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Book review: Ekstedt: The Nordic Art of Analogue Cooking, by Niklas Ekstedt

27 August 2020 by

Cooking on a wood-fuelled fire inspires romantic notions of flames licking towards the skies while a piece of meat spits and the fat fizzes – not just a means of cooking, but an act of theatre that has been brought into many an open kitchen in recent years. But few, if any, have mastered flames in the way of Niklas Ekstedt, a chef who can create a perfect soufflé without gas or electricity.

Ekstedt's passion for cooking on flames began when he built a small, makeshift fire pit on his patio. The interest ignited a passion that saw him research methods of cooking all but lost with the arrival of gas and electricity in domestic homes, focusing his experiments around birch wood which, he explains, played a pivotal role in domestic Swedish life for generations.

At his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in Stockholm, every dish is prepared using these traditional methods, with the restaurant's wood-fired oven, which reaches temperatures up to 500ºC, being used to prepare everything from vegetables to bread, cakes and meat.

In this book he shares forensic detail on how this is achieved, his passion contagious as he moves through techniques such as cold and hot smoking, using embers, hay and open fires effectively and flambadou – cooking by basting with burning fat. When it comes to the wood-fired oven, Ekstedt and his team adjust the fuel levels to manage temperature and clean with water at the crucial moment to create the steam needed to bake bread throughout the day.

The results of Ekstedt's prolific research is evident in his recipes. Wild ingredients and ancient techniques are used to create clean, highly finessed plates of food, such as langoustines seared with burning beef fat and served alongside a burning birch wood-infused cream thickened with ättika and a smoked parsnip.

There appear to be no constraints on what the chef can achieve with fire, with recipes ranging from a delicate almond financier with birch fudge to smoked seaweed-brined sea bream with consommé, and a wild duck confit with overnight-baked cabbage. This is a book for the enthusiast and will not disappoint.

Ekstedt: The Nordic Art of Analogue Cooking, by Niklas Ekstedt (Bloomsbury, £40)

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