Fire And Earth
Chicken and pepper skewers, baked squash with raw sheep cheese, mint, rocket and toasted pine nutsWritten by Kieran Creevy | Photography by Claire Burge
Barbie, Braai, Asado. Mention those words to any Australian, South African or Argentinian respectively and even young children will know you’re talking about cooking on an open fire. It’s a method of cooking so ingrained in these countries that it’s unusual to see a house without one.
Descending the scree of La Canaleta after a long, cold summit day on Aconcagua I could have sworn I caught the scent of meat roasting on an open fire coming from a lower camp. It was, in all probability, a combination of mild altitude sickness, the longing for a really good steak, and the recent memory of such a dish earlier that month in an Mendocino restaurant when I got served with what seemed like half a cow when the steak flopped over both sides of my plate. This monster of a dish was only accompanied by a bowl of chimichurri sauce and rock salt, but Dios Mio! the flavour was amazing. Intense almost creamy, smoky, lightly charred yet tender, it stuck with me for the duration on the climb.
Contrast that with the summer past in Ireland and the UK as we saw a record number of barbecues which resulted in many a dicky stomach and a dodgy shade of lobster red on us fair skinned Celts and Anglo Saxons as we used every opportunity to resurrect our oft neglected grills. Here cooking on open fire is often a spur of the moment decision as we rush to beat the arrival of wind and rain. Unfortunately this tends to result in burnt sausages which are bizarrely raw on the inside. Yet grilling tasty food doesn’t require a huge amount of forward planning, and if you learn a few simple tricks about using fire properly you can turn out dishes like the one below even if it’s howling outside.
The main point to remember when cooking over an open fire is NEVER let the flames touch the meat until the last minute of cooking and even then it’s only for the charred look. You’re using the radiated heat and the smoke to do the cooking and flavouring.
The inspiration behind this recipe was the memory of an aisle full of blue, green, striped and bright red squashes in Mendoza and the smell of a spatchcocked chicken roasting on a roadside asador near Los Penitentes.
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 organic chicken breasts
2 red peppers
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp smoked paprika
Sea salt and pepper
1 large (1.5 – 2kg) squash (acorn or similar)
150g creamy soft raw sheep or goats cheese
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves
Handful rocket leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
Open fire or wood fired barbecue
4 standing dead wood twigs (pencil thick, bark removed and soaked in water)
A3 size sheet tinfoil
1 sharp knife
Season the chicken breasts
Toast the cumin seeds on a dry pan and grind in a pestle and mortar and then rub one breast with the cumin powder and the other with the smoked paprika powder.
Place on a plate and cover
Slice the top 1cm off the acorn squash leave to one side
Wrap the rest of the squash in tinfoil
Place in the middle of the coals or on a grill (bbq) for 1 hour
Remove and test with a sharp knife which should slide in easily
Leaving the skin and a 5mm (ish) rim intact scoop out the flesh and seeds, transfer to a big bowl
Remove the seeds
Mash the flesh with a fork, season, add the olive oil and the garlic, spoon back into the squash.
Mash the cheese roughly with a fork and add to the squash
Chop the rocket and mint
Add to the squash and top with the pine nuts
Return to the fire
Slice the peppers roughly
Slice the chicken breasts into 6 or 8
Place 3-4 slices of chicken and the same no. of pepper on each skewer
Grill on each side for 5 minutes
Eat the chicken and pepper skewers with your fingers and eat directly from the squash with spoons.
In addition to fifteen years work as an international mountain leader and trekking guide on five continents, Kieran has nearly two decades experience of catering for some of the most demanding customers – fellow instructors who want nutritious food with a bit flair, lots of it, now and don’t care that it’s minus 10c and snowing!Twitter @kierancreevy
Claire has been described as part chaos, part rocket fuel. When she is isn’t racing down mountains on her bicycle, you will find her behind a lens and licking the wooden spoon.Twitter @claireburge
Lizalet Oosthuizen is a dietitian and food enthusiast with a love for cooking and adventure. She has joined the team as the food stylist, but mostly it’s an excuse to taste Kieran’s delicious food.