Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire

“At the end of the day, when the food has all been served and savored, what’s left is your connection to the people around your fire”– Michael Chiarello

live-fire-3Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes For Cooking Outdoors is a love/hate relationship for me. In reading through the book I found myself going back and forth between  feeling disrespected as a backyard cook on one page to being inspired to become a better backyard cook on another.  It was those feelings that made unsure of exactly what to think about this book.

Over the years I’ve read interviews with Chef Chiarello and watched shows like, Top Chef Masters and The Next Iron Chef with him.  I know from those experiences that how I felt reading his book is not a feeling limited to just me.

“”The guy in the lawn chair is not the audience for this book. I may be cooking over a grill but I am not grilling, I’m cooking.” –Chef Chiarello”

Let me illustrate the dichotomy that is Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire. Take a look at the quote at the top of this article.  I don’t know that I have ever read a better description of what encompasses an outdoor cookout. The quote was the first thing I read and I couldn’t have been more excited about reading this book. In my opinion “people” is what barbecue/grilling is all about and Chef Chiarello captured it.

By the time I reached the end of the very same page I was feeling disrespected as a backyard cook. Chef Chiarello’s view of the backyard griller as a guy drinking a beer, who doesn’t care about the taste of the food and won’t get his butt out of the lawn chair he’s plopped himself into, is just down right insulting.

live-fire-2For Chef Chiarello “grilling” isn’t cooking.  Because he cares more than the backyard griller about proper seasoning and taste he’s not grilling, he’s cooking. Dang, what a disappointing couple of paragraphs that was. I’ve inserted a few different quotes throughout this review that show why I have such mixed feelings.

“A fire adds flavor to your food but it’s more than just a method of cooking. A live fire transforms the meal into a gathering, whether you’re cooking for two people or two hundred”–Chef Chiarello

There is no denying that Michael Chiarello is an amazingly talented chef.  His previous cookbooks are still big sellers. His restaurant, Bottega,  is one of the most popular eating establishments in the Napa Valley.  And Live Fire will do nothing but cement his place as one of the top chefs in the United States.

Putting aside all the “personal” feelings about this book I do like it.  In one sense Chef Chiarello is correct that this cookbook is not for the average backyard griller.  Not because they won’t get their butt out of a lawn chair but because they just aren’t going to have the ability to facilitate the fires and some of the ingredients are going to be difficult and expensive to get.

“I may be relaxed but I am not dozing in my lawn chair”–Chef Chiarello

That being said there are plenty of great recipes the backyard cook will be able to add to their menu. Whether its Skewered Quail with Grape Salad and Citrus-Rosemary Salt or Trifecta of Ribs: Beef, Pork, and Lamb  you have so many new and exciting flavor profiles you can merge into a variety of cooking styles or recipes.  The recipe for citrus-rosemary salt will add flavor to any poultry dish, and the coffee BBQ sauce will work with any meat on your grill or smoker.

You may never be able to cook a whole lamb on a $2,500.00 Iron Cross over a giant bed of hardwood coals but you sure will be able to learn about flavors that enhance the already wonderful flavor of lamb. Cauliflower “Steaks” with Parsley Butter Sauce isn’t going to be on the menus for very many outdoor cookouts but the “Roasted Garlic Pizza with Grilled Tomato Vinaigrette and Asparagus” can easily be done on just about any home grill.

The “Big Burger Bash” chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  If you love burgers and have the desire to change-up your normal burger party, but this book. Whether it’s the “Three-Pound Beef Burger for Six on Country Bread,” the “Grilled Bing Cherry-White Balsamic Sauce,” or the “Smoky Paprika BBQ Potato Chips” you’ll be able to impress the heck out of your burger eating buddies with no problem at all.  You’ll want to pay close attention to “The Condiment Bar” section for fantastic homemade burger toppings and condiments.

I just don’t buy the premise that grilling isn’t cooking.  Most backyard grillers that I know are serious about providing good food.  Are there those that drink a little too much and burn the food?  Sure there are, but it’s the minority. There’s something about cooking over live fire that inspires people to do the best they can.  Buying this cookbook and reading the recipes along with the informational “tips” intermingled among the recipes will help you be a far better cook, whether it’s inside or outside the house.

Chef Chiarello shares one of my favorite recipes from the cookbook.  Cooked in a dutch oven over coals the recipe for Grilled Chicken Stew and Dumplings will make a great meal for camping or just sitting around the table in the backyard.


Grilled Chicken Stew And Dumplings
Recipe Type: Main
Serves: 6
Plump, tender dumplings floating on a pot of chicken stew over a fire—this is comfort food with some good camping vibes thrown in. v Because you have to grill the chicken, wait for it to cool, then take it apart for the chicken stew, this is a relaxed kind of meal, one that shouldn’t be hurried. It’s worth taking your time and enjoying the journey.
  • One 4½-pound chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, preferably gray salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably gray salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups Chicken Broth or store-bought low-sodium stock (Recipe)
  • 11/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably gray salt
  • 13/4 cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  1. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and pepper on both sides. Lay chicken pieces skin-side down on the rack. Cook until the chicken shows grill marks, about 8 minutes, and then turn all the pieces over using tongs. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a chicken piece reads 150°F, another 6 to 8 minutes. The chicken doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through because it will finish cooking in the stew.
  2. Set the chicken aside until cool enough to handle. Pull the meat from the bones, discard the bones, and cut the meat into 1-inch chunks. Set aside.
  3. In a skillet or sauté pan, either on a grill rack over the fire or inside at your stove, make a roux. Put the butter in a pan and let it melt. Add the flour and cook, stirring until the flour is just beginning to turn an amber color, 3 to 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and set aside.
  4. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven on a grill rack over the coals. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until it starts to show a little color, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, turmeric, salt, and pepper to the pot. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add the roux to the Dutch oven, scraping all of it out of the pan. Pour in about one-fourth of the broth, stir until smooth, and bring to a boil, whisking continuously. Whisk as you add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer, uncovered. If the liquid boils too vigorously, take the pot off the fire and let it cool for a few minutes. When the liquid has thickened to your liking, add the chicken meat and simmer for 15 minutes.
For the dumplings:
  1. While the stew thickens, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the cream and mix until just combined.
  2. About 15 minutes before you’d like to serve the stew, drop 12 dumplings—each dumpling 1 heaping tablespoon of batter— onto the stew. Once the dumplings have been added, don’t stir the stew. Cover and simmer until the dumplings float and are no longer doughy, 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. To serve, ladle one or two dumplings into a bowl, and then top with stew, making sure you spoon a good amount of chicken into each bowl. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of parsley.
Stay Safe: Start a fire in a fire pit. Either move your knives and cutting boards outside so you can prepare the chicken beside the fire or have another adult stay near while the fire burns down a little.
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