I was lucky enough to holiday on the beautiful island of Sicily this August. Mrs B and I stayed in a gorgeous little villa (a casa) just outside the small town of Giaratana which is in the SE of the island. When we arrived I was doubly excited to find out that the casa had its own commercial, wood-fired pizza oven. So, when in Rome….I just had to fire it up to make some gorgeous crispy pizzas and I can tell you, I was not disappointed. The oven was fantastic and the pizzas sublime. I also filmed the whole process so here is that video. Buon Appetito!!
A break in the rain clouds offered me the rare opportunity to fire up the oven last weekend so I decided to take full advantage of the interlude to cook-up a roast to die for.
The clay oven is fabulous at high temperature for cooking the perfect pizza but if you allow these babies to cool down somewhat, you can use the residual heat to cook sublime roast joints of meat. It is the way that the ovens cool that creates the ideal temperature profile for cooking perfect roasts. Last weekend I decided to try roasting a whole leg of lamb and, of course, I recorded the whole thing so I could share it on the blog.
Stage One: Prepare your joint of meat
Normally, with a joint of free range, organic meat I would suggest doing very little with it. With lamb, maybe some garlic, fresh rosemary, a splosh of olive oil and some salt and pepper. This time though my wife marinated the lamb over night in a mix of Moroccan spices (a Nigella Lawson recipe I think). I recommend trying this if you fancy something a little different – it is truly delicious. Whatever you decide to do make sure your lamb is prepared and ready to go. Place the joint of lamb in a roasting tin and keep covered at room temperature until you are ready to cook it.
Stage Two: Fire her up!
Firing the oven for a roast is no different to firing it up for cooking pizzas. Follow the technique I outlined in this earlier post. Keep the “full blaze” fire going for a good hour or so because you want residual heat in the whole oven structure – in the bricks and the walls of the oven itself. You can see from the photo that on this occasion my oven reached 350 °C (it took around 2 hours 15 minutes to reach this temperature). You may think that this is relatively cool and you would be right! This was the first time the oven had been fired since last year and so it had a whole winter’s worth of moisture absorbed within it which had the effect of lowering the maximum temperature. Not to worry though! If you were to put a joint of meat in the oven at this temperature it would be cremated in minutes!
Stage Three: Wait for it!
Allow the fire to burn down. You can help this along by spreading the embers across the oven floor. At this stage you need to keep your eye on your temperature gauge which will slowly begin to drop. When the temperature reaches 260 °C put the tray, together with the joint of meat, into the oven. Leave the door and chimney open for now. Cooking the meat at this high temperature for the first part of the roast is what Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall calls the half-hour sizzle and is a crucial part of the roasting process. Over the next 15-20 minutes or so the temperature will slowly drop. When the oven temperature drops to approximately 190 °C, block the door and the chimney. Leave it like this until the meat is cooked.
How long does it take?
Well this obviously depends on the size of the joint of meat and the type of meat you are cooking. I cooked this leg of lamb for 1hr and 40 minutes after the door and chimney was blocked. When I took the joint out, the oven temperature was still at 170 °C. It would have stayed hot for many hours longer so, if your meat needs a little more cooking time, whack it back in!
That’s it. Simple eh? Any meat cooked in the oven in this way is mouthwateringly moist, extremely tasty and just falls off the bone. You should also try chickens (complete with roast spuds) and my favourite, belly pork which is truly sublime! Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on.