Elle Nikishkova
Food hacks

Cooking with fire – an ancient art on a modern gadget

Think about all the advanced gadgets we find in our kitchens now adays. Electric stoves, mixers, microwave ovens, juicers. We have learned to manage all kinds of high-tech equipment to prepare food and drinks. In a fairly short time. Unbelievable as it sounds, electricity as our foodie companion in the kitchen has been around only for the last 100 years. Before that, we used gas, for another 100 years or so. And before that, for millions of years fire provided humans the means for food preparation.

The discovery of fire, and later the skills to make it and keep it, was a huge revolution in the development of mankind. Cooked food was easier to digest, it unlocked nutrients and enabled us to intake more calories that greatly contributed to our physical and mental development. But fire was much more than that. It also served as a social space created when people gathered around it. Discussions about the organisation of tribes or societies most probably took place there, by the burning flames. Fire provided warmth, safety, and a light when everything else was dark.

Today, unfortunately, we have lost much of the knowledge we had about fire making and open fire cooking techniques. Given a log, fire steel and a knife very few know how to create a spark and later a fire. Luckily the art of fire making and outdoor cooking has recently started to regain its popularity. The modern man is finding its way out into the nature, eager to learn how to live with and in it, to get away from the stressful everyday life in a busy town. We start learning again. Many of us want to rekindle the basic connection to nature and to each other around the hot burning flames.

In my work as an outdoor chef, I use a variety of different pots and pans. One of my favourites is the Primus Open Fire Pan on top of the Kamoto grill. The pan and grill come in two sizes and have a big space for frying and cooking different types of dishes, specially if you’re cooking for many people. The open fire pan also comes with attachable legs in case you want to use it in a fire ring. The pan features a three-layer construction, two layers of stainless steel with an aluminium core for better heat distribution.

In Sweden we have a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do in nature. One of them is not to disturb nature or leave visible trace after camping. Consequently, I never make up fires straight on the ground, I always use some kind of fire bowl or pit. Another advantage using a pit or the kamoto grill is heat and firewood efficiency. When fire is made up in a fire bowl or Kamoto, it creates a wind shield as well as helps directing the flames towards the cooking surface. Therefore, the fire is used more efficiently.

One thing to keep in mind when using a stainless-steel pan is that it is thinner than for instance a cast iron griddle often used in Sweden. This means that the cooking surface heats up faster and gets hotter with the equivalent amount of heat used under a cast iron griddle or pan. This is an advantage if you want a faster and hotter preparation of your meal. However, it also means that you must be cautious with the fire. Too big of a fire – the pan gets too hot, and you’ll burn the food. That’s why it’s important to learn how to make a moderate fire under the Open Fire Pan. My advice is to splint the firewood into thinner sticks. That way they start burning faster, are easier to move around to redistribute heat and they burn out faster in case it get too hot. In other words, thinner sticks make it easier to manage the fire and control the heat. This is particularly important when using the Kamoto grill with the Open Fire Pan since the space between the grill and the frying surface is narrow and requires a moderate flame.

An advantage of using the Open Fire Pan with the Kamoto grill is that you get two heat zones. The way the Kamoto grill is designed, most of the heat hits the middle of the pan and creates cooler zones at the ends of the pan. That way you can fry different ingredients in at the same time and drag the ones that are ready to the cooler ends.

Lastly, some words on the maintenance and seasoning of the Primus Open Fire Pan. There are different opinions on whether stainless steel should be seasoned or not. I personally think that the frying properties in terms of non-stick effect improve with time when the pan is used. At first your new pan is shiny and silver, in time it gains a charming patina that I don’t bother scrubbing off. After cooking I scrape off whatever has stuck to the pan with my spatula. Then I add some water, let it heat up and scrape some more. I don’t usually use any soap or detergent when I clean the pan. Hot water and a rub off with some paper is enough. So lit that fire and start cooking!

February 07 2022