Bring on the summer and we bring out our barbecues. But with just a bit of imagination, cooking without a kitchen can be even easier, cheaper and hassle-free than bringing out B&Q’s finest.Thom Hunt of 7th Rise, a foraging, hunting and fishing retreat on the banks of the Fal, describes the importance of living and eating outdoors: “At 7th Rise it’s all about great food, shared with great people, in the beautiful outdoors. It will blow your mind how primal and satisfying this experience is.” For his wild cookery, Thom uses up to five different outdoor cooking methods: an underground oven, a classic Jamaican split barrel barbecue, an open fire inside an old tractor wheel, hot rocks and a clay oven.
Cooking underground and overnight is one of the most effective ways to ensure melting meat and intense flavours. Go to Iceland and the locals exploit geo-thermal springs as a heat source to bake bread underground. At 7th Rise Thom makes use of a slate-lined pit filled with embers which is then sealed and left overnight. In place of slate, fill a pit with igneous stones, light a fire for a couple of hours, extinguish it, put in your pot roast or wrapped chunk of meat and cover with soil and/or turf. The use of shallow bowl-shaped pits for cooking has been well tried and tested over time: evidence of cooking pits have been found from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages in Europe.
Most self-appointed barbecue masters have a fear of fire; my dad sends a constant stream of water from a squeezy bottle onto the naked flames and in Germany, beer is apparently used for the same effect with added flavour. Making use of the flames however, lends smoky complex tones to simple foods such as squid, tomatoes, potatoes: just cook or boil in an open cast-iron pan. The 7th Rise wild fire formula is one tractor wheel + a tripod to hang pots over for soups, stews or grills. Thom recommends metal skewers for chorizo and scallop kebabs and also maximising on wild herb dips and bastings such as a fresh green salsa verde.
On the barbecue – top local tip – make use of Tregothnan charcoal – an easy burner that is both eco and food-friendly. The 7th Rise team make their own burgers and use what Thom calls ‘Flintstone’ chops which have an extra long bone to use as handle. His barbecue burger secret is to add salt to the mince at least 15 – 20 minutes before cooking and then bind together with only egg and flour. The salt helps break down the proteins, binding the meat more effectively. Combinations include rabbit and pigeon or rabbit and venison, each with about 20% minced pork for fat and flavour.
If you’re lucky enough to have a clay oven (standard garden fare in Italy) then simple baking such as soda bread, flat breads or pizza is ideal. Don’t forget to make use of the residual heat by throwing in a chunk of roasting meat overnight, just in time for breakfast.
Cooking outdoors then is not just about barbies – let’s loosen the shackles of American influence and look to Europe, Iceland, Hawaii, Sweden and even go back in time to Neolithic cooking techniques. The advantages? If you use clay or pastry to wrap your meat in, you have no washing up because it will double up as a plate. You have the perfect excuse to play with fire all night long and engage with one of life’s most primitive yet life-affirming elements. As Thom puts it, “Is there any other way?”
For more on Thom and booking a course at 7th Rise go to 7thrise.co.uk
7th Rise Pot Roast recipe for an underground oven
Make an open fire.
Take a large roasting joint and seal it in a pan with some oil over the open flames.
Add a thick layer of onions to the bottom of your pot (must have a sealable lid), some par-boiled veg and place the meat on top and fill with 2 litres of stock.
Dig a hole big enough to hold your stew pot and fill with hot ashes from the fire. Put in the pot, cover with more hot ashes and cover with earth and turf for about 5 hours.
The onions will caramelise on the bottom, and the stock will steam the veg. The meat can then be shredded and will serve about 12 people.
Finish off with a handful of fresh herbs.