It may be counter intuitive to cook a vegetable until the outside is obliterated. The high heat of our oven chars the outside of the onions. When the onions look to be beyond salvation they are done. The moist dense onion is not destroyed. We put the screaming hot onions into a bowl to cool. This also captures any onion juices which are boiling away inside the onions skin. We remove the charred exterior when the onions are cool enough to handle. The onions smell and taste of wood fire. Really they taste of onion skin fire. The flavors permeate the flesh. The onion itself is still only moderately cooked. It is easily sliceable and can be used in raw and cooked applications. It adds depth to guacamole and character to sauces. These onions are part of our flavor foundation.
We removed the stem from ripe figs. We cut an incision in the tops and stuffed in a pat of butter. We put the figs into the 600°F oven away from the fire. We cooked them for five minutes, rotated them and cooked them five minutes more. The figs charred in the heat. They picked up a light smoke from the burning wood. We let the figs cool in the roasting pan. Then we glazed them in the fig-butter syrup which exuded from them during the cooking process. We seasoned them with several flakes of smoked Maldon salt. We served a spoonful of cold concentrated minus 8 vinegar on the side.
The figs were just ok. They could have been riper. Just putting something into a wood fired oven does not make it fabulous. Time to look at the process. And the results. The roasted fig butter was something special. The roasted figs may be the by-product. There has to be something we can do to make them better. Maybe puree them with a more intense vinegar or glaze them with a bit of honey to add more sweetness. On the other hand, the smoky fig-butter is beautiful just the way it is.
Our brick oven gets hot. The Maillard reaction happens quickly in this environment. The heat is great for roasting onions and making pizzas. It is also a veritable furnace, perfect for searing meat. We use a Tuscan Grill in our oven. We also wear hearth gloves while turning the meat. The fat from the meat drips and vaporizes when it hits the oven floor. These aromas blend with the burning wood and season the outside of the meat. Searing in the oven is efficient and functional producing flavorful results.
Discovery is blind. It is guided by our experiences. Recently we made kimchi-honey. Poking around our pantry proved fruitful. We evolved the idea by utilizing Yujacha, a marmalade style Korean tea, for the honey. The aroma of the citrus and the bitterness of the fruit added depth to the kimchi. The combination compounds the principle of blending sweet and spicy. The results are a full flavored condiment destined for many dishes.
Bourbon butter has been on my mind for several years. We started with Old Weller. We cold smoked it. The smoking added character. Then we took the bourbon apart. The additional smoky flavors gave the essence more body and structure. The smoked bourbon essence is rich, toasty, woody, and vanilla-centric. We put some of the bourbon essence, heavy cream and buttermilk in a bowl and stirred them together. We covered the bowl and have it sitting at room temperature. In 24 hours we will refrigerate the cultured cream. When it is cold we will churn it into butter. And then we will have two great products: bourbon butter and buttermilk.
In college we played the game "can we fry this?" Now we are playing "can we char this?" Flavor-wise there's a subtle difference between burning and charring. Burnt food has that bitter undertone that ruins the flavor of something you expect to be perfectly cooked. Purposeful charring deepens that burn into something that creates a flavor of its own. It has an odd richness to it and while the bitterness is still there, it is somehow tempered by the deep flavors that develop during the prolonged application of heat. We put a head of Savoy cabbage into our blistering hot wood fired oven and deliberately charred the exterior. Because a head of cabbage is very dense, the insides covered a full range of textures. The blistered exterior flaked and blackened and there was a clear demarcation line between the inner and outer layers. The beauty of this process is that it now allows us to bring everything together. More to come...