For most of human history cooking over an open fire was the one and only way to cook a meal. Gastronomy may have come a long way in 2m years, but the deep rich flavours and aromas distinct to charcoal fired cooking still tempt the senses of both customers and chefs alike. Jestic’s culinary director, Michael Eyre, takes a look at the huge variety of foods and dishes that can be cooked to perfection on a charcoal grill, together with some of the regulatory issues operators should be aware of:
You can cook anything
Do not think that charcoal cooking is restricted to just steaks, burgers and robust meats – even the most delicate of ingredients like fish and shellfish can be cooked to perfection resulting in exceptional textures and flavours. A charcoal oven can be used throughout the day for preparation, for slow cooking, braising and smoking to mention just a few possible techniques – and with plant-based menus in demand it’s worth noting that charcoal ovens and grills do an amazing job cooking all sorts of vegetables including mushrooms, aubergines, padron peppers and tomatoes as a base for a deep, rich ketchup. Whatever you cook you are getting the benefit of cooking at high temperatures – which means high moisture retention and enhanced flavours from the smoke. You can cook anything on a charcoal grill, the only limitation is the chef’s imagination.
I really like using our Mibrasa charcoal oven to cook baked rice dishes with Spanish Bomba rice to which I add chicken, chorizo, pork fat or cuttlefish. Try serving this with toasted ciabatta, it makes a great sharing dish or a starter. Charcoal toasted ciabatta also makes a delicious brown bread ice cream with an unforgettable smoky taste. In fact charcoal cooking is a fantastic way to impart unique flavours to ingredients – try creating a lemon posset or ice cream with chargrilled lemons. You won’t look back!
Hints, tips and regulations
Always charge your charcoal oven with a full load of authorised charcoal as you can always stop it from burning out and use it the next day. Do not use petroleum based fire lighter as this will taint the food and the oven, always use a natural wood wool. Also don’t overheat your charcoal oven. You don’t need 500°C + to cook as 300°C to 350°C is plenty hot enough for the vast majority of foods.
When you extract charcoal fumes through a chimney, the emissions fall under the Clean Air Act, which means that restaurants in the clean air zone have an obligation to use DEFRA approved charcoal. And importantly, when charcoal is burned products of combustion including carbon monoxide (CO) gas are released so ensure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed.