By Ella Walker
The best kind of marshmallow is toasted on a stick over a fire, the sky overhead glazed with stars, and your body weary from a day spent trudging outdoors. What other marshmallow could even compete?!
For Ray Mears, there’s a real magic to the simplicity and communality of cooking outdoors, from fetching water to tending the fire together. “You go right back to the origins of cooking,” says the writer, presenter and bushcraft specialist. “Things do taste better outdoors.”
His debut cookbook, Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors, brings this feeling together, along with practical advice on how and what to feed yourself and your fellow adventurers when out exploring (or even just ‘camping’ in the garden).
“I fervently believe that, if you’ve got very little to cook with, if you’ve got some culinary skill, you can still make a good meal; if you don’t know how to cook, you’re lost,” explains the 56-year-old. “I’ve always valued the importance of food, and certainly when travelling in wild places, if you’ve had a really bad day for whatever reason, if at the end of that day you can provide yourself with a decent meal, it’s like pushing a reset button for morale, psychology and physical wellbeing. Food is really important.”
The book is packed with effective, if primitive-sounding, cooking ideas – from baking eggs in embers and steaming fish in a blanket of moss, to skewering cuts of venison on sticks and building a ground oven. Mears shares recipes for hearty soups and roast meats, and even a camp stove pineapple upside-down cake.
Being a bushcraft expert, Mears is understandably mindful of the impact we can have on the planet and the need to interact with it respectfully – be it when cooking fresh-caught fish, or going out foraging. “We have this view that wild things are all free; they’re not, it all comes at a price. When you harvest or forage, there is always a consequence of what you take from the environment,” he explains. “Nothing is for free. The key thing is to be conscious of the fact, so we don’t over-exploit a resource.”
2 chicken breasts
2 red peppers, seeded
3tsp brown sugar
125ml soy sauce
1 garlic clove
Ground black pepper or shichimi pepper
Pinch of salt
Prepare some skewers and soak them in clean water for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the chicken breasts to an even thickness of 1cm. Cut into 3cm squares.
Cut the leeks into 4cm segments and the pepper into 3cm squares, and trim the stems on the mushrooms.
Prepare the skewers, alternately threading on the meat squares and the vegetables.
In a small billycan, combine the sugar, water, soy sauce and mirin and heat to dissolve the sugar. While it’s heating, crush and add the garlic, and stir in the pepper. Once the sugar has dissolved, set the glaze aside.
Begin cooking the skewers. It is traditional to have some skewers simply seasoned with salt, as well as those brushed with the sweet glaze.
Once the cooking has reached what you consider to be the halfway point, glaze the skewers that will be sweet. Do not worry if the glaze seems thin, it is built up in layers. Season the remaining skewers with a pinch of salt.
Continue glazing the sweet skewers little by little until they are cooked, and the glaze is a beautiful glossy brown. Cook the salted skewers until they too are golden. Serve hot.
Canoe Camp Fishcake
Makes 8-10 fishcakes
100g dehydrated powdered mashed potato
213g can wild Alaskan salmon
1tsp dried mixed herbs
Good pinch of angler’s salt
Good pinch of ground black pepper
Flour, for rolling
Groundnut oil, high temp olive oil or vegetable oil
Reconstitute the dehydrated potato following the packet instructions.
Add the salmon, herbs and seasoning and mix it all together with your hands.
Roll into small balls, 5cm in diameter.
Roll each ball in some flour and then flatten into a fishcake.
Heat the pan, then the oil, and fry the fishcakes for about three minutes on each side, until golden and crispy.
Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors by Ray Mears is available now