Burning Love: Char Your Vegetables

Del Campo's Dishes (photo: Greg Powers)

Remember when burning your vegetables was considered a bad thing? These days, though, chefs are using high heat and chars to draw out the caramel flavors of fruits and vegetables without needing extra sauces and flavoring.

At Del Campo in Washington, DC, chef Victor Albisu serves South American barbecue with a focus on burnt items, so much so that the menu reads like a market stand of grilled items – tomatoes, scallions, artichokes, squash, onions. 

“It’s a cooking technique that’s interesting flavor-wise and texturally,” Albisu says. “Using this method, you’ll get three stages in one carrot: burnt, cooked and raw. Looking from bottom up, it’ll be burnt on the bottom, cooked in the middle and raw on top, which is much more interesting than a regular glazed carrot.”

To try it at home, Albisu recommends using a cast-iron pan on a grill or plancha over medium-high heat. Cut whatever you’re using to give it a flat surface area so that it can lay evenly in the pan. “Allow it to cook slowly so that the natural sugars caramelize underneath,” Albisu says. “You need to let go of the perfect idea of a cooked vegetable — the idea that every piece of carrot or cauliflower will be identical and perfect and identically cooked.

The method works well with most hearty vegetables and even soft fruit like avocados, peaches and tomatoes. In fact, Albisu’s charred tomato salad is a signature, with tomatoes, cheese, bread and onions all cooked in one skillet (pictured above).

And as for how to serve your homemade attempts, Albisu recommends pairing a burnt fruit or vegetable with itself, just in different preparations. “I’ll do carrots, for example, pickled, burnt and roasted. You can guarantee an item will go well with itself,” he says.

For more charred challenges, try these recipes from Cooking Channel:

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