Risotto – Proper cooking on a camp stove!

Instant noodles make me think of that scene from Crocodile Dundee. “You can eat it, but it tastes like ….”. If you’re away for a single night, and tired after yomping and setting up camp, I’ll let you off, but what about that second night. Why not have a meal which is memorable for the right reasons?

With a little bit of creativity, time and imagination, you can eat extremely well with a small range of ingredients. You’re on holiday! Enjoy it!!

Risotto is a rice dish from northern Italy. You don’t boil the rice in water, but slowly add stock, ladle by ladle, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. The rice becomes packed with flavour. You cook risotto in stages, and build the flavour, layer by layer. It’s another dish you can prepare without a fridge on hand!

For the stock, you’re unlikely to have a chicken carcass and plenty of fresh vegetables with you, so for a camping risotto, a good quality stock cube is a necessity! You need some form of fat to coat the rice before you start adding wet ingredients. Butter (for me) is best, but an extra-virgin olive oil is a practical alternative. This recipe below is my favourite risotto. It’s packed with flavour.

The recipe below is for 4 people (or 2 if you’re particularly hungry). Hell… it’s for two people, who am I trying to kid!

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of arborio rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Mushrooms (dried or fresh).
  • Half a chorizo ring.
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
  • 1 onion.
  • 1 glass of dry white wine.
  • 1 chicken stock cube.

Cooking in stages

The chorizo: Slice up the chorizo. I prefer mine fried with a little crunch, so cook these separately first. Chorizo releases oil (fat) when cooking, and can go a bit soggy and overpower the other ingredients if cooked with the risotto from the start, so I fry the slices first and put them to one side, then add them to the risotto to heat through towards the end of cooking.

The shrooms: If you’re using dried mushrooms (Tescos do a pack of Porcini, Chanterelle, Black Trumpet and Fairy Ring mushrooms for £2), these need to be blanched for 20 minutes in boiling water. Do this first, then drain and set to one side. The flavour is wonderful. Don’t waste that water though! Use it as the base for the stock.

The stock: Add more water to the saucepan used for boiling the mushrooms, until there’s roughly 5 cups in the pan. Then add the stock cube and dissolve, bringing the liquid to a boil. The stock is slowly added to the rice while the rice is cooking, so if you’ve only got one pot, you’ll need to decant it to an aluminium water bottle. If you have two pots, no problem. Stick a lid on it, or even better, if you’ve a campfire going, put the stock close enough to the edge of the fire to keep it warm (or on some coals!).

The risotto rice: Add two tablespoons of oil to an empty saucepan and heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to go clear. Pour the rice into the pan and fry the rice in the oil for no more than two minutes, stirring all the while. The rice will start to go clear. Gently stirring is important when cooking risotto. If you don’t, the rice will stick to the pan and burn. Add in the glass of wine, and continue stirring until the wine is absorbed/evaporated. This adds another layer of flavour to the risotto. Add the mushrooms.

Next, you add the stock… slowly. One ladle (or the equivalent) at a time. Your finished risotto should be creamy, not a soup! Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed by the rice, then add another. Continue until all the stock has been used, by which stage the rice should be ‘al-dente’. You don’t want the rice a dissolved mush, but to still have a little texture. If you’re unsure… taste it (but try not to finish it all during cooking, and especially if you’re cooking for others… as that’s considered ‘mean’).

Toss in the chorizo slices. Heat through for a couple of minutes. Add the grated parmesan and continue to stir until the parmesan is melted.

You’re looking at about an hour’s cooking time. Yes, it’s a faff, but oh so worth it. A comfortable seat is essential too!

Serve up, consume with the rest of the wine. Lie gently rocking in your hammock making little moans of pleasure. Replete is a good word… and such a worthy goal.

Packing Your Ingredients

You don’t want to carry unnecessary weight, and you can cut down on preparation time by doing the following:

  • Decant you olive oil into a smaller plastic bottle. Glass breaks and is heavier. Why carry oil which you won’t later use while away. Just take what you need.
  • Grate the parmesan before leaving home (you can also buy grated parmesan, but don’t use the stuff you find on the pasta aisle at your supermarket). Buy fresh if you can afford it. The processed parmesan in those little round pots with the consistency of sawdust doesn’t pack the same flavour as fresh.
  • Pre-measure out the ingredients into sealable freezer bags.

