Our deep desire to cook with fire

ABOUT THIS FEATURENew cookbooks flood the market every week. This feature will help you make sense of what’s new and what’s worth trying out. Email your questions and ideas to connie.post@coxinc.com

Why is cooking over an open flame so very satisfying?

It must be in our DNA. Archaeological evidence from a cave in South Africa’s Northern Cape province indicates that our early ancestors started cooking with fire about 2 million years ago.

Throughout human history, it’s been the primary way to prepare food — and remains so today in many parts of the world.

Cooking with fire is a big deal. Charles Darwin ranked mastery of fire second only to language as the most important step in human development, and backyard grilling continues to evolve before our very eyes.

These sophisticated (yet super easy) recipes for Bacon-Wrapped Prawns and Seared Salad with Asiago will definitely separate you from other primates playing with fire.

BACON-WRAPPED PRAWNS

Serves 4-6

24 large shrimp (prawns) in the shell, about 1 pound total weight, peeled and deveined, with tail segment intact

Basic Shrimp Brine (recipe below)

6-8 metal or wooden skewers

12 slices thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, cut in half

24 fresh basil leaves

Prep and preheat: Add shrimp to brine, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Prepared a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat. Brush and oil grill grate. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes.

Poach: Bring a saucepan three-quarters full of water to a boil over high heat. Drop in bacon slices, reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Wrap: Remove shrimp and discard brine. Pat dry with paper towels and wrap a basil leaf tightly around middle of each shrimp, then wrap a half slice of bacon around basil. Slide wrapped shrimp onto a skewer, piercing it through the middle to secure all layers.

Grill: Place shrimp skewers on the grill and cook, turning once, until the bacon is crispy and shrimp turn creamy white, 3-5 minutes per side.

Serve: Slide shrimp off skewers onto a platter. Serve at once.

Our assessment: Bacon-wrapped shrimp is about the most succulent thing I've ever tasted.

BASIC SHRIMP BRINE

Serve 4

In a large bowl, combine 6 cups water with ½ cup kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon ground coriander, and stir to dissolve. Use right away. Makes enough for 2 pounds shrimp.

SEARED SALAD WITH ASIAGO

¼ cup white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon each anchovy paste and whole-grain mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh oregano

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic

½ cup each canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon honey

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced

¼ pound Asiago cheese

Blend: In a blender or food processor, combine vinegar, anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, oregano and roasted garlic. Pulse to blend. With machine running, slowly add both oils and process until emulsified. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in honey and season with salt and pepper. You should have 1 ¼ cups; store extra in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Heat: Prepare charcoal or gas grill for direct drilling over medium heat. Brush and oil the grill rack.

Prep: Cut each romaine head in half lengthwise. Trim base of steam on each half, leaving remainder attached to hold leaves together. Drizzle cut side of each half with olive oil.

Grill: Place romaine halves, cut sides down, on grill rack. Cook until leaves develop a little char and begin to wilt, 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook 2 minutes longer. Romaine should be a little wilted but still hold its shape.

Serve: Turn the romaine halves cut side up and serve on individual plates. Garnish each one with a quarter of the tomatoes and avocado. Use a vegetable peeler to shave cheese over salads. Spoon some vinaigrette over the top and serve.

Our assessment: I'd never tried grilling romaine before, but it's extremely easy and tastes delectable with Asiago cheese and the other ingredients.

From the book: "The Total Grilling Manual: 264 Essentials for Cooking with Fire," edited by Lisa Atwood; 276 pages, $29. Published by Weldon Owen, 2016.

What you get: An extensive section on tools and techniques precedes sections on beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, sides and drinks. Photographs are very helpful.

In her own words: "You have everything you need to know about grilling at your fingertips, so it's time to get started."