer staple.

Tomatoes are sun-ripened and sweet, garlic is fresh and fragrant and good bread is essential.

SERVES 2

2 slices of good-quality sourdough bread (or your favourite), 1cm thick
1 whole bulb garlic
4-6 vine tomatoes (depending on size)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes

Method

Begin by sprinkling the garlic with a pinch of salt and wrapping the whole garlic bulb in tin foil. Push this snugly into the smoldering embers for about 20 minutes. You will need to move the embers around the garlic.

Check the garlic by gently squeezing the cloves to see if soft. Remove and set aside.

Grill the bread over the hot coals so it becomes slightly charred in patches. Turn and do the same to the other side.

While the toast is cooking place the vine tomatoes on the grill and allow the skins to blister and to get to the point of almost bursting. Sprinkle with sea salt and remove.

To assemble

Squeeze the garlic from the cloves and mash into your bread, follow with the tomatoes, so the flesh and juice melt into the bread.

Drizzle with oil and add another sprinkling of sea salt. Enjoy.

Whole grilled fish with charred lemon, watercress and ember onions

Fishing has always played a big part of any holidays in my family. Fresh fish deserves to be cooked with respect, and an open fire is just that. The skin bubbles and the flesh steams. I stuff any cavities with wild herbs such as thyme, oregano or dill or even pine needles. Keep it simple and cook it with care.

SERVES 4-8
(depending on the size of the catch)

1.5kg flounder (or whatever fish you have), gutted and scaled
2 lemons, cut into ½ cm rounds
sea salt
wild herbs (thyme, oregano, dill)
extra virgin olive oil for dressing
3 handfuls watercress, tough stalks removed
2 red onions

Method

Begin by making sure you have a spot in the fire where the embers are hot and you can cook the onions directly in the coals.

You want the onion to cook through, but not burn. You need to manage the coals so you can turn over the onions and move around the coals so you can achieve this. This can take 20-30 minutes. Once cooked remove and set aside.

I use a fish grill which makes turning the whole fish a lot easier. But if you haven’t got one, you will want to lightly oil your fish and make sure the grill or plate is very hot so the flesh will sear and not stick.

Place the lemon rounds on the skin of the fish and fill the cavity with the herbs, sprinkle with salt and place on the grill.

Allow the fish to sear and sizzle over the hot embers and leave for around 8 minutes. Flounder, is a flat fish, so it cooks faster than, say, a trout.

Carefully turn the fish and continue cooking for another 8 minutes. The fish is cooked when by gently pressing the flesh it feels tender and will easily part.

Assemble the salad by peeling the ember roasted onion apart and tossing it through the watercress, drizzle with a little olive oil.

Serve the whole fish with the charred lemons and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle of salt.

Ember-roasted pineapple with star anise and ginger marshmallows

Wow, this pineapple blew us all away with how sweet and juicy it became after roasting in the embers. And no meal around a fire is complete without toasting marshmallows!

SERVES 6

9 leaves gelatine or 3 Tbsp powdered gelatine
2 Tbsp boiling water
1 Tbsp golden syrup
2½ cup caster sugar
¾ cup water
1 star anise, finely ground
1 Tbsp crystallised ginger, finely chopped
neutral oil for greasing
corn flour for dusting
1 whole pineapple

Method

To make the marshmallow

Line and grease a deep-sided 20cm tray.

Dissolve the gelatine in cold water.

Place the sugar, golden syrup and three-quarters of a cup of water in a clean saucepan.

Start over a moderate heat to dissolve the sugar. Turn up the heat and do not stir at this stage. You are wanting it to reach 120degC if you have a sugar thermometer, or if, like me, you don’t, then drop a little amount into a cup of cold water. If you hear it crack and the sugar sets then the desired stage has been reached.

Using an electric mixer, add 2 tablespoons of boiling water, the ground star anise and ginger and the gelatine and whisk.

Slowly and carefully pour in the hot sugar mixture, whisking fast until the mixture becomes white and fluffy.

Grease a spatula and quickly scoop out all the mixture and spread evenly into the tray. Dust with corn flour and allow to set.

When you cut the marshmallow, grease your knife with a little oil. Cut the marshmallows into desired shapes and coat in corn flour.

Skewer the marshmallow and set aside.

To cook the pineapple

Place the pineapple in smoldering embers and make sure the whole pineapple is surrounded by the heat. The pineapple skin will colour and some juice will seep through and caramelise (it smells delicious).

Rotate the pineapple until all the pineapple is cooked. This took around 40-55 minutes.

Remove the roasted pineapple from the heat and allow to cool until you can safely handle it.

Use a sharp knife to cut the pineapple into desired size.

Toast the marshmallows over the embers, rotating all the time as they colour very fast and the marshmallow can get very gooey.

Serve hot pineapple with the toasted marshmallows. Enjoy.

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