OK so I’m stepping off the trail again here and going across country. The voice in my head is telling me that I’m supposed to be writing about campfire cooking and in my mind I am. It’s just that as I have mentioned before, some places you just can’t have a campfire. Backpacking in the Eastern Sierras is one of my weaknesses. In many places though, you can’t have an open fire at night (legally). This means cooking over a small camp stove and the inherent hassles that come with it. For those that haven’t tried this let me explain. Imagine trying to cook dinner with a blow torch in the wind while juggling the pan in one hand and the torch in the other. Don’t drop the torch… you might just start a forest fire. That is how it goes for me too often. I know some people take the time (and extraordinary effort) to create gourmet backcountry meals, but not me. That has reduced me to boiling water and adding it to a bag of freeze-dried food for many of my meals. Food has been reduced to fuel for the body and that just takes some fun out of the trip.
A few years ago though a friend taught me a neat little way to cook a decent meal over our torches (I mean stoves). He brought along a couple of steaks that he had marinated and cut in half as if to stuff them. Regular steak, but only about ½” thick. He froze them (after marinating) a couple days before we left and stored them in a plastic bag. When we got to camp, the steaks were still safely cold. He placed some thinly sliced onion and peppers on some foil and then added the steak and more onions and peppers on top. He folded the foil over so juices couldn’t spill out. Now usually I strive to sear a steak before finishing it in an oven. This time though, we just put the steak in the lid of our pots and blasted away with the stoves (from above) until they were steaming. We flipped ‘em a couple times as we did this. We un-wrapped them and then put them in the bottoms of our pans to sear them. The leftover juices and some water made the best (freeze-dried) mashed potatoes I’d had in the backcountry. It actually turned out pretty well and I enjoyed a good meal for a change.
The onions and peppers had saved the steak from the blowtorching. The foil and the thin cut of the meat had allowed it to steam and cook quickly (which saves critical fuel). And we were able to brown them a little in the bottom of the pan. That would have created a clean-up mess but the water added to it and boiled for the potatoes cleaned it right up. So simple, but if Bob hadn’t shared, I’d still be eating freeze-dried Jamaican Jerk chicken for too many meals. Thanks Bob.