A misty morning start to what promised to be an interesting day and one that I’d been looking forward to for about 9 months – that’s how long I had had to wait to ensure my place on the Agrarian Kitchen’s: Cooking with Fire workshop that took place on June 30th this year.Run by Rodney Dunn and his wife Séverine, “The Agrarian Kitchen is a sustainable farm-based cooking school situated in a 19th century schoolhouse at Lachlan, 45 minutes from Hobart in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley”. Set on five acres, The Agrarian Kitchen is a working farm and incorporates an extensive vegetable garden……..
……..the group retired to the well appointed kitchen……………with its custom built, internal Alan Scott wood-fired oven………and an amazing collection of cookery books. (Check out the books in the ‘Library’ at the side bar for a list of really great books that relate to cooking with fire).In his introduction, Rodney Dunn revealed his enthusiasm for cooking with fire as a direct and immediate means of returning to the basics of culinary exploration, often citing William Rubel’s book The Magic of Fire, sadly no longer in print. Cooking with fire, as he outlined, is understanding your medium, the fire and its fuel, wood in this case. Understanding about the varieties of heat that fire is capable of emitting – from the radiant heat retained in brick work (as in a wood fired oven) to the heat generated from the varying degrees of burning wood, such as hot coals and ash – is to be able to control the way to cook a wide range of foods. The menu for this workshop was obviously selected to give the best combination of fire cooking experiences, and was made up of………….The kitchen soon became a scene of frenzied activity as each workshop member was assigned with a job. First off was the preparation of the roast chicken a la Ficelle (which literally means ‘has the string’). Firstly, Rodney skewered a freshly slaughtered chook with a couple of cross skewers, (and it was here that I showed my age by cracking a joke about the scene from Richard E Grant and Paul McGann’s 1987 classic, Withnail and I – which nobody had heard of…..ah me!)Once suitably skewered, and rubbed with duck lard and salt, the chook was then strung up from a nail under the wooden mantlepiece of the open fireplace in the kitchen, and set spinning. It was everyone’s job to keep the string turning – ingenious!This idea is nicely illustrated in Dorothy Hartley’s book Food in England, that shows a piece of pork attached to the key of a Mr. Silas Marner, the string of which is twisted to slowly turn the meat in unwinding. This fabulous book (acquired for me by my gastro-nomadic sister Stef) was first published in 1954 and is a kitchen classic covering everything from Fuels and Fireplaces to Sundry Household Matters.
With a roasting pan set underneath the slowly roasting chook to catch the juices, jerusalem artichokes (a relative of the sunflower family) that we’d dug from the garden, were cooked to perfection. (The image of the cooked artichokes is by Pauline Mak, or the Occasional Food Fairy – a talented photographer)The next major task was to prepare the ‘lamb al asador’ (translated from the Spanish as ‘lamb on a spit’). The lamb was cut into thirds, as it was the middle section that we needed – this was chopped carefully through the backbone and butterflied, ready for being ‘skewered’.
The skin was scored with a Stanley knife and it was then rubbed with a generous mixture of rock salt, black peppercorns, lemons, rosemary, parsley and olive oil, …….The flavoured lamb was then tied with garden wire to a couple of star pickets, ideal for the job, and driven into the ground near the face of the fire’s hot coals.This was left to its own devices, and we went on to make some mulled, spiced (with secret ingredient of a cardamon leaf) cider and crumpets for a mid-morning respite.
The crumpets were served up hot, with lashings of butter and homemade morello cherry (background) and apple jams. The hand thrown bowls are by Ben Richardson, Ridgeline Pottery.
A couple of decent sized pumpkins were placed into the ashes and covered, these were left for about an hour until they were tender – then cut in half, and the centre seeds scooped out. This was then served up with a delicious tahnini and yoghurt sauce, sprinkled with toasted almonds and coriander.
Wagyu beef skewers were prepared in a spicy marinade, and grilled for about 15-20 minutes. And if all the above weren’t enough, there was still the fire roasted onions with flat bread……..…..the stuffed roast apples, the dulce de Leche Panqueque and the stone ground polenta. But you’ll have to check out the Occasional Food Fairy for those, as my brand new camera ran out of battery when I was half way through the day…………