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—Illustration by Eric Palma

Burn, Baby Burn

Chefs all over town are turning to the dark side and charring their ingredients.

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Burned food may raise eyebrows, but it isn’t always indicative of a screw-up: Charring can make for intentionally bold flavors. More and more local chefs are using scorching techniques to enrich dishes—all while challenging what “perfectly cooked” really means.

We’ve seen an upswing in wood-fired grills anchoring restaurants (Oak at Fourteenth, Acorn, Basta, Luca, and Leña, among others). It was only natural that chefs would expand on that cooking philosophy and home in on the earthy flavors of a good sear.

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“Mankind has been accidentally and intentionally charring foods since the dawn of fire,” says Daniel Asher, culinary director of Root Down, Linger, and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox. “It can add a special flavor profile to everything from breads to fruits.”

Asher’s black-is-the-new-black mentality is evidenced on all of his menus—from salads with grilled vegetables at Root Down to charred flatbreads and blowtorched marshmallows at Ophelia’s. Meat takes a good scorching too, with pork belly getting “charbroiled until the fat gets dark notes of crispy decadence.”

“I fell in love with burnt, charred flavors when I lived and worked in Hong Kong,” says chef Troy Guard of TAG Restaurant Group. “The fire under the woks would char the veggies and give off this crazy-great flavor. I’ve been using that technique ever since.”

Want to feel the burn? Make Asher’s charred pineapple jam. Bonus: Since you’re going for blackened, it’s next to impossible to mess up.


Daniel Asher’s Charred Pineapple Jam:

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1 organic pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced into ½-inch disks

¼ cup Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

1 cup Colorado Cider Company Grasshop-ah

½ teaspoon Jacobsen Salt Co. sea salt

1 pinch Smith & Truslow organic ground cayenne

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Preheat grill until roaring hot. (Live-fire cooking with wood is preferable, but you can also use a propane or charcoal grill.) Grill the pineapple on all sides until a nice char begins to form and the edges blacken. Remove from heat.

Rough-chop the fruit and combine with remaining ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

Using a hand blender, purée mixture to desired texture. (You can also remove from heat and pulse in a blender, but do so carefully as the mixture is hot.)

Return to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until the mixture reaches a jamlike consistency (this may take up to 70 minutes).

Let cool. Jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.

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