The saying "now we're cooking with gas" just doesn't have enough firepower for cookbook author Paula Marcoux. Her new book "Cooking With Fire" describes how to do just that. In it, she has recipes and techniques from spaghetti carbonara to new potatoes to a whole leg of lamb.
Click the audio player above to hear her conversation with MPR News' All Things Considered, and scroll down to find a few recipes from her book.
Recipe: Salt-roasted new potatoes
Although these potatoes are a great first project for your infiernillo, we love them for themselves and do not think of them as a mere training exercise. They are the apotheosis of potatoes, as more than one true spud-lover has told me. Once you have mastered this technique on tubers, though, apply the same principles to cook other foods that you might otherwise roast or bake with medium-high heat, like a chicken, a whole fish, or a tender joint of meat or small whole animal. (Conversely, you may also, if you like, make salt-roast potatoes in a wood-fired oven).
Incidentally, the first few times we made this we included thyme sprigs and garlic, thinking that the potatoes would be perfumed by them. Nope; the garlic was good (if surprising) to eat, but, perhaps because of the desiccating effect of the salt, neither it nor the thyme imparted anything discernible to the potatoes.
• 10 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed
• 1 bag solar salt
• 2 boxes kosher salt
1. Use your largest mixing bowl or other clean vat for making the salt mortar. Dump about 10 or 15 pounds of the solar salt (depending on the size of your mixing vessel) and half a box of the kosher salt in the bowl. Add a couple cups of water and work together with your hands. The kosher salt will begin to melt and surround the larger crystals. Add more water as needed until the mixture feels damp throughout. If you begin to have a deep puddle on the bottom, dump in more kosher salt and continue mixing.
2. Transfer the salt mortar to a half-sheet pan with your hands and press into an inch-deep layer with no gaps. Dump on the potatoes, and pile them into a compact form (making sure that the height will be accommodated by your infiernillo). Leave a border of a bit more than an inch potato-free.
3. Cover with more damp salt to a thickness of about an inch (I usually have to mix another batch at this point). Pat the whole monolith into stability, closing gaps. If you are nervous about any particular place, mix up some straight kosher salt with a dash of water to fill in.
4. Slide the pan with its salt dome into the hot infiernillo and keep everything moderately stoked for about an hour or so. We like to slide the potato dome out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes; you can also let them stand longer if you have other unfinished cooking going on, as they stay hot a long time. If you want to be sure about doneness, whack one edge of the dome with a heavy sturdy object, and poke a potato with a fork. When it comes to serving time, let your guests do their own excavating.
5. We usually serve these unaccompanied, but you can set out whatever you like, if you want to make it seem more like you're working to entertain your guests. Let your conscience be your guide.
Serves 12 to 15
Recipe: Pine-needle mussels
In October, the pitch pines and white pines around our house drop a beautiful puffy mat of russet needles. It takes but a few minutes to gather up the pile needed to have this kind of fun. This is an irresistible introduction for newbies of any age to both cooking with fire and eating shellfish.
• About 4 or 5 pounds of fresh mussels in the shell
• 1/2 to 1 bushel nice dry pine needles
1. We like to set this up directly on an outdoor wooden table, but you can use a large board (say 3 by 3 feet) or a very flat large stone. Be aware that you will leave a pretty good scorching on whatever surface you select. Also look around before you start to make sure that you will not inadvertently set something else on fire; have a bucket of water handy just in case.
2. Place something small and stable in the middle of the board; a quarter of a brick, a small oblong stone, a half of a potato, cut side down, a small cube of stale bread . . . Arrange the mussels around it, leaning against the supporting object, with their pointy ends sticking upward. Continue arranging all the mussels in a concentric manner. Many hands make quick work and add to the fun.
3. Now let everyone scatter the pine needles evenly, and as deeply as possible, over the top of the mussels. Give a brief safety lecture, then take a single coal from whatever fire you have burning nearby and deposit it deep in the mountain of pine needles, directly on top of the little support in the middle. (If for some reason you don't have a fire already burning somewhere, just use a match.) Stand back; these babies really go up.
