I love food. I love to cook food. I love to eat food.
Backpacking and good eats just don’t seem to go together. Head into any suburban outfitter or the campin/huntin/fishin section of your local supermarket and you can drop lots of money on all sorts of insta-meals. I won’t claim to have done a comprehensive study of each brand, variety, and flavor but the ones I’ve eaten either taste like crap or they taste fine but have the texture of shredded cardboard. I’ve even read in guidebooks and similar texts about how wonderful it is to find many “pack-friendly” offerings in the grocery sections. Everything from instant noodles to “just add water” sauce sides or vac-sealed packets of meats. Again, I guess they get points for being light-weight and convenient. They definitely supply calories and, well, when I’m done eating them I’m not hungry any more. For my first couple of years on the trail, I faithfully ate what appear to be backpacker staples: instant oatmeal, energy bars, jerky, cheesy-sauce-and-noodle sides, GORP, and candy bars.
Keep in mind that most of my hikes are 2 or 3-night weekend trips between 20 and 30 miles long. We’ll stretch out a shorter trail by yo-yo-ing it or wrap around a loop trail a few times, but none of what we do involves carrying weeks of food on our back. Even water is easy to find on most of the trails around here. With that in mind, I asked my buddy to let me try out a few culinary challenges. Welcome to Mattdaddy’s Wilderness Bistro.
Since I referenced it in the trip report, I’ll start with the latest one. One one of our recent Autumn hikes (I think we were on the Butterfield Trail), when it was nice and cold overnight, we started bouncing ideas about bringing some steaks out on the trail. Since BHT is a loop, one idea was to leave the meat in an ice chest in the trucks up on Hwy 74 and pick it up on the way down to Rock Hole for dinner. That seemed a little too much like drop camping, though, and you gotta have standards. (Now that I think about it, our conversation started while we were hanging out at the Devil’s Den State Park picnic area and watching a trio of guys gearing up to pack the trail. One was carrying an ice chest strapped to his pack and the other was carrying a grill. Seriously.) I spent most of the trail thinking about how I could make it work using only my cook kit and carrying no more weight than usual.
So, when time came for our winter hike this year there was no question that the culinary challenge would be steak.
Here is what I pulled together for dinner the second (and last) night on the trail:
2 8 oz. filets
smoked cheddar & rosemary mashed potatoes
sauce chasseur (mostly for the taters, but served one other important role)
asparagus in goose fat
Two nights before I left, I shredded about 6 oz of smoked cheddar cheese and made the sauce chasseur (which is a red-wine and veal stock, heavy on the tarragon. I make mine with lots of mushrooms and about twice the shallots). Froze the butter, cheese, a cube of goose fat, and sauce. Kept the filets in the butcher paper and just put them in the fridge. Wrapped the asparagus in foil and put that in the fridge. I had a freezer-pack like you’d use in insulated lunch boxes, so I froze that solid.
Packing it in:
Meat, asparagus, fresh rosemary, and freezer-pack in one ziplock freezer bag.
Frozen butter, fat, cheese, and sauce (all in separate bags) in another freezer bag.
*wrapped both freezer bags in my fleece pants/shirt and stuck them in the bottom of the pack.
By Saturday evening, the butter was still hard and the meat was cool, so it worked.
I have 2 titanium nesting pots and a little 4×4 no-stick skillet I picked up at Walmart. We were at a site with a fire pit, so we got that going. Sliced up the goose fat and smeared it on the asparagus. Dusted them with salt/pepper/garlic and wrapped them back tight in the foil. Placed beside the coals to cook.
Boiled the rosemary in 2c. of water. Shredded it off the stems, added powdered mashed potato flakes & shredded cheese.
Reheated sauce chasseur in the other pot. Brought it to a simmer, then lowered the heat.
Put about a tbs. of butter and a squirt of olive oil into the skillet and set it atop the hot coals to get sizzling hot. Dusted the filets liberally with salt/pepper/garlic pwdr mixture. Seared them about 10 seconds on each side and the edges, then set them both in the pot with the sauce. Kicked up the heat to a boil and let them sit just long enough to be alllllmost but not quite mid-rare. (We like ’em bloody ’round here.)
Poured the remainder of the sauce onto the potatoes, ate the steaks with our fingers and the potatoes straight out of the pot.
To make up for the pack weight, since this was a trail full of creeks, I kept my 2 qt. pack-bladder empty and carried no more than a quart at a time of water.
How I’ll improve it next time:
* I need to add a spatula to my cook kit. Flipping steaks with my fingers was not fun.
* Need a better container for olive oil than a double-nested ziplock bag. It leaked.
* Didn’t need so much butter & oil. (even though, we just added it to the taters)