Planning an adventure to the great outdoors? With a little bit of know-how, you can create delicious food without the safety of your workaday electric oven.
Here are a few tips for making the most of escaping urban life and cooking at the beach, camping holiday or even a BBQ in the park.Once you’ve learnt how easy it is, you can apply your new skills to their fabulous Mediterranean Butterflied Lamb with Foil-Roasted Vegetable Couscous below. Be happy, campers!
Top Tips for Cooking Outdoors
There are a few principles to bear in mind when cooking in the outdoors. First is to always use your heat wisely. Save boiled water to do your washing up, and always make the most of the heat on a barbecue or fire. We often cook some meat for our next day’s lunch on the barbecue the night before, and have even used pasta cooking water to fill our hot water bottles!
Second is to make sure you take the right pans to cook in. Many of the popular recipes can be cooked in one pan and never need more than two. Whether you are cooking on a gas stove, barbecue grill or on an open fire, if your pans are large enough and have a heavy base, you’ll find they will work whether you are boiling, frying or grilling your food.
It’s good to remember that whatever your cooking source, it is less controllable than your cooker at home and probably not as hot. So boiling large quantities of water for long periods should be avoided. For best results when pan-frying, work in small batches as overcrowding the pan will cool it down. A pan lid is indispensable as it speeds up cooking times. It’s also worth remembering that the weather can affect cooking times. In cooler, gustier weather, the flames are not as hot or intense as on still, warm days.
Cooking on Camping Stoves
Most of the time you will probably be cooking on a camping stove. There are many different varieties, from single-hob versions in their own carrying case to multi-hob stoves. A single-hob stove is good to take to the beach, but if you are camping and cooking regularly then a double-hob version is better. Some also have a grill underneath and a lid that doubles as a wind-shield – important as even a light breeze can slow down cooking times noticeably. If you don’t have this feature, cook behind (but not too close to) some kind of makeshift windbreak.
You can normally choose between butane and propane as your gas supply; we prefer propane as we find it cooks hotter. If you’re only taking a stove, make sure you take a griddle pan with you as it allows you to grill over the flame, much like a barbecue.
Cooking on Barbecues
Barbecues are an essential part of the camping experience. Although open fires aren’t always allowed in campsites, barbecues normally are. If your campsite allows, you can build your own barbecue with bricks or stones and a simple metal grill. Otherwise a simple, low barbecue should do the trick – there is a huge choice out there, including folding ones.
Most pots and pans can be used on a barbecue as long as you don’t mind them blackening on the outside. Cast-iron pots are probably best, but there are many other lighter varieties available. The good thing about a barbecue – especially if you have the bucket type – is that once you have finished cooking, you can turn it into a campfire simply by adding some wood. Disposable barbecues are no substitute for the real thing – they generally don’t get as hot and burn out too quickly.
Cooking on Open Fires
We always try to seek out campsites that allow open fires. Cooking on open fires offers endless possibilities: you can fry, boil, grill, roast and even bake on them, but it does require a bit of practice and the right equipment. A good big metal grill, ideally with feet to stand over the embers, is essential, and pots, pans and kettles with handles that don’t melt are also a good idea. If you are cooking meat, fish or vegetables directly over the fire, as you do on a barbecue, you should wait until the flames have died down and you have glowing embers to cook on.
If you are cooking in a saucepan or boiling a kettle, you can cook over the flames, but they will tarnish the outside of the pots so don’t take your best set. A selection of good-sized stones are useful for supporting the pots and pans in the fire. And for fire safety reasons it goes without saying that you should always have a bucket of water to hand when cooking over an open fire or a barbecue.Now, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try this simply delicious (and deliciously simple) lamb recipe, which is perfect for your next day at the beach.
Mediterranean Butterflied Lamb with Foil-Roasted Vegetable Couscous
Preparation Time: 25 minutes, plus at least 1 hour marinating
Cooking Time: about 30 minutes
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
1 butterflied leg of lamb
salt and pepper
Foil-roasted vegetable couscous:
500g/1lb 2oz vegetables such as squash, onions, peppers and leeks, cut into bite-sized chunks
5 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
4 tbsp olive oil
200g/7oz/1 cup couscous
salt and pepper
1. In a large plastic freezer bag, mix together the lemon juice, crushed garlic, paprika and oil. Using your hands, rub the mixture all over the lamb. Cover and leave to marinate in a cool box for at least 1 hour, preferably 3–4 hours.
2. Put the vegetables and the whole garlic cloves on a piece of foil large enough to make a parcel. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Pull up the foil to enclose, tightly sealing the seams of the parcel to prevent them from leaking. Cook in the embers of a barbecue or open fire for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Remember to move the parcel from time to time to allow the vegetables to cook evenly. Alternatively, cook over a high heat in a griddle pan for 8 minutes on each side.
3. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Cook over a high heat on a barbecue or in a griddle pan for about 5–8 minutes on each side, depending on how pink you like the meat. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, put the couscous in a large bowl and pour over 290ml/10fl oz/generous 1 cup boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and cover. Leave to soak for at least 5 minutes until the grains are tender.
5. Fluff up the couscous with a fork and stir in the roasted vegetables and their juices. Thickly slice the lamb and serve hot with the couscous.
And if you’re planning a camping trip, take a look at this recipe, designed to be cooked on a camping stove!