Observed as the latest food trend, the traditional method of cooking fresh cuts of meat, seafood and even vegetables by the means of an open fire has made its way back into our lives. Cooking with fire, setting it, lighting it and stoking it to maintain the right temperature for each food is an aesthetic and pleasurable experience in itself, hence using firewood for cooking is much more than a heat source as the sound of fire casts a magic spell over the cooking area and the smoke imparts irresistible and unique flavours to the dish.
Foodies all over the world agree that the traditional way of firewood cooking brings out rich and smoky flavours when it comes to searing, caramelizing and slow roasting foods and scientists underline that taste does not only involve the taste buds on the tongue but the nasal smell receptors as well. Thus, the delicious flavour of wood-fired dishes emerges through a combination of both senses, taste and smell.
As more and more gourmet restaurants are going back to using the ancient medium in their kitchens, certain types of firewood have essentially made it on the menu, since there is an array of flavours, which can be achieved with the subtle smoke that firewood will impart on the dishes. Renowned chefs will choose the type of wood, and sometimes even blends, with the flavour they want to enhance the food with. Hardwoods such as ironbark and oak are best for maintaining hot and steady temperatures, as they provide a good long slow burn and give off a great flavour as well. Fruitwoods such as apple, pear and red jam will also infuse great flavour into delicate meats and seafood dishes.
There are health benefits too when it comes to cooking with open flames. Because the temperature of the heat is so high, fruit and vegetables cook very quickly – retaining their nutritional value more than with any other cooking method and the food will retain a slight sweetness as it caramelises through the flames. When it comes to grilling with firewood, it is also a healthier way to cook, as the food does not sit in the fat drippings. Using high heat gives a beautiful sear on steaks and other proteins while the inside remains tender and juicy when cooked on a grill so that the fat will drip onto the glowing embers and rise again as delicious smoke to coat the food.
Thanks to the rediscovered ancient cooking method, wood-fired pizza ovens are now more popular than ever. Even though they are associated with extravagant outdoor kitchens, there is a variety of sizes and materials to choose from that suits just any wallet. Pizza ovens are a great alternative to barbecuing since they can not only be used for baking the beloved thin-crust Italian pie but a wide variety of incredible smoke-infused dishes such as a roasted lamb shoulder, whole fish, succulent ribs, bread and vegetables.
Operating a wood-fired oven is simple, as the fire inside only needs to get started with dried hardwood kindling in the middle of the oven to ensure a great clean burn, combined with natural firelighters if need be. Once the fire is established, the wood size slowly needs to be built on and the fire moved around with an ember rake to get the oven evenly hot until it has reached the desired temperature. After the embers have been cleaned out, the food can be inserted directly on to the stone base or an ovenproof tray used to give the dish that distinctive crunch, smoke flavour and aroma.