Salt-Roasted New Potatoes

Although these potatoes are a great first project for your infiernillo, we love them for themselves and do not think of them as a mere training exercise. They are the apotheosis of potatoes, as more than one true spud-lover has told me.

Once you have mastered this technique on tubers, though, apply the same principles to cook other foods that you might otherwise roast or bake with medium-high heat, like a chicken, a whole fish, or a tender joint of meat or small whole animal. (Conversely, you may also, if you like, make salt-roast potatoes in a wood-fired oven.)

Incidentally, the first few times we made this we included thyme sprigs and garlic, thinking that the potatoes would be perfumed by them. Nope; the garlic was good (if surprising) to eat, but, perhaps because of the desiccating effect of the salt, neither it nor the thyme imparted anything discernible to the potatoes.

  • 10pounds new potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 bag solar salt*
  • 2 boxes kosher salt

* Solar salt is sold in 40-pound bags (as a water softener) at home-improvement retail stores. It’s by far the cheapest way to go with this technique, and works fine as long as you improve the mix with a portion of kosher salt. If you’ve ever mixed concrete, it may help you to think of the solar salt as the aggregate, and the kosher salt as the cement.

Serves 12 to 15

Method

1. Use your largest mixing bowl or other clean vat for making the salt mortar. Dump about 10 or 15 pounds of the solar salt (depending on the size of your mixing vessel) and half a box of the kosher salt in the bowl. Add a couple cups of water and work together with your hands. The kosher salt will begin to melt and surround the larger crystals. Add more water as needed until the mixture feels damp throughout. If you begin to have a deep puddle on the bottom, dump in more kosher salt and continue mixing.

2. Transfer the salt mortar to a half-sheet pan with your hands and press into an inch-deep layer with no gaps. Dump on the potatoes, and pile them into a compact form (making sure that the height will be accommodated by your infiernillo). Leave a border of a bit more than an inch potato-free.

3. Cover with more damp salt to a thickness of about an inch (I usually have to mix another batch at this point). Pat the whole monolith into stability, closing gaps. If you are nervous about any particular place, mix up some straight kosher salt with a dash of water to fill in.

4. Slide the pan with its salt dome into the hot infiernillo and keep everything moderately stoked for about an hour or so. We like to slide the potato dome out and let it rest for 10–15 minutes; you can also let them stand longer if you have other unfinished cooking going on, as they stay hot a long time. If you want to be sure about doneness, whack one edge of the dome with a heavy sturdy object, and poke a potato with a fork. When it comes to serving time, let your guests do their own excavating.

5. We usually serve these unaccompanied, but you can set out whatever you like, if you want to make it seem more like you’re working to entertain your guests. Let your conscience be your guide.

Excerpted from Cooking with Fire (c) Paula Marcoux. Photography by (c) Keller + Keller. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.


Almond Meringue Cookies

These are meringues with soul. They want to use the last heat in a bone-dry oven, but you can make and pipe the cookies 3 to 5 hours ahead so that their surface dries before baking. Do not attempt in humid weather.

  • 5 ounces (1 cup) unblanched almonds, plus 36 more for garnish
  • 4 ounces (2/3 cup) dehydrated cane juice or other flavorful sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar, if you have it

Makes 36 small cookies

Method

1. Use a food processor to grind the almonds finely — don’t forget to protect your ears. Add half of the sugar, and grind a bit more until powdery.

2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high until broken up, then add the cream of tartar. Keep beating until soft peaks begin to form. Increase the speed of the mixer and begin to add the remaining sugar gradually. Keep beating until all the sugar has been added, then increase the speed to the highest setting, beating another minute or so, or until the mixture is very white, stiff, and glossy.

3. Remove the beater and sprinkle the almond mixture over the top of the egg whites. Use a flat-bladed whisk to fold it together quickly and thoroughly.

4. Either use a pastry bag to extrude thirty-six 1-inchdiameter globs on 2 sheets of baking parchment, ordrop by teaspoons. Place an almond neatly into the center of each, and place out of harm’s way in a dry, and even sunny, spot.

5. When the rest of your baking is long done, and the oven temperature has dropped below 300°F, slide the cookies carefully into the oven. Leave them in until they have taken a little color; they are shatteringly, meltingly crisp; and the almonds have developed an irresistible toasty flavor, between 2 and 3 hours.

Excerpted from Cooking with Fire (c) Paula Marcoux. Photography by (c) Keller + Keller. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.