Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt has perfected cooking fine cuisine over an open fire. This month, the culinary star releases a new cookbook with a broad range of tasty recipes for the grill, including desserts. In this interview with Scan Magazine, he shares his best tips and tricks for cooking over an open fire.

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Niklas Ekstedt is one of Sweden’s favourite chefs, famous from Swedish and international TV shows, and the author of several bestselling cookbooks. For many, the award-winning Michelin-starred chef is synonymous with grilling and, not surprisingly, he’s been called the king of wood-fired cooking.

Ekstedt is particularly renowned for his long-running food and travel TV series Niklas Mat (Niklas’ food), where he visits some of the world’s most exciting culinary destinations. Another of his shows is Food & Fire, in which he visits different cultures to see what and how they cook over an open fire. His passion for cooking over an open fire also fuelled his latest cookbook Ekstedt grillar / Knep och hemligheter (Ekstedt grills / Tricks and secrets), released at the end of March.

Talking to Scan Magazine, Ekstedt reveals that the book has taken over two years to finish. “With this book, I’ve prepared and cooked everything myself at home with my family and friends,” he says. “I’ve put the dishes on our table on a Friday night, on a sunny summer’s day or a freezing winter’s morning.”

With all the dishes cooked and photographed in his house and garden, the result feels personal and real.

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Just in time for the barbeque season

Ekstedt is the author of several cookbooks. Two of his bestsellers are Food from the Fire: The Scandinavian Flavours of Open-fire Cooking and Happy Food: How eating well can lift your mood and bring you joy. In the latter, he and journalist Henrik Ennart explore how the food we eat affects our brains and mental health.

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

His new book, released just in time for Easter and the start of the barbeque season, builds on to the topic of the former.

Rooted in Nordic flavours infused with inspiration from travels around the world, the book features over 50 recipes that can be perfectly cooked over an open fire, including fish, poultry and meat, veggies and side dishes – even desserts. The recipes are mixed with expert tips and proven techniques. Ultimately, this is the perfect guide for any home cook looking to improve their grilling skills.

Undoubtedly, the open fire has been an important part of Ekstedt’s career. “I started cooking over open fires more than 15 years ago,” he recalls. “Recent trends have moved from consumption to a more long-term, analogue perspective in cooking. I find looking at ancestral techniques useful, you can see how quality was incredibly important, and how they really thought things through back then. What I’ve realised is that you can get great results with fire, smoke, ashes and soot.”

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

For over a decade, Ekstedt has refined his passion for cooking over an open fire.

Expert tips for mastering open fire cooking

So, what are the star chef’s secrets to get it right? How do we get that perfectly crisp surface and characteristic grill flavour? The book covers techniques and tools that can easily be used at home and reveals secrets to take your grilling skills to the next level. “Knowledge is really what grilling is all about,” means Ekstedt. “A properly used technique becomes an ingredient that enhances and elevates each dish. The coal, the wood, the fire – it all becomes part of the experience.”

So whether you are a curious novice or even a grilling enthusiast, you will discover new secrets and clever tricks. “With the help of a lemon, you can prevent the fish from burning. A handful of hay can bring out new flavours. With a perfect glow or a burning log that is used in the right way, your meal turns into something more than just ingredients.”

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Ekstedt appears on Netflix’s Crazy Delicious as well as MasterChef UK

Praised restaurants and collaborations

Apart from the new book and accompanying tour, the hard-working chef is focused on his two successful restaurants, where, food is, of course, cooked over an open fire. Ekstedt in Stockholm opened in 2011 as the first wood-fire-based restaurant in Sweden. Since 2013, it has had a Michelin star and is now one of the top gastronomic destinations in town. Here, his skilled team uses ancient Scandinavian cooking techniques to make contemporary food with carefully selected seasonal ingredients and Swedish flavours.

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Bacon with maple syrup:

“This is what I call cowboy food. It’s the perfect breakfast after a night in the outdoors. When you are exhausted after a long hike, it tastes nice with something fatty, sweet and salty. Eat the bacon with fried eggs, fried sourdough bread and boiled potatoes, and you’ll have a complete brunch.” – Niklas Ekstedt

300g bacon in pieces (or pork belly)

3 sprigs of rosemary
4 tbsp maple syrup

Cut the bacon into large cubes and grill according to the instructions.

How to grill:

Feel free to grill over birch wood. Fry the bacon in a dry cast iron pan over an open fire until browned. Add the rosemary. Then pour over the maple syrup and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Grilled chanterelles:

“Nothing tastes as good as grilling mushrooms you have picked yourself in the forest. If you can’t find chanterelles, the dish also works well with oyster mushrooms. Serve the mushrooms with tasty bread.” – Niklas Ekstedt

200g chanterelles
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp butter
1 egg
2 tbsp lingonberries

Clean the chanterelles and remove any soil.
Then grill according to the instructions.

How to grill:

Feel free to use birch wood to add flavour to the chanterelles. Start by frying the chanterelles over an open fire in a cast iron pan with a little oil until they get some colour. Add butter and continue sauteing the chanterelles. Push the chanterelles to the side so that a space is formed in the centre of the pan. Break the egg and let it sizzle together with the chanterelles. Top with lingonberries at the end so that they are only slightly warm.

In 2021, the long-awaited spin-off, Ekstedt at the Yard, opened at the five-star Great Scotland Yard Hotel in London, a city the chef also sees as his second home. The much-praised sister restaurant has the same emphasis and philosophy, Ekstedt’s signature analogue cooking over an open fire, while using the best of British produce.

Ekstedt is also excited about collaborations with fellow chefs, such as the upcoming Four-Hands Dinner on 16 March in Stockholm with Lennox Hastie from Firedoor Surryhills in Sydney, Australia’s only fully wood-fuelled restaurant. He promises, “It’s sure to be an unforgettable evening where Australia meets Sweden over fire.”

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

When you choose the best tools and accessories for your grill, your grilling will be more than just cooking – it will be an experience of flavours, aromas and joy shared with friends and family.

How to become a master at cooking over an open fire:

Use a grill with a lid, it’s the best option
• Buy some fire bricks, to create different zones and levels on the grill
• Use various types of charcoal, as they all have different benefits and flavours
• Proper grill pliers is a must
• Most importantly, use a good thermometer

Niklas Ekstedt, Sweden’s favourite chef, on cooking over an open fire

Ekstedt grillar/Knep och hemligheter is out now – Order your copy now from Adlibris, Bokus and other Swedish book retailers.

Follow Niklas Ekstedt on Instagram: @niklasekstedt

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