Summer is finally here, and all around me, outdoorsy types are readying their gear for the year’s first camping trip. Me? I’m busy planning the menu. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping—fresh air, vigorous hikes, and a total lack of WiFi signal—but for me, the food is the highlight of any camping—or life—adventure.
Simply put, there’s nothing like eating a wholesome meal made from scratch out in the wilderness. And, as I set out to prove in my cookbook, Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors, it doesn’t have to be difficult. But you don’t even have to go camping to enjoy this kind of healthy, easy, fresh and delicious food. In fact, many of the tricks I use in the book to simplify cooking for makeshift, outdoor campsite kitchens are easily adapted to home cooking. And they make whipping up a fantastic meal in minimal time so easy that you can do it any—or every—night of the week.
When I began developing recipes for the book, I had a couple of self-imposed rules. First, they had to be recipes that I would be proud to serve to guests in my home. That meant no cans of condensed soup or packets of dried and/or dehydrated seasonings. Fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats would make up the majority, if not the whole of every dish. But, and here’s the clincher: They had to be super easy to make. So easy that they could be cooked on a grill, campfire or camp stove with no more than about 15 or 20 minutes of hands-on effort.
Really, when it comes right down to it, the most useful tricks for cooking really delicious, satisfying and nutritious meals while camping are the very same tricks busy home cooks call on week in and week out: planning, organization and prepping ahead.
For instance, before I head to the wilderness, I lay out a meal plan that covers every meal for the whole trip. A home cook might do something similar to plan family meals for the week. Next, I make a list of ingredients needed for every meal and check to see which staples I already have in my pantry and which need to be replenished, making a grocery list as I go.
After doing my grocery shopping for a camping trip, before stashing dry goods in bags and boxes and vegetables and meats in coolers, I prep those that need prepping so that they’re ready to be cooked or eaten. This, too, can be easily translated to home cooking, making weeknight dinners at home virtually stress-free.
Before setting out, I mix up baking mixes, marinades and salad dressings; wash, peel, chop and otherwise prep fruits and veggies so that they’re ready to be tossed into a salad, stir-fry or other dish; trim meats and fillet, dice or butterfly as needed; combine meats and marinades in zip-top bags and store in the fridge or freezer, depending on how long they’ll be in my cooler. All of this can just as easily be done on a Sunday afternoon for a week’s worth of quick-to-the-table meals.
If you have a backyard, balcony or patio and a barbecue or other outdoor grill, grilling is a quick and delicious way to cook food and requires minimal clean up. Cooking food in foil or parchment paper packets, too, is easy and can produce a meal without dirtying a single pot or pan.
Try this simple, no-pot dish on your next camp-out, backyard cook-out or even inside your house!
Fish Cooked with Curried Couscous
Any type of firm fish works well in this dish—salmon, cod, halibut, sea bass or even shrimp or scallops.
Olive oil spray or nonstick cooking spray
2/3 cup uncooked couscous
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided (water may be substituted)
4 6-ounce fish fillets or 1 1/2 pounds shrimp or scallops
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
To cook at a campsite or on a backyard grill: Spray four squares of aluminum foil with olive oil or cooking spray. Mix the couscous, green onion, almonds, raisins, curry powder, cayenne and salt in a small bowl or pot until well combined. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chicken broth (or water, if using).
Place 1/4 of the couscous mixture on each sheet of foil and top each with 1 fish fillet or 1/4 of the seafood. Top with butter and sprinkle with salt.
Fold up the sides of the foil and pour 1/4 of the remaining broth or water into each packet. Double fold the top and sides of each packet, leaving a bit of room for heat and steam to circulate inside.
Grill the packets over high heat for about 15 minutes, until the fish or seafood is cooked through and the couscous is tender. Serve immediately.
To cook in a home oven: Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Prepare the foil packets as directed above and bake directly on the oven rack for about 15 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.