There has been an increasing amount of interest recently in wood-fired ovens, so why are they the hot topic right now?
Wood-fired ovens have more flexibility than you might realise, you can prepare an amazing pizza in them (see our stuffed mediterranean-inspired pizza recipe below), but you can also cook bread, meats, pies, stews, vegetables, paellas...the list goes on.
Wood-fired ovens formed the basis for many types of cooking throughout history, with the earliest examples from 4300BC across parts of Europe, South America and Asia. This tradition has continued right up to the present day, and in France communal ovens were still common in villages until the 1960s to bake the village bread. The need for communal ovens has lessened in parts of the world where the transportation and accessibility of larger producers has diminished the need for community baking, but this has not lessened the interest in the art of wood-fired oven cooking.
With the popularity of outdoor kitchens growing in the UK, we're finding many people want to site their wood-fired oven alongside their barbecue, an ideal way to perfect your outdoor cooking experience. Whilst they can in theory cook the same foods, there are important differences between the two.
Wood-fired ovens: The enclosed nature with clay surrounds and hot clay base means there is truly even heat distribution and so food cooks from all sides fast.
For pizzas the hot clay base and live flame means your dough is crisp on the bottom and cooked on the top within 3-4 minutes!
The wood fuel enhances the food you are cooking with a true 'smoky' taste.
Wood-fired ovens are fuel efficient and thought of as more environmentally friendly to cook on.
The oven stays hot long after the flames have died down, and this is the perfect time for bread to bake.
Barbecues (gas): Controllable heat via individual burners allows you to control the temperature and prepare food exactly as you wish.
Advantage of being able to cook on multiple surfaces at once with griddles, rotisseries, charcoal baskets and grills available togehter.
Excess fats drip down to the vapoursiers leaving less fat in the food itself.
Barbecuing allows you to sear food, not only giving unique presentation but a light caramelisaton to the food.
Barbecues are faster for cooking 'direct foods' such as chicken breasts, burgers etc.
Make Dough; You will need 2 cups of warm water, 1/2 oz yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, 6 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup olive oil. Whisk the yeast, sugar and water together, stand for 30 mins until twice the volume. Mix in flour and salt and make a well in the centre. Pour yeast and oil into the centre of the well. Use a fork to whisk in flour from the edges creating a sticky mixture. Transfer onto a floured board. Dust hands with flour. Fold/knead the dough for 5-10 minutes adding flour sparingly as required until dough is firm and bounces back with gentle pressure. Keep in a warm environment for 30 minutes until dough has doubled in size. Knock back dough and gentle knead before separating into four balls and leaving for another 20 minutes in a warm environment.
Prepare & Cook Pizza; Ensure oven is heated and ready for cooking. Knock back dough again and then roll out lightly/stretch out with hands. Place a small amount of a tomato based sauce around the edge and a sprinkling of cheese, roll over so that you form a 'sausage' of dough around the outside of your pizza. Crumble goats cheese across the base, gently pressing the cheese down into the base, add plum tomato slices, chopped olives and quartered artichoke hearts. Place onto a wooden or metal pizza peel (a long flat 'spade' specifically designed for placing food in wood-fired ovens), slide into your oven, leave to cook for 3-4 minutes, retreive from your oven, sprinkle with fresh basil and enjoy!
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