4. That's it. When the fire dies down, within the smoking ruins lies a tasty appetizer. Resiny-smoky, briny, delicious. I once tried offering toast and remoulade sauce as accompaniments, but was soundly rebuffed with cries of "they're too good alone!"
5. If for some reason there's a cool spot in the fire and some of the mussels don't open, gather them up and rearrange them with new pine needles for a quick encore pyre.
6 to 10 servings, as an appetizer
Recipe: Twine-roast leg of lamb
How long will this take to cook? Indoors, with a fireplace jamb backing the heat against the roast, it will scarcely take any longer than baking it in a conventional oven -- about two hours. Outdoors on a winter night with a cold wind snatching at the heat, plan on around twice that.
• 1 leg of lamb, full bone-in
• 10 cloves garlic
• 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
• Freshly ground pepper
• A bunch of rosemary or thyme, tied together as a basting brush (optional)
• 2 tablespoons dry mustard
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1-2 tablespoons water, as needed
• 1/2 cup lamb, chicken, or beef stock or wine or water or some of each
Prepare the leg:
1. Drill a clean hole, making sure there are no sharp edges.
2. Thread string through and make a square knot.
3. Suspend using a knot that won't slip, like a bowline.
4. Use a rolling hitch to attach the other end of the string to a tripod.
5. Or use two round turns and two half hitches to attach to a chain.
In the kitchen:
1. From 4 to 24 hours ahead, season the lamb: Wipe the meat dry. Sliver 8 of the garlic cloves, and using a very small sharp-pointed knife, make incisions all over the roast and insert the garlic into them. Massage the leg gently with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and plenty of pepper. Cover and chill, but bring to room temperature before roasting.
2. Figure out the logistics for suspending the lamb as described previously and get a nice hardwood fire burning. Remember that you will want the lamb to have room to spin unencumbered a few inches away from, and slightly diagonally above, the coal bed. The fire will continue to burn smartly in a more or less parallel plane to the leg, but a foot or more away.
3. When you have a deep bed of coals under the fire, use a fire shovel to push the actively flaming wood to the opposite side of the hearth from where the roast will hang. Hang the leg of lamb up from the attachment point you have arranged, and double-check to make sure it is entirely secure before you step away. It will probably start spinning slowly of its own accord; encourage it along by twirling the shankbone in the direction it seems to want to go. Place a pan beneath the roast to catch the drippings. Draw some coals closer to the pan, so that you have a lovely steady bed of coals sloping from it up toward the actively burning logs. Look critically at the arrangement. Visualize exactly how the leg is exposed to the heat. What can you do to ensure the most even cooking? Probably one thing is to feed the fire more wood, from the side away from the roast. You are starting the coals that will come into play in 40 minutes or so.
4. That's really all you have to do for the next few hours: keep the leg rotating slowly (which requires very little attention), and provide a nice bed of coals and brisk fire at appropriate distances from the roast. It's fun and picturesque, but scarcely necessary, to brush the roast with the drippings using a bundle of herbs. It pays to be aware of the movements of any dogs or other unrestrained carnivores in the vicinity.
5. As the roast turns, you can mix up the mustard plaster any time you like. Mince together 2 cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Stir into 11/2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the mustard and flour, and as much water as it takes to make a somewhat drippy paste. Set aside until needed.
6. When the roast seems to be about three-quarters done (say, an internal temperature of 120°F or so), apply the mustard plaster. Use a large pastry brush and just lather it on the leg of lamb on all sides. Get a fresh bed of coals set up and continue roasting until the internal temperature of the roast is 145°F, then inspect your handiwork. If the plaster has not firmed up into an irresistible crust, build up your fire to provide one last blast of heat. Ideally, the plaster will be crispy and the lamb will approach 150°F at the same moment.
7. Get someone to help nudge a warm platter under the roast while you snip the string. (Believe me, it is not hard to rustle up helpers at this point.) Place the leg of lamb, loosely tented with some foil, in a warm place to rest for 20 minutes. Strain the drippings into a small nonreactive pot and heat in the remaining coals, adding the stock. Boil for a few minutes, taste, and correct seasoning.
8. Carve the roast and serve with the sauce.
10 to 14 servings