Clay ovens are amazing things to cook pizza, bread, beans, meat ,vegetables..etc. They look incredibly attractive and create a feature in any garden, large or small. The most important reason for having a clay oven for me though is for cooking. During our stay at our cortijosreyfini.com in Alpujarras, andalucia, Spain, we cook everything in the oven, we recently even put the whole lamb and all the locals loved it. If you have never eaten a pizza cooked in clay oven then now is the time. as I believe – you have never eaten a pizza! Just imagine a thin, crispy, slightly charred base covered in hot melted cheese, olive oil, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, dried cured sausage, smoked ham, anchovies…sounds good and believe me taste good too! How about loaves of hot bread cooked to perfection, cracked open and smothered in real dairy butter or a large joint of lamb or pork belly cooked slowly with herbs over night in the oven’s residual heat, falling off the bone when you come to carve it the next day. Each summer when we go to our resort in Alpujarras we rent two of the three cortijos to guests often French, Dutch or English and of course we have a special pizza night when all guests are invited to share our pizzas and this has become a rituality that they never forget.
In a normal day, I would light the oven early in the evening with a few small pieces of stick and couple of large logs. this would keep the oven basically warm and ready for action. The same time we make the bread dough which we use partly for the pizza and the rest for bread which I often cook in tin baking boxes and also cook several very thin Persian style “nan” that we eat with yogurt or while goat cheese and herbs while the guests are waiting for the pizza to come. We make yogurt dip simply by mixing it with freshly picked cucumbers from our land around cortijos, a bit of garlic and a few cut mint leaves…and believe me it is good…try it!!
When it is all done and the guests all gone then our following day breakfast goes in which is white or black beans in our Colombian clay pots water, garlic, salt, pepper and couple of spoon of olive oil all poured into the pot and then I close the oven. It goes out but the heat is more than sufficient to cook the beans overnight.
You then have this with a fried egg, Mexican sauce which we also cook in the oven and some fresh bread, then wash it all down with some freshly grounded coffee !
Building your own clay oven is not difficult. I am by no means an expert when it comes to making clay ovens, but believe me it is easy and fun to make. There are lenty of ways that you can make and you can see and read in internet and youtube. The beauty of building a clay oven is that you use mostly natural and, if you are lucky, recycled or free materials. There is something very primeval about building one of these ovens. The process is a direct link back to our ancestors who would have used similar techniques for cooking many millennia ago. I thoroughly enjoyed building it! It is a very physical and tactile experience – you will handle and form every single piece of clay, sand and wood that goes into it and the finished product is something that you will be extremely proud of.
There are many ways of building an oven and shape it differently. During my early life in southern Iran, we only cooked in clay ovens specially bread. We had them vertical built into the wall and the flat bread or “Nan”was stuck to the side only for couple of minutes or so. Then during my travels in Latin America during the last 30 years I have seen many different kind of ovens and shapes. “Pachamanga” is an Inca way of baking potatoes and meat in the field after the harvest and simply put pieces of dried earth and make an oven, heat it up put the potatoes and meat and then crash it all on the top of them. Leaves them for an hour and then unearth the oven…there you will find your meat and potatoes beautifully cooked with a bit of earth around them…
The Mayas of Mexico made similar clay ovens and up to today they still do so. Most of indigenous people most |Colombia not only make their food in the oven also use it to fire their ceramic and clay pots. The Indians of the floating islands of lake Titicaca also make small ovens believe or not out of tiny pieces of algae from the lake to make their ovens..
I used all my experiences of over 40 years to make our oven out of fire bricks on inside, clay and hay outside and empty bottles , sand and wood ash below the oven base and it is great and keeps warm some 48 hours after use.
Try it and if you have any questions just email me by going to our website www.cortijosreyfini.com and send me your message.