If planning a camping trip leaves you reaching for processed meat, Suzanne Podhaizer suggests you reconsider. “Humans have been cooking over fire for 1.9 million years,” Podhaizer says. “The hotdog wasn’t invented until 1871.” Thanks to a campground cooking partnership between Vermont State Parks and Podhaizer’s food consultancy Sel de la Terre, the educator and chef has spent the summer making gourmet meals over a campfire, showing fellow campers just how creative campground meals can get.
For Podhaizer, cooking local meals is a way to connect with a sense of place when she travels. “This project is about using Vermont ingredients,” Podhaizer says. “But not using prepackaged meals, and cooking them yourself—that lets you dig into a place wherever you are.”
In a summer of camping meals, Podhaizer has honed her cooking basics to a few sturdy tools: heavy duty tongs, a Dutch oven, cutting board, knife, and a hot mitt that can withstand a blazing fire. She stocks up on fresh vegetables and local meat at the farmer’s market, then heads to the woods to forage for additional ingredients. “In the spring I use wild leeks, and I harvest berries in the fall,” Podhaizer explains. “I like making salads with flowers, so I’ll go out looking for edible wildflowers.”
If you’re new to cooking over a fire, this long, slow braise is a forgiving way to start. Podhaizer likes to start the braise over a low fire, then let it cook as she enjoys a good book and a glass of wine, like Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Red.
Campfire Braised Beef with Rainbow Potatoes
4 pounds beef shanks
2 cups mushrooms
2 pounds mixed-color baby potatoes
8 ounces red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 bunch garlic scapes, chopped
Olive, sunflower, or grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
White wine vinegar, to taste
Remove the beef from the package, and pat dry with paper towels. Amply season the beef, on both sides, with salt and pepper.
In a Dutch oven or other heavy pan with a cover, heat the oil in a hotter part of the fire. When the oil is hot, add the shanks. Sear until deep brown on the first side.
Turn the shanks, and sear on the second side. Add the red wine and chicken stock, then stir up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Make sure that there’s enough liquid so the liquid won’t boil off and burn—more is better than too little. Add the chopped garlic scapes and place the pan over a part of the fire where it will simmer, but not boil. Cover.
After 30 minutes, check to make sure that the temperature in the pan is appropriate. Cook for around two and a half hours to three hours, checking every 20 to 30 minutes, and adding liquid as necessary. When you notice that the meat is getting tender and starting to fall off the bone, add the mushrooms and potatoes, and a little more salt and pepper.
Cover again, and cook until the potatoes are tender. If the meat isn’t done, it’s ok to remove the potatoes and keep cooking the meat, or, if you don’t mind that they’ll be a little soft, leave ’em in.
When the meat is done, if you wish, you can take the meat out, put the pan over slightly higher heat, and reduce the sauce to the consistency of a glaze. Either way, finish season the sauce with salt, butter, and vinegar if it needs more acidity.
Jen Rose Smith is a freelance writer and award-winning guidebook author whose work explores travel, adventure and food. She’s currently living on the road, with a mountainous 2018 itinerary that goes from the Andes of South America to the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. Read more of her work at jenrosesmith.com.