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Back to the Stone Age for Hot-Rock Cooking

Times Staff Writer

In the beginning man ate his first hot meal roasted in an open fire. Appetites grew as aromas stimulated palates. Fish, game and fowl were cooked, although they were often charred; even burned to a crisp. Many moons later, Roman warriors discovered that the rocks surrounding the fire absorbed and retained heat so that foods could be cooked right on them. This time foods didn’t get burned.

Chantry, a company known for a simple knife sharpener that really works, now offers the Stone, a modern cooking concept that is based on this ancient form of hot-rock cookery. Their new flame-free cooking tool is nothing but a 10-inch square stone slab that’s an inch thick and weighs about 16 pounds. Quarried in Italy, the Stone comes with a stainless-steel rack with two handles for lifting and a wooden base that holds a metal tray on which to set the Stone.

What’s so hot about the Stone? After being heated in a 500-degree oven for about 20 minutes, the Stone will cook food faster than you may think. And once it is properly seasoned, it will hold a cooking temperature heat for almost 45 minutes. It’s especially suited for any boneless steaks, fish fillets, butterflied shrimp or scallops, sliced vegetables, fruits or whatever food that’s less than half an inch thick. Food also browns and crisps (who wants pale or soggy food anyway?), depending on how long you sear it.

Tastes Do Not Mingle

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“It’s fabulous for making fajitas ,” says Darrel Stone of Cookware Specialist, the manufacturer’s representative in Los Angeles. “In fact this weekend we may just use the stone rather than the barbecue because of the smog.” Lack of tastes carrying over from one food to another is another advantage of the Stone, Stone said. “Bananas tasted like bananas, not like the steak and onions that were cooked before them.”

Kathy Lopez, who recently started carrying the Stone in her store (Kitchen Koncepts in Belmont Shores), enjoys cooking with it at home. “We’ve done mushrooms, squash, all sorts of meats with a little lemon-soy for an Oriental touch . . . also excellent for toasting whole almonds,” she said. “It’s really a neat way to do something different for your guests while at the table.”

In an article about stone cookery in Prevention Magazine, Jean Rogers writes, “It’s the hottest thing in healthy, low-fat, nonstick cooking. . . . You can cook all sorts of foods without using a speck of fat and without losing one iota of the foods’ natural flavors.”

A Bit of Mastering

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Learning to use the Stone successfully requires a small amount of experimentation in the beginning. Lifting the heavy slab to and from the hot oven is not a task to take lightly. For the first four times one uses the Stone, it must be cured or seasoned by coating with vegetable oil on the reversible sides and heating for one hour at 500 degrees (subsequent cookings require only 20 minutes preheating).

Although it has nonstick properties, foods will cling slightly to the Stone with the first few uses, but like cast-iron, it gets better with more use. Heat, which is carried over for about 45 minutes, is also better retained upon repeated use of the element. Foods to be cooked should be prepared and arranged on trays ready to be cooked immediately as soon as the hot stone comes out of the oven.

Before cleaning the Stone, which may be done with lukewarm water and any mild detergent and/or non-abrasive scrubber, it should be completely cooled.

The Stone has a suggested retail price of $69.95 and is available at the following specialty cookware shops: C’est Gourmet in South Laguna, Kitchen Koncepts in Long Beach, Montana Mercantile in Santa Monica.

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