Get Cooking with our Top Ten Tips for your Woodfired Oven
Our woodfired cooking season is now in full swing with lots of courses going on here at the cooking school and at other venues around the country. We’ve had students from all over the country heading our way to find out more and an increasing number from abroad – France, Ireland, Greece, Spain and even Iceland!
Here are our Top 10 tips to being right on it when you want to fire up your woodfired oven :
- 1. We’ve stocked up on well-dried wood from our supplier. Remember to tell yours you want wood with a moisture content about 15% or less and cut into 25cm lengths. While you’re at it, remember to buy in your firelighters – we use a chemical free variety which you can buy from our online shop.
- 2. If you want your logs to give different flavours to your cooking, get a variety of wood in. Native hardwoods like apple, beech, oak etc will all give different touches to your cooking. Don’t get any pine or eucalyptus though as they’ll be resinny and the wood will spit when it’s lit. We’ve been adding damp oak shavings to scallops, mussels and asparagus – lush!
- 3. Store your wood correctly – if it’s out in the weather make sure it’s stacked neatly in a log pile with the ends facing out; that way they won’t absorb too much water. Stacking takes time but it’s worth doing well as a messy great pile of logs will absorb water randomly and then you won’t know what’s dry and what’s damp. Best to store your wood in a nice neat log pile under cover.
- 4. If you haven’t used your oven for a while, dry it out with some little fires before you go for the first big burn. Even if it’s undercover, it will still have absorbed some moisture from the atmosphere (and we’ve had a lot of moisture in the atmosphere down here!)
- 5. If you haven’t already, get some cover over your oven. It will protect not just the oven but also the chef and then you’ll use it loads more if you stay dry and comfortable while you’re cooking. We’ve had a marquee for the past couple of years but have now got a fabulous tree house covering everything meaning we can cook all year round, well protected from the weather.
- 6. Also make sure you have plenty of work space around your oven. Much like a regular kitchen, it’s amazing how much space you can use so if you haven’t got a permanent work surface (or space for one), just get a couple of wooden trestle tables that you can bring out and put away as needed. Saves a lot of hassle!
- 7. Over the years we’ve invested in some pots and pans that we just use for the wood fired ovens. Heavy duty cast iron is perfect for high temperatures and enamel pans great at lower temperatures (don’t get too precious about the colours as they will get that shabby chic look about them soon enough). We are really pleased with our heavy steel skillet set we got from our friends at BigFire – they get used all the time and definitely worth treating yourself to a set. If you’ve already got a stack of cast iron pans, get them ready for the season by making sure they are well seasoned themselves. To do this heat your oven to 180C and wipe out a clean and dry cast iron pan with sunflower oil. Put the pan in the oven for 1 hour and this will help make the pan non-stick. If it does start sticking, clean the pan out again and repeat the process as above. We only have to do our pans once a year though so it’s definitely worth it.
- 8. While you’re at it, make sure your pizza boards and meat boards are up to scratch. Now and then we’ll wash them in very hot soapy water with a scourer to get rid of any build up of grease. Then dry them well and once dry, brush them with a thin layer of sunflower oil. If you need new ones, try our friends at the lovely Nkuku who have fantastic fairtrade mango wood boards.
- 9. Take a look also at the essential heat-proof kit. We find our heat-proof gauntlets will last a year or so of heavy use so if yours are looking a bit shabby, get a new pair. They don’t cost much. We also have a few heavy duty oven cloths – some pans get just too hot for gauntlets alone. You can buy them in lots of places and we have them online too in our wood fired oven pack.
- 10. Finally freshen up your larder. One great tip we were taught on our travels in India was to get rid of ground spices and dried herbs every 3 months and replace whole spices every year – so those of you who have had your spices for years (you know who you are….), be brave and chuck them out for brand new ones. The difference will amaze you – fresh vibrant flavours for the new season. If you are going to be making lots of pizzas then spend an afternoon making a big batch of tomato sauce and freeze small containers of it to bring out as required – saves a lot of time.
Hope that helps and happy cooking!