[This is one in a series of blog posts written by Charlotte the Intern. Tune in daily to find out about what she’s been up to, what she has been learning about, and all of the crazy things she does as part of the Manna from Devon team.]
Cooking in a wood-fired oven is a marathon, not a sprint. This is one of the many things I learned today in my first wood-fired oven cooking class here at Manna. I was excited for this class, because I’ve never used a wood-fired oven for cooking, and to be honest, the idea of it has kind of intimidated me since arriving here a little over 2 weeks ago. The practice of building and maintaining the fire, understanding the way that the heat behaves in that type of oven, and how it will alter the way that certain ingredients cook, were all such foreign concepts to me. Truly, learning how to cook in a wood-fired oven means altering the way you think about cooking; once you build the fire you will have a very resilient, efficient, and effective cooking device available for hours, so long as you tend to your fire every once in a while. This means that as the oven progresses through it’s “life cycle” of heating and cooling, you will have several different cooking methods available to you! The key is knowing at which point to cook what.
David and Holly demonstrated this perfectly by preparing a veritable smorgasbord for us to cook and taste as we progressed through the day. From fish dishes and pizza in the searing early heat of the oven, to steaks in the middle, to roasted chicken and vegetables, as the oven maintains a lower, steady heat, to bread, all the way down to cake-baking temperature at the very end. Even as I type this, the oven is still moderately hot, and Holly has a pot in there in which the bones from our pop-up dinner on Thursday night are soaking. It will be a mean beef stocks by morning.
This is the coolest thing, to me, about cooking in a wood-fired oven. Not only does it give you a steady heat for hours on end, but it instantly imparts all kinds of wonderful smoky flavors to your meats, veggies and stocks, and beautiful, crackly crusts to your breads. It’s a one-two punch that will knock your taste buds right over. Cooking like this requires a bit more planning, and a bit of foresight, but it also allows you an amazing amount of creativity and flexibility. It’s the way cooking should be: thoughtful, with a bit of daring.