Whether you have an original clay chiminea, like the one invented in Mexico in the 17th Century, or a modern iron chiminea, there are many great recipes you can cook with it. However, before we look at the cooking technique, let’s discuss the danger of eating burned food which has been said to potentially cause cancer, so we are careful to avoid burning our food in our chiminea.
The Danger of Burned Food: Acrylamide
This morning you burned your toast. Should you eat it or not? Is there a danger in ingesting charred bread? The question as arisen in the scientific community after animal testing revealed that high levels of chemical acrylamide caused them to have cancer. Acrylamide can form itself during high-temperature cooking when frying, roasting, baking or toasting. This is particularly frequent with grains and starches. It is a reaction from the sugars and amino acid that can be found in these foods, which happens when they are cooked at a very high temperature.
The study shows that the level of acrylamide that were fed to the animals were a lot higher than the one we consume by eating a burned toast or potatoes. Researchers also indicate that it should not change our habits of eating starches and grains daily since removing them from our meals would not change greatly our intake of acrylamide and they are part of a healthy diet.
How to Reduce Our Intake of Acrylamide
When you eat toasts in the morning, make sure they remain light brown. Dark parts should be removed and thrown away. In regards to potatoes, they should not be kept in the refrigerator but in a dark pantry. Keeping them in the cold can increase acrylamide once we cook them. Frozen French fries should be removed from the oil once they reach a gold colouring, before they turn to brown.
Reducing frying will also help reduce our intake of acrylamide as it is the cooking method which increases it the most. If you do fry your food, make sure not to eat the parts overcooked, heavily crisped or burned. The same goes for the chiminea cooking where you may find some of the bread or meat coloured all the way to black. Do not ingest these parts as they are not good for your health.
What is a Chiminea?
Invented in the 17th Century in Mexico, the chimineas adopted the shape of pumpkins. Made of clay, they were mostly used to bake bread. Overtop you would find a 3-foot chimney to let the smoke out, which is where the name comes from. To cook, you would heat coals inside it and place the food directly on them. Although the process is the same, today most chiminea are made of cast iron and come with a grill, making it easier to slide the food inside and out.
Lighting the Fire
To cook in a chiminea, you will need either wood or charcoal briquettes. If you are starting, using the latter might be the easiest choice. Never use any type of accelerant to light the fire inside or it could cause an explosion. Once you have prepared your food, you should light your fire about 20 minutes before starting to cook.
When the chiminea was invented, people would mostly bake bread inside them. Today, we use it to cook anything we want from pizza to sausages. The key to ensure perfect distribution of cooking in your food is to cut all your meat the closest size and thickness possible so that they cook at the same rate. If you make a pizza, distribute all meat and vegetables equally around it. When cooking sausages, you should prick them with a knife before sliding them in so the juice can come out.
The second most important thing in chiminea cooking is choosing how we want to cook our food. We can fix it on skewers, linking vegetables and meat together on a stick or wrap it in foil pockets which we will place on the grill. We can even place the food directly on the grill if we prefer. The choice of method will change the final taste, so up to us to try them all and keep the ones we like.
To insert the food inside the chiminea, we use a pair of long barbecue tongs. The foil packets can be placed directly on the coals or on the grill. Skewers can be positioned directly on the grill but some prefer to angle them above the coals and keep rotating them while they cook.
Chimineas cook faster than a regular oven so we should check our food often. In this method, the heat surrounds the food so we have to stay close if we don’t want our food to burn and then have to throw it away! Meat will be ready when the juice coming out is clear. Foil packets will cook slower but that is not a reason not to check on them regularly, at least the first few times.