It is perhaps not the best time to review a book about cooking food from the fire given that we are experiencing a bitter patch of winter cold and not everyone has the luxury to have wood fired ovens or a fire pit indoors.
But for Niklas Ekstedt, the man behind the Stockholm restaurant by the same name and author of a recently released book Food from the Fire, cooking with fire is something he does every day, winter or summer.
His restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, opened in November 2011 with a fire pit, a wood fired oven and a wood stove. Plenty of people had told him that he had made things difficult for himself. Now, he has also installed a stone-age equivalent of a microwave oven, a smoker and extra fires burning as he continues to explore age-old techniques and to learn more about a lost art of cooking.
The flavour that comes out of food that has been cooked with fire is different to what you get from normal cooking. But apart from the occasional barbecues we have lost the habit and the knowledge to cook with fire, something which our ancestors had mastered.
Ekstedt has researched and looked at Swedish cookbooks from the 18th century to learn what Swedish cooking was like before the advent of electricity and his restaurant and cooking pays homage to that time, to his childhood and his Jämtland heritage.
Having opened his first restaurant at the age of 21, Niklas says he was lost with his ultra trendy approach to cooking which were completely removed from the rustic slow cooking of the Jämtland forests. He felt the need to return to his roots at the age of 33 as he was feeling lost.
At his summer cottage, he was supposed to set up a barbecue that summer but t never happened. Instead, he chopped down some birches to have firewood. He built a fire pit like he had done with his parents when he was a chuild. And that fire became the family’s kitchen that summer and was kept going almost all the time. He was mostly grilling but one day he could not wait for the embers so he pushed the cast iron pan into the flames. The flavours of that meal led him to a new kind of fine-dining restaurant, a place where everything was cooked over a fire, just like in the old days.
Niklas explains in this book how he went about creating his restaurant before sharing how to build an open fire pit, the elements needed (fire, smoke, cast iron and fat) and then explaining the basics like salts, spice mixes and pickles, dairy and bread.
While most of the dishes can work also if you do not cook them over an open fire, it is clear that the flavours will be different.
I know for sure that this book is going to be a perfect companion for my outdoor lunches or dinners as soon as the weather gets better. On Christmas day, I tried the hot smoked pork belly which involved brining the meat in a mixture of water, salt, brown sugar, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, mustard powder, garlic cloves, onions and black pepper corns before smoking the pork belly slowly using indirect heat.
Among the recipes I look forward to trying are the sauteed chanterelles with apple and thyme, the seared langoustine, kohlrabi and smoked butter and the flamed oysters to mention just a few.
Nothing may be more rustic than cooking over a fire. But when done well, the food prepared on a fire can be worthy of the best restaurants in the world. Ekstedt, just like Francis Mallmann has done for Argentinian outdoor cooking has given us a glimpse of the ‘old’ Nordic Cuisine. It is clearly worth adding to your cookbook shelves.