"Fire was a constant part of growing up for my two brothers and me, and the memories of that home continue to define me."
This week's grilling tips come from Francis Mallmann, an Argentinian chef distinguished by his enthusiasm for fire in cooking. In his book, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, he describes the ways in which fire is essential to Argentinian identity: "I was through with the fancy sauces... I wanted to create a cuisine based on my Andean heritage. My cuisine became, for want of a better word, barbaric in its attempts to achieve the pinnacle of flavors through the use of fire, whether the massive heat of a bonfire, or the slow steady warmth of dying embers. To put it most simply, I returned to an Argentine cuisine of wood fire and cast-iron."
His tips for grilling, after the jump.
Some of Mallmann's tips include ways of judging the heat of the coal for grilling. His suggestion is to hold your hand above the flames until you can no longer handle the heat, at about the level at which you intend to cook your meat. If you can last 2 seconds before pulling your hand away in pain, then the fire is at high heat. And the higher the heat, the faster your meat will cook.
Mallmann relies on seven different grills:
- Parrilla: A cast-iron grate over hot coals.
- Chapa: A flat piece of cast iron ideal for a quick crust on the grilled food.
- Infiernillo: Translated to "small inferno," this format involves cooking between two fires.
- Horno de Barro: A fire is placed at the back of an oven so that the heat will reflect off of the walls.
- Rescoldo: This method involves coving the ingredients with hot embers.
- Asador: In this method, a whole animal is butterflied and tied to an iron cross.
- Caldero: A caldero is a kettle that can be placed atop a parrila or a chapa.
The Taste of Burnt
Mallmann also sings the praises of contrasting flavors in a dish. The dissonance, he writes, "wakes up your palate and surprises you." He also discredits the importance of harmony in food, saying that it devalues the individual ingredients. He considers the danger and excitement of burning dishes essential to the art of cooking.