Tandoor, barbecue and the abyss of taste

The furnace is one of the oldest creations of mankind, and it seems that in this area people have already invented everything that is possible. But my experience suggests that this is not the case. Designing stoves is one of my serious hobbies; I build stoves for myself, my friends and acquaintances. And each next oven brings new surprises and new discoveries. This is a very interesting process. I’m interested in making ovens and even more interesting in cooking in these ovens. The results every time are amazing. But before telling about the furnace, perhaps it’s worth making a short excursion into the history of food heat treatment technologies.

Installation diagram of a modern tandoor. Since the furnace is too large to be made entirely on the potter’s wheel, it is knocked down with wooden hammers from coiled clay strips. In the manufacture of modern tandoor material and technology may be different - for example, stone or brick.

Spit carcass

The most primitive way of cooking meat was, apparently, in the fact that a person threw the carcass of a dead animal into a fire. This method was suggested by forest fires - people saw that the meat of dead boars and deer, which had contact with fire, became softer and edible. They didn’t come to the cut immediately, since it involves the presence of some tools, knowledge and time. First, the whole carcasses were prepared — they were fried over an open fire, and this went on for quite some time: evidence of this is medieval images of feasts in knight's castles. Piglets, rams were roasted entirely, and in some regions, according to legends, even camels. In a slightly improved form, this simplest technology of cooking over a fire has reached us. This, of course, is about barbecue.

The dome stove, originating from the depths of history, most likely descended from a round stone wall, which people in ancient times laid around bonfires so that the wind would not blow heat away from them. The wall grew until a dome appeared above it. Nowadays, the dome oven exists in different parts of the world and in its various variations prepare such dissimilar dishes as pizza and samsa.

How is meat cooked in barbecue? Firstly, it is affected by infrared radiation, which transfers heat from hot coals. IR radiation is also used in the preparation of shawarma, but the taste of shawarma and the taste of shish kebab are easily distinguishable. The fact is that the kebab uses combined heating - infrared radiation plus hot air rising from the coals (convection). And the third factor that significantly affects the taste is smoking. And the kebab is smoked mainly not in the smoke that comes from charcoal (good coal smokes a little). Smoke begins to form when meat juices and fats drip from the meat onto the coals. They burn, and then the same white thick smoke appears, which gives the barbecue its unique taste. So, in the barbecue we observe two types of heat transfer - convection and radiation, and two ways of cooking - heating and smoking.

Kitchen utensils appeared when there was a need for boiled food. Cooking created a huge advantage at an early stage in the history of cooking, as it allowed to cook a significantly larger mass of food with the same amount of meat. Boiled meat stew made it possible in the conditions of the tribal system to feed large families, which included not only numerous relatives, but also servants. Cooking boiled food made it possible to use the results of labor of women and children (grown or harvested cereals, roots, fruits). Along with cooking, more sophisticated dishes appeared.

Fiery tornado inside a soap bubble: a spectacular experiment

An interesting method of cooking in ovens is used in India. A traditional tandoor type furnace is heated to a high temperature of 400 °. There, for a short time, meat is dropped on a skewer. Then he is taken out of the oven and covered. Heat gradually penetrates from the outer layers to the inner, baking the whole piece. That is, cooking takes place mainly outside the oven. To determine the moment when the meat needs to be removed so that it does not burn out or remains raw, is possible only with the help of experience, polished for millennia.

Cooking, however, has a significant drawback. The product is cooked at one temperature - at that boiling water. Chefs who can cook soup at temperatures below 100 ° get a significantly better result. The most delicious soups are prepared in the mountains, at an altitude of 2500–3000 m, where the water boils at 90 °.

On the other hand, very interesting results are obtained when food is cooked at higher temperatures: it is primarily a question of frying. For frying, it required not only dishes, but also oil (at first animals and then vegetable fats acted in its role). Oil allows you to heat the environment around food above 100 ° C (for example, deep-frying is carried out at 160-180 °), and thus another way of heat transfer - thermal conductivity - expands its capabilities.


Pottery miracle

Asian tandoor is a classic domed stove. Not everywhere tandoor was built of stone. Where the stone turned out to be inaccessible, the stoves were made adobe (Central Asia, India). The adobe tandoor is a cone-shaped vessel, similar to a jug with a narrowed neck. This vessel can be positioned vertically (as in Central Asia). And you can put it on its side, and partially fall asleep to make a horizontal flat bottom. In India, tandoor (tanur) is often positioned at an angle. In a vertical tandoor it is very convenient to cook on a suspension, but it is difficult to control the process of burning coal at the bottom. However, there are cooks who cook breathtakingly tasty things in such tandoor. In some regions, the tandoor is literally dug up in the ground. The walls of the pit are laid out with bricks, or they are knocked out with clay. Coal is kindled at the bottom, the product is suspended, and the top of the stove is covered with mats, leaving food for three to four hours. It turns out meat that is so soft that it slides off the bones, but at the same time it has a crisp.

