“Remember when we didn’t have gas or electricity, and we cooked over an open fire? That’s the smell you want, and the taste you want. It’s something you just can’t get from conventional cooking methods. It’s primal, in our DNA” – Yon Miller.
Eat At Sandy’s in Bulli is all about good food shared with good friends. The beating heart of this family restaurant is its wood-fire oven, where chef Yon Miller has designed a menu around the incredible versatility of this cooking technique. As featured in The Illawarra Cookbook, we sat down with chef Yon to get his tips on what to cook on a wood-fire oven, and how to bring out unique tastes and flavours.
Sardines & Fish
“I used a to have restaurant up in Paddington, and we did sardines over charcoal. I’ve eaten sardines in Portugal and Spain, and they’ve always been done over an open flame. There’s something primal, get-down-and-dirty about it.”
“Whole shoulders and legs of lamb, and whole pork belly. One of the drawcards of a wood-fire oven is you get to play with it – exactly what your parents told you not to do. You can change the temperature by throwing another log on, or spreading the coals out, or get colour on something by igniting a new piece of wood and letting the flames lick the roof of the oven. If you’re lucky enough to have a wood-fire oven at home, you can finish cooking whatever you’re cooking, then throw on a whole leg of lamb or meat and just leave it for however many hours it takes for the oven to die down. You’ll get this amazingly flavoured, slow cooked piece of meat.”
“Whole cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot. We make our tomato sauces using tomatoes roasted in the wood-fire oven. We serve up woodfired cauliflowers with a nice flavoured oil, some yoghurt, some sumac or dried pomegranates. If you cook it right, the inside melts and the outside crunches, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
“On our first menu we did a Lebanese flat bread, which takes about 60 seconds to cook. We’d prepare it first, roll it out flat, and throw it straight onto the base of the oven, which brings out a lovely texture and colour, with bubbles of the dough popping and blistering. You can really taste the difference between that and a store-bought variety. Now we’re doing a Turkish pide, which we also do straight on the base of the oven. The flavours are far superior.”
“One summer there was a glut of plumbs. On Sunday night, when the oven was dying down, we spread the coals out and cut the plumbs, de-seeded them, and laid them out on racks. The next morning, I came in and pushed the racks into the oven and left them for two days to dry out. We’ve done that with bananas, peaches, nectarines – all sorts of fruit. The gentle heat will coax the flavours out.”