Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cooking in a chiminea

This is a rather picture heavy and recipe short post. For Christmas I was given (from my wish list) a cast iron chiminea; I envisaged it providing a welcome shot of heat on those wonderful summer evenings when it's too nice to go indoors but the sun has been down a touch too long for comfort. Like any new toy it has both foibles and features.

chiminea and wood

The drawbacks have been mostly mechanical, the fire grate bars are too widely spaced and allow many of the smaller embers to fall through before they're done, the mechanism for controlling air flow seems to be purely decorative and like most fires nearly all the real heat is lost up the chimney. It doesn't like damp wood, or large wood, or natural charcoal because the small irregular bits fall straight into the ash but when it's happy it does burn quite well.

The feature, that I didn't think we'd ever want to use, is a cooking surface, made of iron that swivels on a pin in and out of the firebox. It didn't seem a practical way to cook for a barbecue where it's traditional to cook vast quantities of food for serving to a crowd but with a change of focus I realised that for two of us it was perfectly adequate and much nicer in a way, cooking together at the side of the dining area instead of having one person on constant duty at the roaring barbie.

So I planned a tasting menu, several small plates each cooked with different implements to test as many chiminea cooking possibilities as I could in one meal.

aspargus parcel on fire

It's quite difficult to keep a steady heat going, charcoal might be easier but we need to get some briquettes or change the grate for one with narrower spaces. Paul had to chop more wood twice during the meal as the small pieces burned up so quickly. A double wrap of foil helped protect this asparagus in vegan spread and balsamic vinegar from burning before it was cooked.

cooked asparagus

This was the last asparagus we can take from the garden this year, it was delicious.

skwered mushrooms

Mushrooms on skewers were next. The blackened leaves are mint that in the end didn't contribute much but the mushrooms were tender and not too sooty.

mushrooms in sauce

They were served with a peanutty saté sauce.

onions with oil and balsamic

Skewered onions didn't work quite as well as I hoped. I was trying to recreate a dish we'd had in a Turkish restaurant in Bedford but a more concentrated heat is probably needed to caramelise the onion petals and oil and balsamic vinegar not a very good substitute for pomegranate syrup which isn't readily available in deepest Normandy.

Aubergine in a cage

Aubergine steaks in the cage. They were marinated in kimchi  juices and scored before cooking.

Aubergine served

Served with chopped kimchi and a borage flower. I liked this but it wasn't quite right and again cooking the vegetable all the way through without burning the outside was difficult.

sausage and potato in a de buyer pan

A sort of campfire sausage and potato fry up came next. The potatoes were parboiled and sausages a couple of the home made gluten sausages in the previous post rescued from the freezer. My excellent little de Buyer cast iron pan (another Christmas present) fits nicely but always remember to have an oven glove handy when cooking in iron over an open fire.

It was served with a rhubarb tzatziki that wasn't photographed.

bananas in their skins

The traditional end to many barbecues, bananas in their skins straight over the fire. We ate these with a brandy infused syrup.

Although the preparation was just as intense as any ordinary barbie the actual cooking and eating experience was much more laid back with only the need to photograph adding complications. Worth doing again.