You see, I started out firmly in the high heat camp. I’d gladly crank things up to sear a steak or us a wok. This seemed to work fine until one day, while attempting to blacken fish, I nearly burned down our NYC apartment. In about half a second oil jumped from my pan, connected with the flame below, and shot fire as high as the ceiling.
In about the same half second I went from a high-heat lover to someone more comfortable in the middle of the dial. The fire went out very quickly (thank god), but my aversion to high heat stuck around. Put me in front of a wok and it will take me three times as long to cook. I thought this lack of heat cooking technique was fine, just takes a bit longer, until I met Francis Mallmann.
While in S. America last fall, Chris and I took the advice of our hotel and made a dinner reservation at Francis Mallmann’s restaurant 1884. When our taxi dropped us off at what looked like an abandoned warehouse guarded by several giant men, we quickly lowered our expectations (and survival rate). We were whisked by the guard to a massive antique door where a hostess popped her head out with a welcoming smile.
One bite after the other was amazing. This was without a doubt, our best dinner in S. America.
On our way out, a cookbook, Seven Fires, sat out at the end of the bar. We spoke with the bartender and added a copy to our bill. The cookbook sat at the bottom of my backpack until we returned and were snowed in at Jackson Hole.
Francis Mallmann is South America’s Thomas Keller is to the U.S. He trained at a prestigious culinary school in France and couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with his home country, Argentina. He quickly gained credibility in the culinary world, but couldn’t give up the passion for true Argentine cooking – that of the Gauchos and Indians. Mallmann ended up ditching his French style and reverted back to ancient, rustic cooking techniques over fire.
He began cooking with his childhood in Patagonia in mind, testing out different methods of fire and reverting back to a simplistic, almost barbaric method to cooking. In fact, he loves the ways that variations in fire can change the flavors in food so much that he coined seven different types fires. Burnt became one of his most well known flavors and I can promise you Burnt Carrots is my all time favorite recipe.
Reading and tasting Mallmann taught me the importance of heat and how it works together with the food to bring out amazing natural flavors. By cooking something on low heat that is intended to be cooked on high, you drastically alter the final result.
I cannot 100% say that there will never be another kitchen fire, but I can say that I’m back to cooking with high heat! And this time I’m ready with my newly purchased high-powered fire extinguisher.
Pork Tenderloin Brown Sugar Orange Rub adapted from Francis Mallmann
You will need:
~ 2 pork tenderloins, 1lb each
~ 6 pieces Orange Confit (recipe below)
~ 2 tablespoons oil from Orange Confit
~ 1 tablespoon salt
~ 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
~ 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
~ 2 oranges
~ 1 ½ bay leaves
~ 6 black peppercorns
~ 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
~ ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
~ 2 teaspoons salt
Cut oranges in half and squeeze the juice (you can drink the juice or save it for tomorrow’s breakfast!). In a large saucepan, combine orange halves, bay leaves, peppercorns, 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, white wine, and salt. Add enough water to the saucepan in order to completely cover the oranges. Bring to a boil and let gently simmer for about 25 minutes or until the orange peel is tender. Allow oranges to cool in liquid.
Once cool enough to touch, drain the oranges and tear the peel into roughly 1-inch strips. Your goal here is to keep the orange peel while removing all of the white pith. It is a challenge, but I found it works best with a small, sharp paring knife. This really brightens the pork, so don’t skip!!
When you only have orange zest (the peel) remaining, put the strips into a small container and add oil (make sure the oil completely covers the orange zest, add more if needed).
On to the pork…
Tear the orange confit into small pieces (about ½ inch) and put on one side of the pork tenderloin. On the same side, sprinkle thyme leaves and half of salt. Add brown sugar and press firmly into the pork (almost creating a sugary shell). Drizzle with oil.
Heat a chapa or large cast-iron griddle over medium high heat. Place the pork sugar side down on the griddle and cook for 5 minutes (DON’T TOUCH). If the sugars begin to give off a burnt smell, then move the pan or turn down the heat. Mallmann suggests cooking this over fire, but since we only have a gas grill, I used a gas range. I found that I had to crank up the heat in order to get the sugars to burn a little.
Once sugar side is well done, sear the remaining sides and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until pork temperature is 135 degrees. Let pork rest for 10 minutes before carving. Season with remaining salt and devour!