Cooking over an open fire is an experience that draws on our most primitive abilities and its quite refreshing to just step back and cook like a caveman or nomad or whatever other people cook on an open fire routinely.
Cooking on an open fire is not that difficult, it may seem intimidating at first, but, the most difficult part is finding a time and place to do it. It does take a little more time than just firing up the stove but like I said it is rewarding.
The requirements are also quite sparse, you will need not much more than you would to make a normal breakfast on the stove. You will need a cast iron skillet, some hardwood, a rack to suspend the skillet above the fire and some patience. We had a fire the previous night so I woke up to some yet hot embers which I arranged in the pit, piled on some crumpled newspaper and some scraps of wood and blew on the embers until I had a flame. At which point I nursed the fire with some hardwood until it had burned down into a nice consistent bed of coals that covered an area about twice the size as my skillet. Once this was accomplished I chopped some of the remaining bits of hardwood into smaller pieces of wood, to be able to throw them onto the bed of coals to get more heat as needed.
After this I put the rack over the pit and placed the skillet on it with a bit of oil and added some sausages, cooking them until they were done and then it was onto pancakes and eggs in the same method. The eggs were actually cooked in the sausage grease which made them all the better. Several times throughout the cook more scraps of wood (kindling) were added to the coals to get more heat. It worked great.
Cooking like a caveman is a great way to step back and just focus on cooking. Focusing on the heat and the food. It was great. It reaffirms reason #2 of the 10 reasons to have a cast iron skillet.
Tonight we took pizza to a new level, we grilled it, this is more my style. Nothing gives pizza the flavor and texture of a hot wood fire and the closest I can get here in our condo complex is pizza on the grill with hickory cooking chunks. That is just what I did.
Because we were out of pizza sauce and pepperoni we had to improvise and ended up making a pizza with chicken, spinach, basil and olive oil. We then finished it with a balsamic reduction my wife whipped up. It was light and most tasty. The wood smoke flavored the cheese and crust nicely, it complimented the strong flavors of the basil and the dry heat and free flowing air from the grill gave the pizza a nice crispy crust .
So here is how I did it, I cheated, I first pre-heated the stone in the oven at 500°F for about an hour. While I did this I got the grill ready with half charcoal – half hickory chunks; spreading the coals evenly around the charcoal grate. I then cooked up a chicken breast, I had marinaded the chicken over night in a combination of 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a clove of pressed garlic and a teaspoon of paprika. My wife wilted spinach and fresh basil leaves from our patio with some olive oil and pressed garlic. Once the chicken was cooked up, I sliced it up, rolled out the dough onto my pre-heated pizza stone. I then brushed the crust with olive oil, topped with the spinach-basil mix and cheese. Then it was onto the grill for about 15 minutes. At this point the charcoal had passed its prime so it took more time than I would have liked, but it was worth it.
So in the end we had two verdicts, I thought the grilled dough was much better than that baked in the oven. My wife however would rather have the crust baked in the oven. So what was the difference? The pizza from the grill had a nice, crispy and slightly burnt crust. Burnt in this case is not a bad thing, it was just lightly charred in the center on the bottom. The pizza from the oven was much more moist and the crust was not nearly as crispy. The crust from the oven also lacked the flavor the grilled pizza got from being exposed to the fire and smoke of burning wood. If it was up to me we would be done eating pizza from the oven and keep the heat outside, and get a better flavored crispier crust from the grill.
It is summer and I should be BBQ’n or smoking something in the smoker but, lately I have been fascinated with pizza and getting it right. I have a new found love of no knead pizza dough, the crust is tasty and easy to make, but requires a little planning. A couple weeks ago I made some no knead pizza dough and baked it in a hot cast iron skillet, which worked pretty good or so I thought.
Way back in my cupboard was a pizza stone that we had not used in a couple months, so out it came and into the 500°F oven until it was hot. I did everything like before, plopped the dough on the stone; added sauce, cheese and toppings as quickly as possible and popped it back in the oven. It did its thing, somehow cooking pizza on a stone is magical the crust was ‘fluffier‘ than before, it was awesome. It did take me a while to realize how awesome it was, it wasn’t tell I was sitting back craving more pizza that I realized it was that good and it only had mushrooms and pepperoni on it.
I learn a couple of lessons this time that I will be applying to the next pizza we make. First I will be sure to bake the crust alone in the oven for a few minutes prior to topping with sauce, cheese and toppings. And second if I am going to be using alot of moist toppings I will be sure to pre-cook them a bit to get some of the moisture out. With those two things, I dare say it will be pizza baking perfection.
Tomorrow we try pizza on the grill, wood-fire style.
So this year I have been plagued by a problem I did not have last year, rabbits, huge rabbits. That eat pepper and tomato plants, I didn’t believe it at first but after they ate half my crop of pepper (hot) plants completely off and were working on my tomatoes. I had not had this problem previously so it took my by surprise. After some quick looking online I surmised that rabbits don’t like garlic, hot pepper (go figure) and rotten egg. Well I don’t like rotten egg either so I whipped up a potent mixture of the other two and let it stew.
I put 5 whole heads of garlic chopped finely in a quart jar with 3 tablespoons of cayenne and a bottle of tabasco. I then filled the rest of the jar with water, covered and let it sit out and stew at room temperature for two days. Then I uncapped it and it smelled like garlic and hot pepper, it almost smelled good enough to try it.
I then diluted it 1/4 cup of the mix to a quart of water, strained it and put it the spray bottle and applied it liberally to my remaining peppers and tomatoes. So far it seems to be working, my sprayer is a little clogged but next time I will use a coffee filter or something else to get the chunks out when loading up the spray bottle.
Until I get somewhere where rabbits can be shot at will or trapped and released into the yards of unsuspecting victims, I will have to stick to the dragons milk until the rabbits change their taste.
With all the hype about no knead bread and no knead pizza dough I decided it was time to take the plunge and give it a whirl. Last night I started on the journey to make a homemade pizza with some no knead crust and to through a little twist I decided to cook it in a cast iron skillet in the oven. Well it turned out to be incredible and I am glad I made enough dough to make a couple more.
There was a slight bit of kneading required in spite of the name but the dough was awesome, but it needs to be planned for and made well in advance.
3 c + extra flour
1 1/2 c warm water
1/4 c + extra olive oil
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp yeast
Mix together dry ingredients thoroughly, then mix in water and olive oil until it is mixed evenly, it will be very wet, like sticky and not dough like wet. Drizzle olive oil over the surface of the dough, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let set for 12-24 hours. Once dough has raised. Turn oven on the highest temperature possible (500°F in my case) and put cast iron skillet in the oven until it is heated well. Punch down dough flip out onto a floured surface and divide into small balls and make individual rounds of dough, for pizza. I made three. Roll or stretch out the dough into thin crusts.
Have your toppings, sauce and cheese ready. Lightly oil the skillet and then place the crust in the skillet. Quickly put sauce, toppings and cheese on the crust. Bake in skillet in oven until pizza is done. Mine took about 5 minutes.
Even though you have a little more planning to do than with normal this crust is well worth the effort and advanced preparation. I am glad I have two crusts left, I can’t wait to make it again. This time it was just pepperoni, next time it will be much more elaborate.