Fortress for fire

But still, the main invention of mankind, thanks to which we got the kitchen that we now have, is the stove. How did she appear? For people who lived away from forests, fuel was always of great value and was extracted with great difficulty. Fuel should be protected, but if it is burned in an open fire, it is consumed extremely irrationally. To keep the heat from the wind, the bonfire was lined with stones. Gradually, the walls around the fire grew until a vault was built above it. And this very primitive domed stove has survived to this day. In almost all regions of the world, they continue to cook in a dome oven. In Italy - pizza, in Central Asia - tortillas, samsa and a lot of other food. The Russian stove is also one of the forms of the dome stove, although improved, as it additionally performs a heating function.

The oven is a unique invention of mankind, because it allows you to combine the most different methods of thermal cooking: convection, and radiation, and thermal conductivity, and smoking. The stoves that I construct are usually built into the whole kitchen complex, which includes a cauldron, a stove, a barbecue, and even a special device for heating coal (about it a bit later). The furnace has a barrel-shaped arch and a flat horizontal under. If you make a fire in such a furnace and warm the arches properly underneath, then you can generally remove the coals and cook in it for quite a long time. You can put food in the dishes. You can, on the contrary, sweep the ash and place the products directly on the hearth. For example, put the dough - and get hearth bread. Another option is to hang food under the vault. A great recipe: put a bowl of vegetables under a suspended piece of meat and add a little water there. The fat and juice flowing from the meat will give the baked vegetables a fantastic taste! And you can do otherwise - apply a method that is popular in Central Asia and extremely rarely used in Russia and Europe: just stick food directly to the red-hot arch.

Campania is considered the birthplace of pizza - an area in southern Italy where Pompeii and Herculaneum once bloomed. An Italian stove with a spherical vault, in which real pizza is baked, and where legno vero is used as fuel - real wood, is also called Pompeian. This name is fully consistent with historical realities, for such stoves were indeed discovered in Pompeii - a city that did not survive the wrath of Vesuvius, but retained under its ashes the most valuable evidence of ancient Roman life. There were no stoves in the houses of the Pompeii - they stood in trading shops, which were also bakeries. The furnaces had an ideal spherical vault, which provided excellent air circulation. Under laid out of terracotta tiles, and the arch - of brick. On top of the brick was covered with a layer of lime, and then an even thicker layer of clay, which worked as a thermal insulation.

Frying steam

Dough sticks easily - it was seen by everyone who watched the baking of Uzbek cakes or samsa. Moreover, a piece of meat also sticks well. The water in it instantly boils, the pores of a brick or clay (if the arch is clay) absorb all the moisture inside: many have seen how medical jars are held on the body. As a result, the meat is cooked using all methods of heat treatment. If part of the coal remains in the furnace, then coal serves as a source of thermal radiation. Due to the spherical or cylindrical shape of the arch, active air circulation occurs and convection begins to work. Heat is also transmitted directly from the vault. If the product is wet, then the steam additionally heats the product, and steaming is another method of heat treatment.

Uzbek cooks, when they bake flat cakes or samsa in a tandoor, use a simple technique that helps to activate baking and causes the appearance of a golden crust on the dough. In order for samsa to brown, water is sprayed into the oven. It would seem that this is the wrong method, because water cools the stove. But the fact is that the furnace is quite massive (usually about 500 kg) and heated to 200 degrees. Added half a liter of water can lower the temperature of the furnace by half a degree or even a degree, which is insignificant, but the humidity will increase several times. And the energy spent on boiling water is released again when the steam condenses on the coldest (as you know, steam can be burned more than boiling water). And the coldest thing in the oven is still food. So the steam additionally heats the dough, and it begins to brown. The same goes for meat.

Instrument for virtuoso

The better the oven, the more carefully and accurately the cook can choose the heat treatment method, more carefully control the cooking process: vary the temperature, add and reduce humidity. It is cooked not only at a falling temperature - the heat can also be dispersed by leaving the coals on the grate in the furnace: when necessary, we simply open the damper and blow air. You can put the products in a relatively cool oven, make the environment moist, and then add radiation as necessary by blowing coal. The product will remain soft and juicy, but covered with a delicious crispy crust.

Inside the furnace, you can create different thermal zones: somewhere to collect coal in a heap, somewhere to clear under. The arch of the furnace itself is like a lens. This lens has a focus, and all the thermal rays emitted by it converge in the center. The product placed in the center will heat up more, but just move it, and the intensity of heating will decrease.

In the same oven, smoking occurs at the same time if juices or fats are dripped from the suspended product into the coals or onto a hot stove.


