To quote the classic Frank Loesser song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” When the wind blows, temperatures plummet, a battalion of snowmen bivouac in the backyard and fingers stiffen like popsicles, what better way to defrost and refuel than with an evening of family fireplace cooking. Though summer is months away, campfire creations are well within reach.
For starters, fireplace—or hearth—cooking can be traced back many centuries when the only method of preparing palatable meals was to stoop for hours over large, often dangerous open fires and flying embers. Using unwieldy spits, pottery, iron cauldrons, sharp hooks, heavy ironware, and other cooking instruments, meal preparation was not for the faint of heart.
Today, with proper precautions, fireplace meals can be safe, easy, and fun. These meals run the gamut from traditional hot dogs or sausages (be sure to use specially-designed fireplace skewers or long sticks made of green wood that won’t catch fire) to soups, stews, beef, fish or chicken, slow-cooked in a campfire/fireplace Dutch Oven with legs, or prepared in a cast iron skillet (both available online or at cooking supply stores). The skillet can sometimes be placed directly on the hot embers, or preparation may involve placing a surface like a grate atop bricks on either side of the embers to support it. Investing in something like a Tuscan grill, which operates on similar principles, is another option. It’s also best to start with seasoned hardwood like hickory or fruit trees (which burn slowly) and a roaring fire that reduces to white hot embers, as cooking is generally done on or over the embers.
Much like the Peruvians who nestled papayas in embers for roasting, potatoes and vegetables can be wrapped tightly in foil and cooked the same way. For dessert, skewered, gooey marshmallows can top rich squares of chocolate and crisp graham crackers for the all-time favorite s’mores, and a long-handled fireplace popcorn popper can warm up the coldest night with buttery, salty, aromatic kernels.
Try these easy family fireplace recipes and celebrate the flavors of a winter’s eve:
Fish in the Fireplace
Fish (your choice)
salt and pepper
Stuff a whole fish with lemon and fresh herbs of your choice; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron skillet on hot embers; add some olive oil and the fish. The fish can also be coated with olive oil and placed directly on a raised, heated grill over embers. Cook until crispy on the outside and flakey inside; cooking time will vary.
Fireplace Sausage and Potatoes
3 baking potatoes, cut into small chunks
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
ketchup and mustard (optional)
In a cast iron pot, mix together potatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place pot on embers and stir often. Cook about 15-20 minutes, until potatoes pierce easily with fork. Roast sausages on skewers over flames, turning until browned (about five minutes). Serve together with condiments, if desired.