There is something intensely primal about cooking outdoors over an open fire.
I grew up wiping the sticky, melted marshmallow and chocolate off my face from the s’mores cooked in their little tin foil packets on an open campfire. We ate fresh corn-on-the-cob cooked over roaring fires. Boiled lobster claws were picked clean of every morsel of flesh and, even in the wintertime, hot dogs and hot chocolates were made outdoors during sledging parties. Good times.
As teenagers we used to load up the boats with provisions and find some little cove to disappear to for the weekend, pretending we were wild women. I’ve not lost my love for these adventures, although I’ve learned, over the years, that it’s a lot easier to prep your food at home, reheating it on site. By the time you’ve kayaked or hiked however many miles and set up camp the last thing you want to be doing is faffing about with chopping onions.
We like to keep things simple.
This chilli con carne recipe is one I made recently for a kayaking camping trip. It tastes even better on the second, or third day after having had time for the flavours to develop overnight. This makes it a perfect camping recipe – simply reheat on site.
All you need to reheat is a cooking pot, a fire and a spoon to stir. Depending on how many of you are eating, you could just eat the chilli straight out of the pot too, saving on carrying extra plates or bowls.
Rice is not the most fun thing to cook over a campfire, but if you do want rice with your chilli I’d recommend getting some of those ready-cooked sachets you just need to reheat.
No utensils are needed either – tortilla chips work wonderfully. Use them to scoop up your chilli and then there’s very little washing up after! I like to serve my camping chilli with some grated cheddar and a generous dollop of soured cream but if I’m serving it at home I’ll load it up with sliced avocado and a generous drizzle of chilli-infused olive oil too.
A note on beef mince – use the best beef you can find for the most flavoursomechilli. Locally sourced beef from your nearest independent butchers is always preferable over intensively farmed supermarket meat, I find. I feel that it does make a big difference to the flavour of the finished dish.
Chilli con carne for camping (serves 4)
1 dried poblano chilli
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
500 grams good quality beef mince
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp hot chilli powder (or more, to taste)
1 rich beef stock pot
400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
A few drops of liquid smoke, optional
400 grams tinned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 thumbnail sized square of good-quality dark chocolate
Salt and pepper, to taste
Boil a kettle and rehydrate your poblano chilli pepper with 200 ml hot water.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat.
Sauté the onions for about five minutes until they begin to, seasoning with a little salt to prevent them from browning.
Add the garlic and cumin and cook for a further minute.
Add the ground beef and cook until browned all over.
Stir in the tomato puree, chilli powder, tinned tomatoes and liquid smoke, if using.
Finely chop the rehydrated poblano chilli, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the poblano chilli and the reserved liquid to the pan.
Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for 20-30 minutes with the lid on. Stir occasionally, keeping an eye on the liquid levels adding a little more water if needed.
Five minutes before the end of cooking, add the drained, rinsed kidney beans and heat through.
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