Whole Chicken and Branzino Cook with Chef Nathan Flaim
“There is no ‘on and off switch’ with fire." An accomplished chef and world traveler, Nathan Flaim chooses live fire cooking methods on a daily basis, both on the job and when preparing food for friends and family. "Cooking with fire is a primal, intuitive process that takes attention, patience and love.” Get inspired as you learn about his passion for fine food and fire cooking.
Beginning his career at the young age of only 16, Nate knew from the start that culinary arts were his calling. “I Instantly fell in love with the adrenaline and lore of the kitchen,” Nate says. “The kitchen is where I started to express myself, and with time, it became a place of peace, clarity and creativity.” Nate currently works as the Executive Sous Chef at LUCA, an Italian restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and student of flavor and technique abroad, he brings much experience to the table when it comes to live fire cooking.
When asked why live fire cooking is his preferred method, Nate shares that he thrives on the intuitive process that live fire cooking requires. “Moving coals around, feeling the heat with your hands, understanding direct and indirect heat, knowing when to flip, reposition, rotate, or take off the grill… You’re always inspecting and learning.” This constant learning is a value that Nate holds highly in the kitchen. It’s this exact idea that has allowed him to become the intuitive live fire chef that he is today.
In addition to the thrill of an ever-changing mode of cooking, Nate also explains that live fire cooking requires the use of all 5 senses in a way that other methods of cooking don’t. “When I cook with fire, I tend to feel a lot with my hands. I do this because it tells me how hot the direct and indirect heat is.” Nate described that he will sometimes imagine his hand being the ingredient he’s about to put on the grill. He’ll then ask himself questions like "How long would it take for x ingredient to cook?" or "Is it too hot to leave the whole chicken skin side down for 5 minutes?". Visualizing the process while feeling the heat with his hands helps him gain an understanding of what to expect.
Before our cook out with him, Nate went to a local farmers' market for all of his ingredients. His priority on fresh, locally sourced ingredients allows the food to speak for itself by keeping seasoning to a minimum. When asked about the fresh flavors and minimalist seasoning, Nate expressed succinctly that “if you have good ingredients, you can keep it simple.” The best ingredients paired with the intuition and heart required in live fire cooking result in flavors to make you never want to cook another way.
We had the honor and privilege of experiencing Nate in his natural environment - cooking on a Breeo smokeless fire pit. He made a meal of a whole chicken, charred potatoes, branzino (Mediterranean sea bass), toasted bread with mushrooms and bone marrow, and serrano ham wrapped pears. The food was top notch, and the good company made for a great time. In the words of Nate, “at the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing better than being with friends and loved ones around a fire, sharing food.”
The recipes from our cook with Nate Flaim are below. Check them out to get inspired for your next live fire cooking venture!
Spatchcock a whole chicken (remove the back bone) and fold the wings so the
tips of the wings are sitting on the thickest part of the breast. This allows the heat to cook the bird evenly.
Season the chicken generously with sea salt, and black pepper. Be sure to season the bird one full day, or at least eight hours before cooking, skin side up.
This lets the salt penetrate and pull the moisture out of the skin to ensure crispiness.
Before cooking, let the bird sit out at room temperature for one hour.
Have a bouquet of thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf wrapped with twine sitting in olive oil and soft butter next to the fire to baste the bird as it cooks. The herbs will perfume the bird as they hit the heat.
Start cooking the bird over medium heat (you'll just want a nice layer of coals), skin side up, for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Use your hands to tell you how high the Outpost adjustable grill should be so the chicken is not burning within that time.
Baste the bird every 5 minutes or so.
To finish the bird, flip it over to skin side down to allow the skin to get crispy, but not burnt. Adjust the Outpost grill's height as necessary.
Finish with a squeeze of lemon and olive oil.
Simmer 1 lb. of fingerling potatoes in salted water for about 20 minutes or until soft.
Drain the water and place the potatoes in a bowl and season with sea salt, black pepper and olive oil.
Before putting them on the grill, slightly smash them using your hands so the skin just breaks and they sit flat.
Put on the grill and get a nice color on them, some charred, some not, for about 10 minutes. When done to your liking, put in a metal bowl, add about 4 ounces of butter, 2 ounces of olive oil, and smash/whip with a spoon until you achieve a rustic mashed potato.
Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Clean 1 lb. of maitake mushrooms and 1 lb. of oyster mushrooms by removing the stem. Separate and pull them apart using your hands. Place them in a bowl with olive oil and sea salt. Toss and then crisp on the grill. At the same time, get a cast iron skillet heating up along the sear plate for about 10 minutes. As the mushrooms get crispy, put them in the cast iron skillet. Add butter, fresh thyme, bay leaf, and season with sea salt.
Melt the mushrooms with the butter and herbs until they are soft.
Put on toasted bread rubbed with a garlic clove and enjoy.
Cut the sides off the pears so you are left with the core section and the pears lay flat on both sides. Reserve the trim for a snack or a salad.
Lightly coat the pears in olive oil, and sear them along the rim of the Outpost adjustable grill for about 8 minutes on each side.
Wrap the pear in serrano ham, crushed black pepper and enjoy as a snack.
Rinse the whole fish with cold water and pat dry.
Season the inner cavity with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
Once seasoned, stuff the fish using basil leaves, thyme, knobs of butter and Meyer lemon slices.
To close the inner cavity, wrap and knot twine around the fish so herbs and seasonings don't fall out.
When grilling, look for high heat at first (to crisp the skin, but not burn it). This doesn't take very long so stay vigilant, about 8 minutes (4 minutes each side).
Once the color is achieved, raise the Outpost adjustable grill so you can slowly cook the fish without letting the skin get too dark (about 15 minutes).
When the fish is done, place on a cutting board or a dinner plate.
Roughly chop 1 cup of parsley, zest 2 Meyer lemons, and add their juice to a bowl.
Finely dice 1 large stalk of celery, 1 clove of garlic, and ¼ cup of capers and add that to the bowl.
Mix with a spoon and add enough olive oil so it's slightly fluid.
Season with sea salt and spoon over the whole branzino.
Let the bone marrow sit in cold salted water overnight. This allows the impurities and excess blood to be removed from the bone marrow.
Rinse with cold water and pat dry.
Place on medium heat until the marrow changes color to a glossy, tan/gray. You’ll see some blood rise up in the middle of the cooking process, but don't think too much about that, just keep on cooking until you reach the desired color and consistency.
Spread on toasted bread rubbed with raw garlic and season with sea salt.
Enjoy your feast next to the fire!