Al Brown’s second title is all about the glory of cooking outdoors – preferably over wood or charcoal, though most of the recipes can be attempted indoors, too – albeit detracting somewhat from the romance. I like the chunky and practical design – the recipe names are all bold caps, the ingredients easy readable down the left column, symbols for appropriate cooking methods, and ‘steps’ in the method to break it up into major processes. All this makes for easy to follow recipes. Kieran Scott’s photography is, as always, magnificent: how he manages to make some guy in a polar-fleece jumper in front of an old garage door, or a white plastic tub labelled ‘salt’ sitting on a shelf look arty I don’t know, but he has a knack for it.
There’s a community feel to parts of Stoked. Brown visits a Kiwi-Chinese family to watch them cook a whole pig inside a burning hot pipe, collects edible seaweed with a couple near their isolated bach on the Wairarapa Coast, cooks in a home-made tandoor oven with a Cuba St grocer, and enjoys a hangi looking down on the Whanganui River. It’s full of useful advice and tips – how to light a fire outdoors, tie up cuts of meat, build a wood-fired oven (oh lordy how I want one). Stoked is for the most part full of pretty approachable recipes for the home cook, and ones which might get us using less-favoured cuts of meat, preparing a charcoal or wood fire to cook over, or even get us out foraging for greens, seaweed and mushrooms – knowing that the end result will be a flavour and texture revelation.
Stoked: Cooking with Fire, by Al Brown
Random House, October 2011, RRP $70