One of my absolute favourite ways to cook is on hot rocks. It is so simple as it requires no pans or utensils, but produces excellent results. This makes it perfect if you want to trek somewhere and cook on a fire without carrying excess equipment.
It was the perfect technique for my brother and I as we climbed a hill overlooking a beautiful stretch of the Lot Valley this summer for some wild cooking. ‘The Hill’ is a favourite spot for us because its only a half-hour climb from our house but once you’re up there it feels very remote. The only signs of life are some rotting hunting platforms in the trees with shotgun shells and wine bottles littered underneath. The firepit and benches are always just as we left them from previous trips, sometimes a year earlier. This makes it feel very isolated and creates a great atmosphere for some stone-age cooking.
The first job when we arrived was to collect enough firewood for the evening. You don’t want to be doing this in the dark and you need a decent fire burning for a few hours to get the rocks ready to cook on. Next we arranged the flattest rocks we could find so that they form a cooking platform underneath where the fire would be lit. This is your grill. Then build a big fire and wait for the rocks to get hot.
While you wait for the fire to burn down, there is an excellent opportunity to make life a bit more comfortable. We dug a small pit and filled it with ice to cool some beers. If you cover it over with some leafy branches it keeps them cool all evening. There was also time to enjoy the view which one of the best parts of the experience. You get a huge panorama of the river valley with the Pyrenees mountains in the distance and the sun setting to the west. The sky is also exposed with little light pollution to obscure your view of the stars.
When the fire has been burning for a couple of hours and there is white hot charcoal all over the rocks, you are ready to cook. We put the larger burning logs to the side of the fire to give some light and pushed the charcoal into the cracks between the rocks. A leafy twig is perfect for brushing the ash off the rocks so they are clean and ready to cook on.
I love to cook steak on hot rocks. It feels right to me. A big slab of red meat which will cook quickly and be tearable with the teeth. We used sirloin that was cut to a good thickness at the supermarket meat counter. I seasoned the steaks with some salt and pepper and rubbed them with oil and let the fire produce the rest of the flavour. Lay the steak on the hot rock of your choice and cook it just like you would in a pan. A couple of minutes on each side until it is cooked to your required doneness and then rest it on a cooler rock at the side of the fire.
The flavour is always excellent when cooking this way. The wood and charcoal give the meat a natural smokiness and there’s plenty of heat to cook the sirloin to tender perfection. I really recommend trying this technique. It would also work with anything that needs quick cooking at high temperatures, like shellfish or sliced vegetables. If you can find a place to go where you can be away from civilisation for a few hours and give it a go, its a great way to forget about life’s trivialities and remember what’s really important – good food and good company.