The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)
Part II. Bushcraft Cooking Methods
Chapter 10. Types of Cooking
“Cookery means . . . English thoroughness, French art, and Arabian hospitality; it means the knowledge of all fruits and herbs and balms and spices; it means carefulness, inventiveness, and watchfulness.”
There are several ways of cooking over a fire. Each method means the food and fire are manipulated differently. In this chapter, we’ll cover the most common methods of camp cooking and show you how to prepare tasty meals no matter which approach you take.
In frying food we do not want any flames or even large coals. They can interfere with the evenness of the heat or cause the food to burn. You should rake a thin bed of coals away from the fire so that a skillet can be placed directly on top of it. If you’re planning for a quick meal, then an initial fire of only kindling-sized sticks will provide this fairly fast. With the initial flames, you can heat water for coffee if you wish.
Too much heat will burn grease or fat, giving the meat a nasty aftertaste, so be careful not to cook directly over the hottest part of the fire.
If you have an excess of grease or lard you can fry directly in a pool of it. Just heat it to the point it begins to bubble, then place small pieces of meat directly in the grease, turning them over once to complete the frying process. You can remove these from the grease and place on anything absorbent to soak up excess grease before serving hot.
If you are traveling with limited grease you can heat the pan on the coals and fry the fattiest portions first. If this is not an option, use just enough of the grease that you do have to keep the meat from sticking to the pan and proceed.
Remember that any fat or grease used for frying fish should not be used for any other foods or it will give it a fishy flavor for sure. Small game is best cooked by cutting it into small pieces and frying, then serving with a gravy mix that can easily be carried in packets.
For broiling meat we want to sear it first to lock in the juices. This means placing the meat momentarily in open flame to quickly dry the outside and create an insulating skin over the inner meat.
Broiling should be done just on the edge of a bed of hot coals on a stick, spit, or cooking fork. Cut the meat approximately 1" thick. You want to be able to catch any dripping to baste the meat while cooking so some type of catchment will be needed. It should only take about 5 minutes to broil a steak this size. Serve with drippings and melted butter. Don’t season till you’re finished cooking.
A fowl can be split in two pieces or just split open for broiling. Fish can be cut open and broiled on a green wood frame.
Broiling can be done in a shallow, covered pan if the meat is turned often.
If you have to broil on rocks, take two flat rocks, clean of debris, that are not from near a creek or moist in any way (moist or wet rocks may explode when heated). Place them one on top of another in the coals with a series of rocks between to form an oven. Build the fire up to heat the rocks, then wipe away any debris after it burns to coals again and cook meat between the rocks. Another option is to suspend an old auto rim or grill grate off the ground with a few rocks.
All these things can provide a solid cooking surface as well as containing the heat. As with any cook oven, the goal is to contain the heat and keep it on the food to be cooked. See Figure 10.1.
Figure 10.1 Rock oven
You roast meat by placing it in the direct heat of the fire. Do this by placing meat above a good hot coal bed on a spit or fork. Roasting works best with a fire backing of some sort, whether it be rocks or logs to help direct heat back by thermal mass onto the cooking meat.
As with other forms of cooking, always sear the meat over open flame first to lock in flavor. Meat being roasted on a spit should be turned in 1⁄4-turn increments. Meat and fowl can also be suspended with a stout cord. A paddle added to the string will turn the meat slowly with the rising heat from the fire.
Gravy goes well with roasted meats. You can also roast meat in a reflector oven before the fire. The meat should be basted with its own juices as it cooks.
Braising is the best thing for tough cuts of meat and is a bit between frying and baking. Place about 2" or so of water in a shallow pan that can be covered. Add some fresh vegetables, like onion and maybe a clove of garlic, then add the meat, cover, and cook over coals about 15 minutes to the pound. About 20–30 minutes before the meat is finished, add seasonings like Old Bay or seasonings of your choice.
Baking is generally done in a sealed container of some sort. There are many ways of doing this, and it allows for the addition of other ingredients including liquids, like water, wine, liquors, or other types of marinades as well. The main thing about baking that differs from other methods is really producing a fairly even amount of heat surrounding what is being cooked. This is easily accomplished by cooking in a Dutch oven, baker, or in an envelope of aluminum foil. Cast-iron cookware helps evenly distribute heat, so it is a good choice for baking.
When boiling, you’ll need a good pot or bucket. The wider and shorter the pot, the faster it will boil due to surface area above the fire, but a bucket will do as well. The best thing, I find, is to paint metal cookware black with high-temperature paint. I do this before going to the field. The metal will heat up faster this way when fuel is a resource to be conserved.
Add fresh meat to already boiling water; meat for stews should be started in the water when it is cold so it will heat up more slowly, releasing its flavor to the water.
Boil meat until it falls free of the bone, and it should be good and done. If you have vinegar a few tablespoons will help tenderize meat. Season boiled meat a few minutes before it is done. If you are going to eat fresh meat, add it to a rolling boil for 5 minutes or so to lock in the juices and then remove it and cook it above the fire as normal.
If you desire a thicker soup, you may simmer it after cooking for about 30 minutes and add some instant potatoes or JAW biscuit mix and stir often as it simmers.
Stewing is the slowest process of cooking and should be reserved for the toughest cuts and types of meat. Coyote is a good stewing candidate as the meat is fairly tough even in the best cuts. Use lean meats only for stewing and again lock flavor in by browning quickly or boiling for 5 minutes.
Reduce water to approximately a pint or so for one person. Add a soup stock if you have it or some bullion, add a couple of ounces of flour as a thickener, and bring the contents to a boil. Add some salt, pepper, and or curry powder, depending on your taste. Old Bay works great here (use about 1 tablespoon per serving). Then cover the pot and simmer 4–5 hours. You can add potatoes to thicken the stew as well, and dried soup greens make an excellent addition to the pot as well before simmering.
Steaming is cooking with hot moisture, and works well for vegetables as well as fish. This is best accomplished with a steamer if you have one but can also be done with a campfire. To accomplish this, place several dry stones in your campfire to get them red-hot. Dig a hole large enough for the stones to fit inside along with food, leaving enough space around them for insulation. Locate the steaming chamber somewhere proximal to the fire.
Place the heated stones in the hole and cover them with a thin layer of wet grass or leaves, then place food on top of this followed by more wet leaves and grass. Fill the hole with loose earth and poke a hole in the top down to food level. Pour some water into the hole and immediately plug the hole to stop the release of steam and hold it within the chamber created to steam the food.
Tips and Tricks
· For baking, using a small pot (with the food to be baked) within a larger pot helps ensure even heating. Cover the larger pot with aluminum foil or a lid to help retain heat. Put a small amount of water in the larger pot to create steam for a crustier texture, such as when baking bread.
· When cooking in a Dutch oven (particularly baking), put coals beneath and on top of the oven.
· When cooking on a wood fire, remember that you need different kinds of heat for different kinds of food. Water can be boiled over a high flame, and stews can be cooked over a low flame; most other foods are cooked over coals. Coals hot enough to cook over look grayish white.
· A lightweight grill can be a useful piece of equipment; grill directly on it or use it as a platform for a pot to boil or steam.
· All camp cooking should be done outdoors, regardless of the exact fuel and setup you’re using. Make sure the area around and above your cooking area is clear of debris, shrubbery, and any plant matter.