I was dabbling with sous vide (saucepan & thermometer), watching Master Chef and experiencing Michelin Starred food. Classic French cooking was king and pressure was on to create perfect intricate dishes that looked better than they actually tasted. Christmas loomed: My wife said, why not buy yourself a sous vide cooker?
Enter young Jamie Oliver and his off the scale style of cooking, especially when cooking on an open fire or using one of his wood fired ovens, which I secretly coveted. His recipes are surely only for weekdays; weekends are the preserve of the intricate and the foam!
This was my fork in the road – sous vide or should I go gnarly? I really love cooking for friends and family, but the thought of producing a dinner incased in plastic bags from a hot tub, didn’t do it for me. Plus my skill as a chef wasn’t really up to the presentation, but producing a gnarly piece of steak out from the fire certainly was – I love fire!!
It didn’t take long to decide which way I was going and the wood fired oven was ordered. Since then my cooking style is more about flavor than presentation, the more gnarly the better. For example how simple is a pizza, made from flour, water & yeast, topped with tomato sauce, cheese & basil, cooked in 90 seconds – absolute perfection, well I think so and so do my family, friends and neighbour.
Please don’t think wood fired ovens are new to this country, check out Sandsfoot Castle, Rodwell, Weymouth which was built by Henry VIII in 1541, you will find tucked in the corner a remarkably well persevered wood fired oven.
These days there are a huge amount to choose from and if you have the skills you can even make your own. You can also buy prefabricated ones and these range from £500 to a hefty £3,000, so they aren’t cheap. But after only having one for 4 days I can safely say you will get plenty of use out of them. Treat them as an extension of your kitchen and for easy access try to install it close to your kitchen.
I chose the Jamie Oliver Dome 60 because it fitted well into a space right outside our kitchen and surprisingly (with a January sale offer!) was a reasonable price.
Wood: You will need to buy kiln dried wood as these produce more heat than normal logs and won’t give off as much smoke. After curing my oven for 8 hours and a little bit of cooking I have used about 3/4 of a bag of logs (£5-£7 a bag), so you won’t need a huge log store. But you will need a good chopper to split the logs and kindling to help start the fire. Only use natural fire lighters and Flamers by Certainly Wood are perfect.
Installing: The instructions say you need four men to carry this and you really do need four strong men because it is a hefty 400lbs in weight. We also had the added problem of squeezing it through the back garage door, but after much sweat and a few swear words we got it through – thanks to John, Elliot & Ian…
Curing: This is a controlled gradual heating of the oven from 50c to 200c over a period of 8 hours and is a great way to learn about the oven. Because of the weather I cured mine over three days and as it reached its hottest point I couldn’t resist putting in a few tomatoes to cook, WOW they were so sweet & juicy after only 3 minutes.
It was now ready to cook in, I chose a recipe by Tom Kerridge slow-cooked lamb shoulder with boulangere potatoes, but instead of a whole shoulder I went for a smaller joint and placed in the oven at about 170c. I was presuming that the temperature would drop fairly quickly, but it took over two hours for it to drop down to 100c The lamb was absolutely amazing, gurt proper lush and with added smokey flavour wafting throughout the dish – the wood fired oven is going to be so much fun and we spent the whole meal discussing what we can cook in here – the list was endless, but pork & chicken are high up the list.