Firewood stacks are a feature around here. Wood is piled high in late summer and early autumn, ready to fuel up the heaters and cookers come winter. But before the weather really cools, we cook outdoors when we can, and usually over wood. It’s harder to manage; more labour intensive, more ancient, primal and exciting. It also yields far better results. A good, simple fish, exposed to the flames through open mesh, takes on the flavour of the coals. Proper American-style barbecue is brought to life more if you can harness the smoke in the fire. And what would fill the house with fumes on the gas burner inside, such as blackening the skin on capsicum and chargrilling sausages, suddenly becomes an adventure in the great outdoors.
Cooking over a flame is part art, part meditative, and completely absorbing. You can’t just let your mind wander, or your body be absent, when there’s always variation in the type, size and dryness of your wood. A little breeze doesn’t feel like much, until you realise it’s drawing the heat of the fire to one side. And this is perfect for the cook who’s fully engaged, because you are not merely a spectator, but are an active, interested part of the cooking process.
Just a word of warning, however. Because of fire risk, we often wait until the weather cools a bit before lighting up the barbecue, or making a little campfire, so be sure to check out the regulations where you live. I’ve used charcoal and woodfired barbecues for these recipes, but you can use your gas barbecue or oven.
Photography Alan Benson
As seen in Feast magazine, March 2014, Issue 29. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.