Cookbook Reviews

Seven Fires

Whether you’re dusting off your grill as the weather warms or toughing it out and grilling year-round in snow, sleet and freezing rain, you’ll want to check out Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires Grilling the Argentine Way (Artisan, 2009). Employing time-honored techniques, South America’s most celebrated chef shares how to grill, both expertly and easily, meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and breads. Everything that I’ve wanted to know about good grilling I’ve found in Seven Fires.

Mallmann’s seven fires are seven methods of wood-fired cooking. These consist of cooking in wood ovens (horno de barro), spits (asador), cast-iron grates (parilla), sheets (chapa) and kettles (caldero) as well as in embers (rescoldo) and extreme heat (infiernillo). Early in the book Mallmann details how to work with these seven fires. He also covers how to build and light wood fires and how to gauge cooking temperatures. In essence he takes all the guesswork out of grilling.

Fundamentals finished, Seven Fires moves on to the meat of the cookbook — recipes. Although Argentinian cuisine strongly favors beef, Mallmann gives equal billing to other meats, seafood and produce. In fact, I’ve used his caramelized endives with vinegar, smashed potatoes with tapenade crust and stacked ratatouille as a meal for vegetarian friends. For the pescetarians in the bunch I’ve also made his burnt carrots with goat cheese, parsley, arugula and crispy garlic chips as an appetizer, grilled scallops with endive and radicchio as the main course and burnt oranges with rosemary for dessert. Sophisticated yet simple, his recipes never fail to please. I only wish that he included more than 100 or so dishes in the book.

For those unable to build a big wood fire, get an infiernillo going and grill outdoors Mallmann has adapted his recipes. Many can be executed by placing a two-burner cast iron griddle or grill over your cook top or firing up your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The experience won’t be as atmospheric as cooking outdoors but it will still yield highly flavorful foods.

Similar to other favorite cookbooks, Seven Fires can serve as both a cookery and a coffee table book. Flip through the illustrated pages and you’ll embark on a cultural journey through Mallmann’s homeland, Argentina. Sumptuous color photographs of the Argentinian landscape, people, and, of course, food accompany Mallmann’s well-written and thoughtful text. No question about it. Seven Fires is a visual as well as gustatory delight.

This spring, as you reach for your grill tongs, be sure to grab Seven Fires, too. Insightful, sensible and beautiful, it will change the way that you grill forever and for the better.