Playing with Fire
We are big fans of cooking over live fire. It not only gives food a distinctive flavor that’s unattainable in any other way, but its lack of predictability also makes it uniquely engaging. Given that this cooking method has been around since before the beginning of recorded history, you might think that by now we would have discovered all its secrets. But you would be wrong. Exactly because live fire is unpredictable, every grilled dish presents unique challenges. But by fiddling and investigating and thinking long enough—and by making the dish maybe 60 or 70 times—we discover solutions.
For evidence, just check out the recipes in this issue. When Lan Lam took on grilled paella, she was faced with the fact that a standard charcoal fire would not last long enough to fully cook the dish. Since she was using a large, heavy pan to make enough for a crowd, moving it off the hot grill to refuel was far from ideal. So Lan came up with an arrangement combining lit and unlit coals in a way that allows the fire to last just long enough at the right temperature.
Andrew Janjigian, too, faced a structural fire problem when creating his new recipe for grilled pizza. When he was cooking over charcoal, the bottom crusts of his pizzas mysteriously kept burning right in the middle. Reducing the amount of charcoal, and thus the heat of the fire, didn’t solve the problem. Eventually Andrew figured out that the curved walls of the kettle grill were acting as a kind of parabolic mirror, creating a hot spot at the center. His solution? A custom arrangement of charcoal in the grill, the first new one we’ve seen in the test kitchen in a long time.
When Annie Petito took on the task of making grilled onions into a worthy side dish rather than a condiment, she chose another tack: Rather than rearranging the fire, she changed the way the onions are cut and approached the flame in two different ways. And Andrea Geary perfected a seemingly illogical recipe that calls for taking a steak out of the freezer and putting it directly on the grill—and the resulting steak was just as juicy as if it had never been frozen.
None of this is magic. In fact, you might have found these solutions yourself if you had unlimited time to play with fire in your backyard. But since that’s a luxury we actually do have, we’ve solved the problems for you; all you have to do is light the fire and start cooking.