“Fire has its own language, spoken in the realm of heat, hunger and desire. It speaks of alchemy, mystery and, above all, possibility. It is a slumbering voice inside me, the ever present beast within my soul, it is beyond words, beyond memory. It comes from a time long before I can recall.”
This is how the book Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentinian Way by Francis Mallmann and Peter Kaminsky starts.
The Argentinian chef is an inspiring character who uses cooking to send a message of a certain way of living. He is known for telling people to cook by ‘getting out of your chair, sofa or office and go outdoors.’ The most influential chef in Argentina has been portrayed in a splendid documentary Chef’s Table on Netflix which we have reviewed here.
Mallmann has mastered fire like few others. He has been trained in French classics so he is a master of the art of intensifying, deepening and developing all the flavours and textures of his ingredients. But rather than rely on complexity, he keeps things simple. What makes his recipes exceptional is his incredible mastery of fire and the simplicity which brings out the best of the ingredients.
The Argentinian chef believes that the ability to cook meat over a wood fire is inborn in all of us but perfecting our sixth sense of grilling, i.e. to know exactly when to turn a bone-in rib roast or precisely how much heat is required to develop a delicious salty crust on a steak takes time (don’t be intimidated though because he does give you the tips. But for everything in life, practice makes perfect).
Although this book has been published in 2009, it still remains one of the best books I have read on grilling and cooking with fire and given we are approaching the Christmas season, it might be a great option as a present for someone who is interested in outdoor cooking.
Rest assured that you will never view barbecue or outdoor cooking in the same way after reading this book. What Mallmann does in the book is to explain the seven different fires that form the backbone of his cuisine. From cooking on a barbecue to using a cast-iron griddle or skillet, a clay oven, a cauldron or cooking with embers and ashes, the Argentinian chef presents seven ways of how to use fire in your cooking.
The recipes work well regardless of the method or medium used, whether it is wood, charcoal, gas grill or cast iron. He says that the cooking will still be successful but of course he prefers fire.
Mallmann loves charring or burning because this adds an extra dimension to breads, vegetables and fruits. He loves the element of danger and excitement in creating a burnt taste. “Take the burning too far, and it destroys the dish. Stay just this side of the line, and it is lovely,” he says.
Once you read the book, you will be surprised with how versatile cooking with fire can be. The recipes are divided into appetizers, meat, fish and shellfish, light meals and salads and desserts.
From simple bruschetta to a burnt ricotta salata salad with tomatoes and olives, to cooking a perfect steak or baking fish in salt, there are enough recipes to tempt you to master the art of the fire. And once you get the techniques and the flavour combinations, the book also inspires you to try different things.
Mallmann explains that whenever you are using fire you need to be respectful of that first contact. So if you are cooking a steak on a grill he tells
A must for anyone into outdoor cooking.