Carrying a bottle of wine… Now you could take a miniature bottle, and you can even buy wine in cans now. I say… to hell with it. Take a full bottle, or ideally two. The first you use for and while cooking. The second while eating.

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Cheese Stuffed Burger Dawgs

As with any idea from Youtube… experiment (and remember, everything’s better wrapped in bacon!).

We take this simple idea, of wrapping mince meat around a stick of cheddar cheese before barbecuing, and improve on it.

Make sure you season that mince. Chopped garlic, salt and black pepper’s essential. You also want mince with a good fat content for flavour. 85% lean is fine. If you can buy pepper jack cheese locally, we’d strongly recommend this for your cheesy filling. Can’t buy pepper jack locally? Then alongside your stick of cheddar, put finely diced fresh jalapeno. Add herbs and spices to the mince if you wish. A dash of chilli sauce. Swap mozzarella for the cheddar or why not try a bit of stilton instead. Play to your heart’s content!

 

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Drunken Chicken

beercan2
Ain’t she lovely

I tried this a couple of years ago. Drunken chicken is a popular way to barbecue chicken in the States (it’s also called beer can chicken). Essentially, you roast a chicken in a closed barbecue, but the chicken rests on a can of open beer which is placed up its bottom. It’s alright… the chicken’s dead first! The idea is to steam the chicken on the inside while it roasts.

Now you don’t need to use beer. You can fill the beer can with water instead or cider. Having learned that you can now buy white wine in a can (shudder) it seems there is now a reason, and just think of white wine steamed chicken as an alternative to cider in the following recipe.

Cider Can and Garlic Chicken

Empty a third of the chicken out, and pop four cloves of garlic inside the can. Slice up 50 grammes of butter, and feed that into the can too. Take another 50 grammes of butter and make up a bowl of garlic butter and baste the chicken with it.

In a covered barbecue, place coals in one side and light them. Place the grill on top and place the can on the side without the coals. You want the chicken cooked by indirect heat rather than directly over the flames.

The cooking time is approximately and hour and fifteen minutes. Periodically turn the chicken so each side is evenly exposed to the heat from the coals. Make sure you use a meat thermometer to check the chicken is cooked through. To check, push the thermometer deep into the breast. When the temperature reaches 75C it’s cooked.

The following video from the marvelous BBQ Pit Boys runs through their version. Beer can chicken.

 

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Catching Crayfish

northamerican
North American Signal Crayfish

Crayfish are a wonderful delicacy, and in the right locations you can catch 20 to 30 in a couple of hours by simply tossing a trap into water where they’re present. Please be aware that you need a license to capture native white clawed cray fish. In many waterways, an invasive species, North American Signal Crayfish are also present, and these are a pest. They spread a disease which harms native stocks, and damage river banks and eat salmon and trout eggs.

You need three things to catch non-native crayfish in England and Wales:

1. A lawful trap;

2. The landowner’s permission;

3. Consent from the Environment Agency in England or National Resource Wales (this is free). This application form should be used.

whiteclawed
White Clawed Crayfish

Once your application is approved, you will receive identity tags for your traps and a catch return form. Please be aware that if you catch crayfish without consent and using equipment which does not meet the Government requirements you may be prosecuted. If you catch a North American signal crayfish by mistake and throw it back in the water, this in itself could be a criminal offense. The maximum fine is £40,000 and you could face a year in jail.

If you want to catch crayfish in Scotland, contact Marine Scotland on 0300 244 4000. North American signal crayfish are still relatively rare in Scotland, and licenses may be more difficult to obtain than in England. If you’re going to catch them, do it legally. The risk to the environment from breaking the law (and to you personally if prosecuted for unlawful trapping) simply isn’t worth it.

Identifying Species: The colour of white clawed crayfish claws is lighter on the underside than on the top (hence the name) and the claws are smaller relative to the size of its body. The bottom of North American signal crayfish claws are red with a prominent white or bluish patch in the claw joints (and the claws are large!).

