Why cook by the hearth when our modern stoves offer such convenience? William Rubel's remarkable The Magic of Fire
provides unexpected answers to the question, not immediately apparent to those interested in pursuing live-fire cooking and the intense flavors it produces. To be sure, the book is definitive in its exploration of open-hearth technique; readers learn everything they need to know about equipment, methods (including ash baking, ember roasting, and hearthside grilling, among others), and even about fire itself (it has various life stages, each best for a particular cooking task). Rubel also provides 100 delicious hearthside recipes for fundamental foods like roasted red peppers, ember-baked fish, pot roasts, and desserts, including bread pudding and baked apples--formulas he conscientiously walks us through.
But the book's greatest--and most exciting--virtue lies in its presentation of fire cooking not merely as a "hobbyist" project but as a means for understanding cooking itself. It does this by revealing the relationship of fire to the things it cooks; in learning, for example, that a hearthside frittata requires "a moderately mature fire with gentle to moderate flames" to cook while simple toast needs "a new to moderately mature fire with moderate to high flames," we begin to see just how cooking works. For anyone interested in this everyday but still magical feat, this is thrilling stuff. With over 100 color illustrations of the required fires (whose preparation is thoroughly detailed); a discussion of alternative cooking "venues," including campsites; and a useful food glossary, this guide, both practical and illuminating, is an unexpected treasure. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Open-hearth cooking is probably the least-explored atavism in the modern kitchen. Culinary purists who unflinchingly butcher their own fowl or grind their spices with a mortar and pestle tend to draw the line at the hearth; even campers do what they can to make their fires more like stoves. But traditional cooking specialist Rubel's pursuit of "the poetry of fire" makes a compelling case for the allure of hearth cooking. Despite the prerequisites basic firebuilding technique and an arsenal of equipment that would not look out of place in a medieval dungeon Rubel's recipes are surprisingly straightforward. They run the gamut from delicate desserts (steamed custards, clafouti) to the inevitable roast beasts (wild duck, leg of lamb), and he describes the type of flame necessary for each dish (as in, "a mature fire with gentle to moderate flames"). The erudite and apparently well-traveled Rubel intersperses recipes for Gigot la ficelle and Ember-baked Trout with anecdotes that begin "when I was in Northern Kenya..." or "while studying mushroom cookery in China, near Myanmar...." He does not address the impracticalities of fireplace cooking (the hazards of unintended conflagrations, the purgatorial heat), merely recalling that a guest once had to remove his shirt in midwinter at one of Rubel's meals. Those brave enough to follow Rubel's footsteps will undoubtedly consider this book a classic work of its kind. It may also appeal to readers who want to take the manly art of barbecue to a new level, and it will be irresistible to slow-foodies.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.