COOKING WITH FIRE
by Julie Van Rosendaal
At a point in time when technology allows us nearly complete culinary control, our kitchens are equipped with high-tech convection ovens, home sous-vide machines, infrared laser thermometers and Instant Pots, many of us are reverting back to the oldest, most primitivecooking method: an open fire.
When your only heat source is glowing coals and smouldering logs, it somehow feels the most like cooking: you depend on your senses, your ability to feel the heat and attempt to control it by adding wood or adjusting fiery embers accordingly.
The trick, of course, is getting a feel for it. Anyone who has roasted a marshmallow knows that the best fire for cooking is not a fire at all, but a well-established bed of coals, with perhaps a burning log or two pushed to one side. Ideally, your fire pit or chiminea will be spacious enough to move things around allowing for hotter and cooler sides. Inexpensive metal grates that fold open like short TV tables are available at Canadian Tire and similar stores and can be set over your fire; some people arrange large rocks or bricks to make a platform to set aluminum pans or cast iron skillets on, creating a buffer between the food and the intense heat of the coals. Larger cast – iron cauldrons, which are often supported by tiny feet, can be set directly into the coals; they’re ideal for soups, stews and braises — just keep things moving so that whatever you’re cooking doesn’t burn on the bottom. Remember that you can trap the heat by adding foil or a lid, creating more of an oven-like environment to allow your food to cook through more evenly.
Salty, briny, semi-firm halloumi cheese can be cut into slabs and cooked directly on the grill — or in a small cast-iron skillet set over an open flame or nestled into hot coals. It’s delicious on its own, or dipped into all kinds of sauces—this sweet-spicytangy dip is adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson.
- 1/4 lb. halloumi
- 1 lime, halved
- 1 T. honey
- 1 red Thai chili, finely chopped (or a pinch of red chili flakes)
Slice the halloumi into ½-inch thick slices, insert small skewers if you like, and cook directly on a grill or in a cast-iron skillet over hot coals, with the lime cut-side down alongside, until the cheese is crisp and golden on each side and the lime is soft. Squeeze the lime juice into a bowl and stir in the honey and chili. Drizzle over top.
Grilled Mussels with Garlic, Butter and Lemon
Mussels cooked in their shells directly on the grill are one of summer’s greatest pleasures—toss them on, close the lid, and in five minutes they’re perfectly cooked, ready to toss in garlicky butter and set out on the table for everyone to dig into with their fingers. If you toss some lemon wedges or halves on the grill along with the mussels, they’ll soften and release more of their juice more easily. If you’re a fan, there are few things better to eat on the patio in flip-flops, with a cold beer or Prosecco, crusty bread and a few of your favourite people.
- 1 lb. fresh mussels
olive oil, for cooking
1/4 c. butter
1 garlic clove, peeled fresh parsley, for garnish
While you preheat your grill to medium-high, rinse your mussels, discarding any that are already open. Cut the lemons in thick wedges or in half crosswise. Scatter the mussels directly on the grill along with the lemons, cut-side down. Close the lid of the grill and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the butter and garlic clove in a small saucepan or skillet off to one side. Remove the mussels from the grill – they should all be open; discard any that aren’t. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with the garlicky butter; toss to coat. Transfer to shallow bowls, scatter with parsley and serve with crusty bread and grilled lemon.
Lamb Kofta and Naan
Some people love standing over a fire or grill flipping steaks—I love flipping flatbread. A simple, chewy dough can be transported to campsite or back yard and tossed directly onto a grill, or cooked in a cast-iron skillet nestled into hot coals. The hotter, the better—traditionally, naan is cooked on the wall of a tandoor oven, which typically reaches about 800 degrees.
- 1/2 c. warm water
- 2 t. active dry yeast
- 1 t. sugar
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/4 c. canola oil
- 1/3 c. plain yogurt
- 1 large egg
- oil, butter and/or ghee, for cooking
Garlic Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
- 1/2 c. plain yogurt (preferably thick)
- 2 T. tahini
- 1 T. fresh lemon juice
- 1-2 big garlic cloves, finely crushed
- big pinch salt
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 2 green onions or a few chives, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
- 1 T. chopped fresh mint (optional)
- 1 t. ground cumin
- 1 t. coriander
- 1/2 t. salt
- pinch red chili flakes
To make the naan dough: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the water and let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy. Stir in the flour, salt, oil, yogurt and egg and stir until the dough comes together, then knead until you have a soft, pliable dough. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for an hour or two. (If you want to make it in advance, cover and store in the fridge to slow down the rise.) Pinch off pieces the size of an egg and roll them out as thin as you can. Set a heavy skillet on a grill, or nestle it into hot coals, add some oil or ghee and cook each naan until it bubbles on one side, then flip and cook until golden on the other.
To make the sauce: Stir together the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt; taste and adjust as you like it. If possible, make it up to a day or two in advance to allow the flavours to blend.
To make the kofta: Mix all the ingredients together gently with your hands. Soak about 8 bamboo skewers in water for at least 10 minutes. Shape a small handful of the meat mixture around the end of each stick (you could even fit two per stick). Cook the kofta on a grill over hot coals, turning them often for 8-10 minutes, or until they’re cooked through. Serve warm, with the yogurt sauce and warm naan.
Grilled Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing
Yes, you can even cook lettuce over an open fire—the intense heat of a hot grill or skillet chars it quickly on the edges, adding a subtle smokiness that pairs well with sharp, creamy blue cheese dressing.
- 1-2 heads romaine or butter lettuce
- olive or canola oil, for brushing salt
- 1/4 c. mayonnaise
- 1/4 c. crumbled blue cheese
- 2 T. sour cream
- 2 T. cream (any kind)
- freshly ground black pepper
Cut the heads of lettuce off their stems, keeping them intact at their base. Cut in half lengthwise, right through the stem end. Brush away any visible dirt, or run under cool water to get rid of it, and shake loosely to get rid of excess moisture. Brush the cut sides of the lettuce with oil and cook directly on a hot grill or cast iron skillet for a few minutes, flipping once or twice to get a bit of heat on the leafy side, until the cut side and the edges of the leaves are char-marked.
To make the dressing: Whisk together the mayonnaise, blue cheese (save half for sprinkling over top if you like), sour cream, cream and a grind of pepper. Serve the grilled lettuce drizzled with dressing and sprinkled with extra blue cheese.
Pan-roasted Rainbow Trout
Because campfires often come with
camping, and camping often comes with
fishing, it makes sense to know how to
cook an Alberta rainbow trout in a skillet
over an open fire. There are few rules
here—use fresh herbs and lemon if you
have them, but all fresh fish really needs
is a light shower of salt.
- 1 whole rainbow trout, cleaned
- thinly sliced lemon
- a small handful of parsley, dill or other fresh herbs
- canola or olive oil, for cooking
Establish a solid base of coals while you rinse and pat the trout dry with paper towel and season it with salt. Stuff thin slices of lemon and a few sprigs of fresh herbs inside the cavity and cut a few slits in the skin on top. Set a cast-iron or other heavy-duty pan over the heat and add a generous drizzle of oil. Once hot, place the fish in the pan, drizzle with a bit more oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook directly on the hot coals — or on a grate over them — tented loosely with foil if you want to trap some of the heat. Gently roll the fish over its spine as it cooks on one side, and continue to cook until the thickest part is firm to the touch and the meat flakes with a fork but is still moist.