- Los Angeles‘ Hatchet Hall cooks its food over a live wood-burning fire.
- This method gives steaks, pork chops, and even vegetables a distinct flavor.
- Many describe this flavor as almost “bacon-like,” and we talked to a food science expert to find out why.
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Following is a transcript of the video:
Brian Dunsmoor: I think what’s so fascinating about American food history and, like, techniques that we like to use is that it was all based on survival in the beginning. It takes a lot longer to cook food by hand, so you have a lot more time to think about what you’re doing, and, like, that was my one, my one thing, I was like, hearth or no restaurant.
Narrator: Here at Hatchet Hall in Los Angeles, everything is cooked over an open flame. We’re paying the restaurant a visit to find out why fire makes food taste so good.
Brian: Here, it all started with our fascination with wood-fire cookery, cooking by hand, old American techniques, and American food history. Well, we do most of our cooking in a wood-fire hearth, but we do everything from grilling, braising, hanging, smoking, curing, preserving, fermentation.
Narrator: So, why does meat taste so good cooked this way? Isn’t cooking a steak in the oven or on the stove the same thing? Well, no, and we’re gonna explain why.
Narrator: When meat is cooked and the outside takes on that beautiful dark crust, what’s happening is called the Maillard reaction. As sugars and amino acids come together and reduce, a sort of caramelization process takes place, turning the outside of your food a darker color, a color most often associated with the deliciousness of anything from steaks to croissants. Of course, this can be achieved in an oven or on a stove, but what makes the wood fire different is it creates a distinctive aroma. The aroma responsible for the deliciousness of meat cooked over a live, wood-burning fire is guaiacol, which together with other compounds can smell almost bacon-y.
Narrator: Guaiacol is one of hundreds of aroma compounds that contribute to what we call taste, or what others may call the in-mouth smell of foods. Some of those compounds are responsible for the texture of food, while some are responsible for things like sweetness, and some contribute to the food’s aroma. As some of these compounds leave the food, they float up into the air, and you get a good sniff. This aroma is detected by your olfactory system and contributes to the flavor of certain foods.
Narrator: The smell of wood combined with the fat and sugars breaking down in meat smells, well, intense, and that woody, bacon-like aroma is often perceived by diners as depth of flavor.
Sydney Kramer: When you cook over, you know, a wood fire, it’s really about an art or a science because it’s hard to control where those flames are coming from, so being able to understand, like, how fire works is extremely important and maybe even understanding how different woods burn.
Sydney: Delightful. The wood flavor from this steak, I have to say, is unlike anything I’ve ever had in my entire life. I usually just cook a steak in a cast iron at home, and I think most restaurants do as well. The dedication they have to having that massive flaming stove in their kitchen. It felt like 10,000 degrees in there. Being able to perfectly cook something, like, having something that hot and being able to cook it this perfectly medium rare… amazing. And delicious.
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Sydney: My mouth is full of steak. This is very good wine.