Curanto is an old-school cooking method still used today in Argentina. It uses heated rocks that cook food in a pit, very similar to Polynesian pit cooking. The food is placed on leaves or a blanket, which is laid on the hot rocks, then buried for several hours until the food is cooked. Of course, if you don’t want to dig a huge pit you can use what we used – a wheelbarrow. This was a lot of fun and I hope you try it out one day too!
You will need:
- a wheelbarrow
- some dry rocks (about 8 inches in diameter)
- plenty of firewood (about 12 logs)
- a shovel
- a muslin, burlap or cotton sheet (dense enough to shield the food from the earth)
- a whole leg of lamb (chickens work too, ribs, pork butt, etc)
- some whole butternut squash
- some whole russet potatoes
- whatever root veg you want (carrots, beets, fennel bulbs etc)
for the spice rub:
- equal parts (50g each) of fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds
- some smoked paprika (10-15%)
- some dried Kashmiri chiles (to taste)
Start a fire with 6 logs and a layer of rocks. Let it burn down for an hour and then add another 6 logs and another layer of rocks. While that fire burns down, let’s make a spice rub for the lamb.
The spice rub we’re gonna make is called paanch phoron, also known as Indian 5-spice. Take equal portions (100g each) of fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and combine them in a large container or mixing bowl. You can also add about 15% of smoked sweet paprika for a little colour and punch. If you like a little spice, add some dried Kashmiri chilies to taste. You can store this mixture in an airtight container for months and take some out whenever you need it.
When you’re ready to use, simply roast the seeds in a dry cast iron skillet until fragrant then coarsely grind them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Once the rocks are ready and the fire has burned down, shovel a 2 – 3 inch layer of earth in the bottom of the wheelbarrow. Carefully cover that layer with your hot rocks with hot embers to fill in the gaps. Cover again with more earth as an insulating layer.
We’re gonna use a cotton sheet to lay the food on. You can also use banana leaves, burlap or muslin. Just make sure that the layer you use is dense enough to shield the food from the earth.
Cover the food with another layer of cloth, then follow that with more earth. You want to have at least a couple inches above the rim of the wheelbarrow. Once everything is good and buried, just let it sit for about 5 hours.
After 5 hours, take off the cloth layer, being careful not to get any dirt on the food. At this point in time, your lamb should be around 145F and your veg should be nicely cooked.
Cooking outdoors is a lot of fun and very easy to do, just keep it safe and make sure your fire is completely out when you’re done. Take this recipe, make it yours and have fun out there!
What is your favourite food to cook outdoors?