This Memorial Day, will you eat like a king or go camping? A new cookbook says you can do both
NEW YORK — If your idea of a meal while camping is something quick and bland — maybe a power bar, a can of beans or some instant noodles — food writer and critic Chris Nuttall-Smith suggests something else, just as quick but also tasty.
An avid backpacker, hunter, skier and wilderness paddler, Nuttall-Smith has devised ways to bring a gourmet experience to the outdoors. With minimal fuss around a fire, he prepares spice-kissed lamb kebabs, restaurant-quality risotto, fire-baked pecan sticky buns and more.
He’s put it all in “Cook It Wild: Sensational Prep-Ahead Meals for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors,” from Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group. There are 75 recipes for lunches, dinners, desserts, snacks and, necessarily, cocktails, published just as the summer outdoor season kicks off.
“My goal in making this book was to develop, to create, to share recipes that didn’t need to be eaten outside. They’re great enough that you can eat them at home, but when you’re out there, man, they just make your trip,” he said.
Nuttall-Smith’s hack is to do much of the prep work at home before setting out — toast the nuts, pulse the sauce, caramelize the shallots and open a can of beans to pour out exactly what you need.
All that not only gives you correct portions, but means a lighter pack and less waste to worry about in the outdoors. Plus you don’t have that awkward feeling of balancing a cutting board on your knee while you chop vegetables. More than half the recipes take 10 minutes or less at camp.
“All these little tricks were things that either I came up with or, thank God, I’ve got a lot of friends who work in food who say, ‘Why are you doing that? Why don’t you do this super-easy thing?’ And you just kind of slap your forehead.”
Nuttall-Smith freezes as much as he can to reduce spoilage, and carefully packs a cooler with early-trip items at the top to prevent churn.
“There are so many things you can freeze that you’re not harming the flavor or the texture or the cooking properties,” he said. Even olive oil: “It tastes exactly the same. You just shake it up. It’s great.”
The book’s recipes contain everything from Negronis and a mac and cheese — the pasta is cooked at home — to several ways to use aluminum foil to make food packets that just need to be heated up. And being Canadian, Nuttall-Smith had to include a poutine recipe.
Jennifer Sit, executive editor at Clarkson Potter, has made a bunch of the recipes and says the quality is so good that readers may just want to start cooking them at home, even if they have no intention of going camping.
“The depth of knowledge and experience he brings from his love of the great outdoors is what takes this book to the next level,” she writes.
One of the book’s triumphs is a recipe for campfire paella which calls for prepping squid, sofrito and green beans at home and is finished at camp with shrimp, rice, onion and saffron threads. He also includes alternate versions with chicken and a vegetarian option.
“There’s an old saying, everything tastes better outside, and I think there is some real truth to that,” said Nuttall-Smith, who is a judge on “Top Chef Canada.” Outdoors paella takes the dish back to its roots — field workers in Spain used to cook it on shovels.
Nuttall-Smith approached the book hoping to interest campers at every level. “Can I have a book that is going to be inspiring and delicious for backpackers, and as inspiring and delicious for paddlers and for RVers and for backcountry skiers and beach rats?” he said. “There’s very few that try to reach out to a whole cross-section.”
The layout is very clear, with each recipe divided into “at home” and “at camp” sections, how many people each dish serves, the weight, how long it will keep, and symbols for his recommendations, like dishes best for paddlers or ones needing a camping stove.
“At some point you just realize how rewarding it is, how special it is, to eat something really good when you’re in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been to. It just caps the experience,” he said.
Nuttall-Smith even designed the book so that each recipe could be photographed. He has no desire for readers to add the weight of his book to their packs.
“Who the hell wants to go camping with a cookbook?” he said, laughing. “Even if you’re car camping. Like, when I’ve been car camping, my car’s just loaded to the gunwales. I don’t want a cookbook.”
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