The key to the secret

When I was a student, one of my classmates got married, and we went to a wedding in a distant village (it happened in Uzbekistan). Since we were friends of the groom, we had to stay at the celebrations until the very end. October was in the yard, and at night even in Central Asia it was already pretty cool. We cringed from the cold and even managed to get hungry. Our savior turned out to be the man who heated the tandoor to bake flat cakes by morning. He baked a piece of lamb leg in this tandoor and brought it to us. The delicious meat, of course, was eaten instantly. But then I still did not understand how it was so delicious to cook this mutton. And only when I had at my disposal a stove with a domed vault, the solution came, and I was able to reproduce this taste. I cooked meat in a clay pan away from the fire and suddenly thought - why am I wasting time if I have a stove with heated arches. And I stuck a piece of meat to the arch. The bottom with which the piece was stuck to the arch became hard. There, where juice and fat flowed, I put coal in, and the tandoor filled with sweet white smoke. Smokedness appeared. At the same time, the meat, although it was cooked for a long time, did not dry out, since in the oven, unlike the barbecue, you can maintain the desired humidity. As a result, the taste of meat turned out to be so bright and natural that no spice would be appropriate there.

I build my stoves with the help of experienced masons, and these designs are an alloy of the Central Asian experience (vertical and horizontal tandoor) with the traditions of the Russian stove and modern building technologies. In Moscow, a lot of high-quality cast iron has now appeared - doors, grates, dampers with the ability to fine-tune traction. Now you can make a furnace that can be easily rebuilt for different types of work. The first thing I did in a stove of my own design was an ordinary kebab. Large enough pieces of meat I planted on skewers, put them in a tent. The furnace did not heat too much - up to 130-140 ° С. And when he saw that the meat was slowly sliding away from the bones, he reported the hot coals, placing them near the meat. A crust appeared, and the kebab turned out to be what it was not possible to cook before.

A fragment of the summer kitchen, designed by the author of this article. Conventional firewood is used as fuel. On the left is a stove, which is a thick sheet of iron, heated from below by fire. In the center is a stove closed with cast-iron doors. Under the doors - blew with fine adjustment. In the niche to the right of the stove is a brick grill. In the photo on the right, the interior of the furnace with a cylindrical arch. For better air circulation, the arch mates with the rear wall through a series of bricks set at an angle of 45 °.

Anthem to coal and brick

Of course, it’s more convenient to cook kebabs on the grill, and a few words are worth saying about this technology too. According to my observations, 90% of failures in cooking kebabs are due to bad coal and improper heat. In order for the heat to be correct, I designed a special device for burning coal, which I build in my kitchens next to the barbecue. It looks like this. Somewhere at shoulder level is a sealed door. Behind it is an inclined “tunnel”, and at the very bottom - a metal grate, next to which is another door. Under the grate - blew with a flap, above - a chimney from the chimney. Coal is poured into the “tunnel” - two or three bags. Part of this coal falls on the grate. To rekindle it, just put a paper wick into the blower. The coal that lies on the grate will quickly flare up and warm up to 300-400 °. At the same time, the “tunnel”, in which the bulk of the coal continues to be, is “locked up” with carbon dioxide. Burning in the absence of oxygen does not occur there. We open the door next to the grate and pour the heated coal into a brick grill. At the same time, part of the coal will slide from the “tunnel” onto the grate, and the preparation of the next portion of heat will begin.

For a good shish kebab, properly heated coal and an ordinary barbecue grill are enough, without any blowing. Strong craving in the barbecue is useless. To regulate the heat, a simple fan is enough, which is used by kebab cooks. By pumping air, we intensify infrared radiation, reduce convection heating. What happens in deep barbecues, and even with holes or cracks drilled in the sides? Since the radiation power decreases in proportion to the square of the distance, in such barbecues it is not so much radiation that works as convection - the meat is baked with hot air coming from coal. It turns out a kind of "hair dryer", and hair dryer, as you know, is a device for drying. Do we need dried meat? The question is rhetorical. And what is the correct barbecue depth? In cooking, as, for example, in construction, much depends on anthropometric factors. Shish kebab is traditionally eaten directly from the skewer, and the size of the piece of meat should be such that it can freely fit into the mouth. This is a cube with a face of 2.5–3 cm, the temperature of which is required to be brought to 60–70 ° C inside, and to 151 outside. It is at these temperature parameters that the meat protein is converted in such a way that the meat begins to emit very attractive odors. Поставленная задача решается наилучшим образом, если под куском мяса горит древесный уголь на расстоянии примерно 10 см. Таким образом, лучший мангал имеет глубину полкирпича. В отличие от металла, кирпич — это керамика, которая долго нагревается, но потом долго излучает тепло. Кроме того, кирпич пористый- капельки жира на нем не вспыхивают, как на металле, они впитываются в поры, а потом медленно выгорают. И тогда получается тот сладкий белый дым, который и делает нам хороший шашлык.

Автор — известный специалист по восточной кухне, автор книг и телеведущий

Статья опубликована в журнале «Популярная механика» (№12, Декабрь 2011). Want to learn how to assemble anything from anything?

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