Friday, May 1, 2009

A Fireplace in the Kitchen: What a Concept

Old-World Fireplace the Kitchen!

I’ll be honest: apart from the rare power outage brought on by an ice storm, or the occasional impulse to snatch an Oscar Meyer from the Frigidaire’s deli drawer and plunge it into the flames for a quick late-night snack, I don’t use my fireplace too terribly often for cooking.

For one thing, as anyone who has stewed a piece of beef or roasted a bird over an open flame in the middle of the living room can tell you, fireplace cooking can be an awkward endeavor. When you try to up the ante from hotdogs to haute cuisine, or you get overly ambitious trying to locate your inner Julia Child, it can prove not only messy but dangerous. Don’t watch what you’re doing and you’ll spill beef bourguignon all over the shag carpet. Turn your back too long and you might just ignite the coq a vin.

I’m being dramatic, of course, and we shouldn’t be so scared—or so reluctant. After all, it wasn’t so many years ago that our ancestors cooked virtually every meal over an open hearth. Indeed, I just came across this article about 19th century kitchen fireplaces in New England and started wondering why I don’t have a hearth in my kitchen instead of a stainless steel Kenmore gas range. I mean, I like cooking with gas as much as the next home chef, but just imagine how much cooler—or no, hotter—it would be if I could reach a pair of tongs into the fiery pit and pull out a freshly roasted breast of duck, its skin glistening golden and crisp.

My next home’s going to have a fireplace built in right between the range and the pantry, I’ve decided. And until then, I’m going to make the most of what I have by cooking over my existing fireplace a little more often than I do. No, I’m not going to break out the cast iron cook pots or install a rotisserie behind the fireplace doors so I baste half a goat, but there is a half a pack of brats in the fridge as I type this and I see no reason not to cook one to a charbroiled blister and stuff it between a bun warmed right there in the fireplace foot for a little midnight snack. I mean, why not? The fire’s already lit--and I'm starving.

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