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The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking: One Hundred Recipes for the Fireplace or Campfire Hardcover – March 1, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: William Rubel (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580084532
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580084536
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 9.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. V. Lewis VINE VOICE on June 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cooking in fire and coals wasn't important to me until I ate in a humble farmhouse kitchen in the mountains of the Veneto a few years ago. The flavors of woodsmoke in the roast squab and the wild-mushroom risotto were magical. They transformed simple, lean ingredients into something amazingly rich, complex, and soul-stirring. I was haunted for months after by the memory of those flavors. Then I had one of the greatest meals of my life at Chez Panisse, which featured flame-broiled rabbit sausages and coal-roasted lamb, which was finshed in the kitchen fireplace in a puff of rosemary smoke. From my vantage in the dining room I watched the utterly simple preparation, an immemorial process, and vowed to learn whatever I could about hearth cooking. In lieu of a grandmother with traditional hearth-cooking skills, I had books, and The Magic of Fire continues to stand out above the others.

This book teaches almost everything I've needed to know to cook with fire. It starts with a lucid little essay [TOO little: I would have loved something deeper] on hearth cooking, aptly weaving the poetics of the practice into the pragmatics. It introduces the tools of the craft and provides a quick peek at various hearth-cooking methods. Again, much more detail would have been welcome, but this is a tantalizing glimpse into a craft that can absorb years of practice. There are a couple of pages on the fire itself, and a few coy words on the complications of preparing multicourse meals. Then to the food.

The food: 100 recipes of heartbreaking simplicity and flavor. Have you ever eaten a sweet red pepper roasted to blackness in wood coals? One ingredient, simply transformed, may be the most delicious vegetable you'll ever eat.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book from Amazon.com last month, and am I glad I did! It is fantastic. I have spent years cooking over fires while camping, backpacking, backyard barbecuing and more recently, demonstrating cooking over the fire in historic sites. This book contains what none of the other books on hearth cooking do--how to work with the fire. I have shelves of cookbooks that talk about recipes from colonial times, but not one of them tells you how to actually use the fire to prepare the meal.
To begin, it is a BEAUTIFUL book. The illustrations are worthy of their own frames for hanging. The book is well organized, and you can chose to read first about food and then about fire, or the reverse. The author instructs us in the proper use of equipment, but makes it clear that the average kitchen contains the necessary implements to get started. Mr. Rubel has obviously done a lot of traveling, because he brings us delicious food from all over the world. The recipes are clearly described and easy to follow. You feel you know the author personally after reading the book, because he tells you when he first encountered the food, and why he loves it. The range of recipes is wonderful. You can start with flat unleavened bread cooked directly on the coals (yes! you can do this in your living room!) and progress to Pot au-feu. There are menus for every taste and palate.
I have made quite a few of the recipes, and they have all been resounding successes. What is so deceptive about this book is its elegant simplicity. You might think a mere onion, thrown onto the coals is just a cooked onion. But it is not! ROASTED food tastes very different from baked, and this is true for all vegetables and meats. The carmelization that takes place over the fire cannot be duplicated by any other heat source, and that is literally the MAGIC of fire.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Magic of Fire" reveals the secrets of successful and delicious cooking with fire. It is a beautiful book, illustrated with absolutely lovely drawings. But it is so much more than just a coffee table cookbook. It offers the novice hearth cook practical advice about how to get started and how to succeed. It offers the experienced hearth cook an opportunity to both refine and expand techniques and repertoire.
The title, "The Magic of Fire", clues the reader to the other dimension of this book: the spiritual aspect of cooking over an open fire. Open fire cooking links us with cooks through tens of thousands of years. "The Magic of Fire" manages well the delicate balance of being both pragmatic and inspiring. Recipes range from the traditional, such as skillet corn bread and chicken roasted on a string, to the more unusual, such as grilled porcini mushrooms and ember-roasted brisket, fish, and vegetables. Each recipe usefully indicates which open-fire methods are suitable. And best of all, the recipes, when used, yield delicious results! "The Magic of Fire" is a book that informs the mind, refreshes the spirit, and takes the palate on an adventure.
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Format: Hardcover
This is *THE* most beautiful and romantic book I have ever read. I am in process of reading it cover to cover currently, and am relishing every moment. The author is well educated on his subject and adds his own personal touch to each recipe. His stories bring each dish to life and add an unimaginable depth to what might have turned out to be "just a cookbook." This book is the best and cruelest tool for would-be hearth cooks. It sweeps us away to a time that we modern day folk still feel in our blood. It's a perfect combination of practicality and base information, and romanticism in cooking.
You'll never look at Ramen the same again!
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