Big Bill Winter Feast

On Saturday, I cooked 7 Kg of various pizzas and breads, a lemon and yogurt tart, 2 x 2.5 Kg legs of lamb, a whole duck braised in orange juice, and about 3-4 Kg of roasted vegetables.

Was I feeding Yetis?? Maybe I was… 😉 And all these were of course cooked in Big Bill’s fiery belly!

I started a fire in Big Bill around 5pm on Saturday. Big Bill’s crumbled chimney top finally turned to dust after years of flame-tested service. Flame was coming out of Big Bill’s chimney over the roof, creating a pretty cool effect which I suspect would be rather popular with my future party guests. Maybe I don’t need to fix it in a hurry 😉

Kiwi Bird and I started cooking some pizzas around 6:30pm. It was pretty cold outside by then, probably around 5°C. Kiwi Bird and I were standing outside with our head torches on, cooking and eating pizzas while steam arose from pizzas and our breath. We had to eat our pizzas really fast because they were getting cold fast! It was a good thing to be able to heat up any that had cooled by toasting them in Big Bill briefly.

After we finished with pizzas, I made a batch of naan. I had to keep making sure there’s enough embers in Big Bill because I didn’t want him to cool down too fast, for there were still loads of bread I was going to bake. I think it was definitely the coldest it had been for me to be cooking with Big Bill outside. The steam from my own breath kept obscuring my vision until I got used to that.

After I finished cooking naan around 7:30pm, I put the embers into the centre of the oven floor again to keep the temperature up. Then I started shaping my ciabatta using the method from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. The dough was pretty wet (~80% hydration) but because it was so cold outside, the dough was a lot stiffer than “normal”, and therefore very easy to handle. I had doubt how well I could get the ciabatta onto the oven floor without completely distorting it (refusing to use baking paper because I’m stubborn…), but because the dough was behaving rather stiffly, it was easy! I simply lifted a cut piece, stretched it, made sure there’s enough flour underneath, drop it onto my pizza paddle, and slide it into the oven. (I took the embers out of Big Bill and wipe the oven floor prior to this.) Then I sprayed the oven with a garden hose and shut the door. I wanted the temperature to be high so I didn’t check what the temperature was.

After 10 minutes, I open the door, and the ciabatta looked like beautiful soft pillows. I tapped them and they sounded hollow so I took them out. The temperature reading said 230C at this stage but I think it was higher (by how fast the ciabatta cooked) and my thermometer hadn’t enough time to reach high enough. Then I inverted 3 batons of bread, slashed them and loaded them into the oven as quickly as I could. Again, I sprayed them with a garden hose and shut the door quickly.

I let the 3 loaves cooked for 30 mins. When I open the door (8:30pm) , they looked happily puffed and sounded hollow when tapped, so out they came. The thermometer reading was 200C this time but again, I questioned the reading. Now a batch of 16 individual filled dessert rolls went in (shaped 2 hours prior) for 25 mins.

When I took them out around 9pm, the thermometer reading was 180C. I put in a lemon yogurt tart and it baked for 1 hour (I checked once half way through). When it came out, the thermometer said 150C.

Then I realised I ran into puzzle time! It’s a 3-D puzzle involving two legs of lamb, 1 pot of duck and a dish of pumpkins… Kiwi Bird saw this coming when he saw me back from the shops days before, but I was convinced Big Bill is BIG!

I was rather pleased I managed the puzzle in the end. It wasn’t straight forward and involved a few turning manoeuvres inside the oven in calculated sequences. I’m glad I don’t have to parallel park that often in real life…

On Sunday evening, I took everything out from Big Bill, finding them still warm to touch. I warmed up the lamb and vegetables more for our winter feast. To my surprise, the legs of lamb were still pink inside and juicy. In the past, meat left overnight in Big Bill always came out falling off the bones. Pink lamb was good this time anyway because it seemed Kiwi Bird was the minority at the table who preferred having lamb cooked until the meat falls off the bones. Everyone else including me was very happy with the pink meat. Saying that, Kiwi Bird helped himself to heaped platefuls anyway.

Another not so great surprise was some vegetables were still a bit hard. The pumpkins cooked in an individual enclosed dish were cooked well, but some potatoes and kumaras were still firm. I think perhaps the cold weather cooled the oven down a bit faster than usual so the meat and the vegetables were cooked less than I expected. Kiwi Bird thinks I simply stuffed Big Bill too much this time. I guess that could be true too because cooking with a clay oven is not like a convention oven where energy is constantly being supplied to the oven to maintain a certain temperature. Instead, whatever energy I stored into the clay from the fire is all that I get to use. The amount of energy can usually cook ONE leg of lamb until its meat falls off the bones, but when shared with another leg of lamb, vegetables and duck, we get two pink legs of lamb and some vegetables a little underdone. The duck is well braised anyway because it’s enclosed as well as immersed in liquid, providing better heat conduction.

All in all, it was a good feast shared with some good red wine in excellent company. Here are recipes for some of the stuff I cooked:


5 thoughts on “Big Bill Winter Feast

  1. What a fabulous post! Thanks for trying the ciabatta method – I hope you liked the result. I can’t believe it cooked in just 10 minutes! As I was reading your post, I kept thinking what a joy it would be to be all rugged up, spending the day loading things in and out of the big oven outside and pulling out all these amazing goodies. So how many people did you end up feeding in the end? 🙂

    • Hi Celia,
      The ciabatta were really good! I will write about them sometime soon.
      It’s a little embarrassing to reveal we actually only had 6 for dinner (though I planned for 10-12), which I served the 2 legs of lamb for (+ veges and breads + dessert). In the end we probably polished off the equivalent of 1 leg. We had the duck with my parents on a separate night and also gave them lots of bread. I thought we’d still be eating lamb, but my lamb lover husband Kiwi Bird polished off the rest already (well, I helped some too).

  2. Pingback: Celebrating Spring with a Fire, a Duck, and a Lamb | Imported Kiwi

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