Compliant Traps: Crayfish traps must conform to specific criteria. This is to stop other species such as otters from being caught and drowning. Trap entrances must be no more than 95mm wide, be no longer than 600mm, be no wider than 350mm and have mesh no wider than 30mm.

Be cautious of buying collapsible traps online. Some are not UK compliant. We like the Swedish Crayfish Trap, which is! If you want one which collapses for convenient transportation, don’t buy the ‘luxury’ ones online which tend to be too long (over 600mm). Jackal Outdoors sell one which is the right legal length and width.

Baiting Crayfish Traps: Fish heads, cat food or even salami is used. Most crayfish nets have a small zipped or drawstring bag for you to put the bait in. You’d be amazed at how many you can catch in some waterways, with 80 being caught by one friend in an afternoon.

Placing Traps: In the South of England, crayfish have spread all over the river system. You’ll find it easier to get a license in the south than in the north or Scotland. Place the baited trap in the water course (some take a can of cat food, drill holes in it and use that as the bait. Weight it down with a couple of stones inside to stop it floating away. Tie a length of paracord to the net and stake the other end down firmly on the river bank. It really isn’t harder than that. Come back and check in a few hours. Make sure you wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to stop the risk of transferring crayfish diseases to other water courses.

Preparing Crayfish: Boil them, skewer them and cook over a campfire, or put straight onto a barbecue. Mr Mears shows you how to humanely despatch them in the video below. You’ve done the difficult part… you’ve got your license, get permission from the land owner, bought a suitable trap, waited patiently… was it worth the effort? For a bucket full of baby lobster… HELL YES!

 

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Campfire Baked Bananas

bakedbanana1One of camping’s easiest and tastiest deserts.

Baked bananas.

Directions:

  • leave the bananas in their skin, but slice down one side;
  • wrap bananas individually in tinfoil;
  • place the wrapped bananas on the grey coals around the fire (not directly on the flames);
  • bake for ten minutes.

Want to make them even nicer?

Chocolate baked bananas

chocolatebakedbananaPress a Cadbury’s flake or chocolate buttons onto the banana while it’s still in the skin. Wrap up in tinfoil and cook as above.

Want to make them even nicer?

marshmallowbananaMarshmallow chocolate baked bananas

As before, but add chopped up pieces of marshmallow alongside the flake or (and?) chocolate buttons.

Want to make them even nicer?

…at home, do these in the oven then add ice cream. Just the grown up kids about… add a little slug of rum!

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Midwest Staple the BBQ Pork Steak

If you live in the Midwest United States you do not have to read any further just go ahead and fire up the grill and toss on the pork steaks.  If you have no clue what I am talking about read on and your taste buds will fall in love with you all over again.  For everyone that does not know, pork is one of the best meats to cook on the grill and can be even better if cooked over an open flame.

Boston_buttWhere to buy

Let’s backtrack a little for people that can’t just run down to the local market and pick up a lovely package of these babies. Pork steaks, some times known as pork blade steaks, are cut from the pork shoulder.  If your store doesn’t have these, you’ll have to find yourself a butcher.  Ask for a nice pork butt shoulder roast (this is also known as the Boston Butt) and have the butcher cut it into one inch thick steaks.  My mouth is already watering and we’re not even out of the shop yet.  Now this is not your lean ‘new wave’ healthy steak at all.  The flavour is in the fat!

Decisions, decisions

Now that you have your steaks what to do with them… so many choices.  Do we do a dry rub or wet sauce?  Do we slow smoke them or cook them hot and fast with crispy edges?  (This does not mean BURNED!)  There are so many options.  I think for our first time cooking these babies you should just do a basic hot and fast cook with crispy edges and finish up with some BBQ sauce.  Ooh so good!

Fire up the pit

barbecuepitFor your first time cooking these and to make it a bit easier, let’s cook them on a BBQ pit if you have one. A BBQ pit is a covered barbecue (every truck should have one). With these, you’ll find it easier to regulate the cooking heat compared to an open fire.  Start up your barbecue like you normally would to make a good hot fire.  I do this by stacking the briquettes in the middle of the pit and giving them a good douse of lighter fluid.  After a few minutes the coals will start to turn white.  Spread them out so you have a larger hot area to work with.

