Cooking on a campstove

It`s hard to beat the aesthetic appeal of a crackling campfire. But there are times when a campfire isn`t in the picture. As more people flock to the back country to enjoy the outdoors, many campsites are becoming denuded of accessible wood. Campfires also take a long time to start, and need to burn a while before they are ready for cooking. There are ecological concerns about campfires as well. Last year saw record dry conditions in many states, with forest fires burning thousands of acres; even in areas where campfires were not banned, prudent campers chose to prepare meals using campstoves rather than open fires.

Cooking over a campstove is a little trickier than cooking at home. The camp cook is often restricted to just one or two burners, and the heat is often a bit difficult to regulate. Plus, camp cookware is generally made of thinner material than regular cookware; milk-based sauces, rice, and bread products scorch and burn easily due to hot spots. But with a few changes in your cooking methods, you can still turn out some pretty incredible meals on a campstove.

The backwoods chef with a single-burner stove faces the greatest challenge. Let`s say the menu includes both panfried fish -- assuming a little luck, anyway! -- and a rice, barley, or pasta side dish. How do you get both to the table (or log) at the same time? The general rule of thumb is to cook the food that takes the longest first, then keep it warm while you prepare the dish that cooks more quickly. I also use a two-stage cooking method for rice and many other dishes: I bring the food to a boil, then cover it and remove it from the heat to stand for a while before its final, shorter cooking. The boiling water softens dried vegetables, rehydrates freeze-dried meats, and partially cooks rice or other starch; and when the dish is returned to the fire, it will cook more quickly than it would ave without the soaking. This method not only saves fuel, but allows me to cook another dish while the first dish is standing off the fire.
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Let`s take a look at preparing our fish dinner with this method.

First, have everything ready before lighting the campstove:

1. The fish should be cleaned and prepared

2. Fish breading and cooking fat should be ready, and a skillet handy

3. The cooking pot for the side dish should contain the correct amount of water

4. All ingredients for the side dish should be assembled and ready to cook. For this meal,
we`ll be cooking the barley-mushroom side dish shown in the recipe below.

5. Have a spoon for stirring close to hand, and a pot holder or something to help you
move hot pots around.

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Now that everything`s ready, let`s get cooking!

First, light the stove, then bring the water for the side dish to a boil. Stir in the barleymixture, then cover it and remove it from the heat to stand while you prepare the fish. Melt some butter in the skillet, or heat some cooking oil; while that is happening, coat the fish pieces with the breading. Add them to the hot skillet, and cook until crisp on both sides. The fish will continue to cook while you finish cooking the barley, so don`t overcook it; the fish should be barely firm to the touch, and should no longer look translucent.

Cover the skillet with a lid, plate, or a piece of foil, and remove from the heat. Put the barley back on the burner, and return to boiling. Cook for just a few minutes, until it is tender, and serve with the fish. Some fresh carrot sticks go well with this meal, or perhaps some freshly foraged wild greens (note: for the knowledgeable camper only! )

*Never eat wild foods unless you are experienced at identifying them).

Here is a recipe for a tasty barley dish that was written especially for campers. It`s adapted from the newly published book, "The Back-Country Kitchen: Camp Cooking for Canoeists, Hikers and Anglers."
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Barley-Mushroom Side Dish
(2 to 4 servings, depending on other dishes)

At home,

combine in a pint plastic zipper bag:

1/2 cup quick-cooking barley
1/4 cup dried mushroom pieces, any variety
2 tablespoons pine nuts or slivered almonds
2 teaspoons dried snipped chives
1-1/2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1/8 teaspoon crumbled dried marjoram leaves

At camp:
In medium pot,
boil 1-1/4 cups water.
Add barley mix; stir well.
Cover and remove from heat;
let stand for about 10 minutes (timing is not critical).
Return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until barley is
tender, about 5 minutes.

Variation:

For a richer flavor: Before combining barley mix and boiling water, sauté the
barley mix in a tablespoon of melted butter. Add the boiling water and proceed as
directed above.
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