Campervan cooking: How to eat great food in the great outdoors
OK, let’s get one thing straight about cooking in the great outdoors: you won’t have to do without. Your painful memories of scout camp or holiday stew can be made to fade away if you use a little imagination, resourcefulness and humour. You might not even have to open a tin of beans. For me, spending time in my campervan has always been about having fun, living well and not washing up piles and piles of dirty plates - as seen in my BBC Two series One Man and His Campervan. This is my guiding principle for cooking outdoors: if it takes you longer to wash up than it does to eat you’ve gone wrong somewhere. So here's my advice for the ultimate meal out:
- Avoid dishes that take hours and hours. I don't do this because I’m impatient, but because I might not have enough gas or firewood! There is nothing worse than running out half-way through a scrummy smelling hotpot. This generally means that you need to keep it simple.
- Fresh, I would argue, is best. Roadside stalls are absolutely brilliant places to find ingredients because the chances are it’ll be home grown. It might be a little muddy and misshapen but then, so what? This is the country! All you have to do is stop, take what you want and put a few quid in the honesty box.
- Try a little light foraging. I’m no expert but it gives me great pleasure to go out and find free nosh. You have to be brave and you have to be sensible, so take a guide book and don’t pick it if you aren’t 100% sure. If that means all you take back is blackberries, who cares? They will taste fab with a dollop of crème fraîche. And you’ll feel like a hunter-gatherer too.
- Have something up your sleeve. Couscous has always been my fallback position. It will go with just about anything and can be used with fresh herbs, spices and dried fruit. And all you need is boiling water and a knob of butter to cook it. If you’ve picked up some fresh summer veg at a roadside stall you can make a great meal if you slice it, griddle it and mix it up with the couscous and some fresh mint and basil.
So how are you going to cook all those amazing fresh ingredients? Whilst you’ve got no oven in the outdoors you’ve actually got plenty of options for creating great food. Gas stoves, open fires, barbecues, even Dutch ovens or smokers aren’t that hard to master. And almost anything is possible.
For starters, you could try a portable hot smoker. They work over any heat source. A freshly caught (or bought) fish smoked for half an hour or so will taste like fish you’ve never tasted before. Try it. Otherwise take a shelf out of the oven at home and use it to cook over a fire. Chuck a big fat juicy steak from the local butcher on it, add a few griddled veg and some couscous and you’ve got an easy meal. Simple. Perfect. Delicious.
What are your tips for eating outdoors or on the road?
Martin Dorey is the presenter of One Man and His Campervan on BBC Two.