While the charcoal is getting going and before you spread them out you have time to do the prep work on the steaks.  Now you can get fancy but all you really need to do is rinse the steaks off in cool tap water and season them on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Yep that’s it that is all I use.  Next the sauce!  I prefer using my own but you do not have to and I will be adding my favorite BBQ sauces in the future.  If you do not have one yet any store brand that you like will work.  Pour the sauce into a large enough bowl that you can submerge the steaks into later one at a time.  Now we cook!

porksteakdoneOnce you have your coals spread out and the steaks are ready place them on the grill with about a inch between them.  You should be able to get six to eight on the grill at one time depending on the size of your grill of course.  If the fire flares up give it a little squirt of water to knock it back.  Close the lid and leave it sit for around 10 minutes.  Now I am not going to tell you have to put the crisscross patterns on them to make them look all pretty or anything like that.  Come on now we are here to eat not play checkers.  After around 10 minutes take a look at the steaks and see if they are done on the bottom side.  They should be a nice brown with little charring on the edges.  Time to flip and rotate the steaks if need be to get them all nicely cooked the same.  Close the lid and give them another 10 minutes or so to be cooked until they are done on both sides.  This is pork so I cook it until it is done all the way throw.  Once the steaks are done to your liking it is time for the BBQ sauce.  One at a time remove the steaks and completely submerge them into the sauce and return them to the grill.  Do this until all of them are covered.  Close the lid for about 3 or 4 minutes or until the sauce starts to turn sticky and coats the steaks.  The Meat Is Ready.

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Thomas’s Stick to the Ribs Pancakes

pancakebaconI don’t know anything about any small or dainty pancakes.  I like good old homemade pancakes that stick to your ribs and warm the belly and keeps it that way until lunch where you get to do it all over again.  Well I guess first off I have to say that when I go camping I don’t like going out and hiking for twenty miles or anything like that.  If I can’t get my truck there I ain’t going!

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Potless Barbecued Mussels

You may have heard mussels should only be eaten in months with an R in them. That’s a folklore, and actually applies to oysters. That said the saying has some wisdom as it stops harvesting during months when the mussels breed (which helps maintain their stocks) and removes the risk of the mussels being contaminated by algae blooms which can occur in summer months.

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Fiery Garlic Chilli King Prawns

These were a creation twenty five years ago, for a ‘grazing’ barbecue with two friends Cathy and Aisha.

Grazing is a phenomena where you eat lots of small courses over the course of an afternoon. When cooking on a campfire on a cool summer’s day (we have to be realistic as we do live in the UK, and some of use live north and high up) it’s the ideal way to eat and stay warm. Another friend, Stephen Deakin took grazing to an art form. He was general manager of the Copthorne Hotel in Newcastle, and if you were lucky, you had an invite to one of his ‘High Teas’ where there’d be up to 30 bite sized courses with a different wine with every course.

Back to the chilli prawns, and for these you need the following ingredients:prawns

  • whole king prawns (in their shells, and as many as you wish to eat – I warn you, they’re moreish);
  • tomato puree;
  • chilli oil;
  • fresh coriander;
  • fresh garlic;
  • two limes;
  • one fresh lemon.

Take a trusty freezer bag, and squirt in tomato puree. Halve the limes, and squeeze the juice into the bag. Add a teaspoon full of chilli oil. Finely chop the garlic (at least a couple of cloves) and coriander and add to the other ingredients and give the bag a good shake, also squidging the ingredients together. Last, drop in the king prawns, seal the bag and shake until the prawns are thorough covered.

shrimpLeave for half an hour in the bag and then remove and skewer the prawns. The prawns won’t take long to cook, a couple of minutes until they’ve turned pink then give them one more minute before lifting from the grill. Some of the heat of the chilli oil and flavour of the garlic will have been absorbed through the shells. Break the shells off and toss them on the fire as you eat. Add a wedge of lemon as a garnish and plenty of pinot gris to wash the prawns down.

If you’re squeamish, you don’t have to buy prawns with heads, but do buy them in their shells and fresh. For those who are adventurous, if you do have prawns with heads on, suck out the insides. It tastes great!

For my American friend, what we call king prawns, you call shrimp. Shrimp for us are small prawns (but remember it’s our language!). Tiger prawns are ideal for this recipe.

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