This recipe will make you the culinary king of the campground.
Who doesn’t love camping? There are lots of ways to do it-from a drive in campground with showers and toilets, to a wilderness trail running through the mountains with barely enough room to pitch a tent-and they’re all fun. I first went camping with my mom and dad when I was 2 or 3, and have loved every minute of it since. My son and daughters joined me at an early age, and today, fully grown, they love it as well, and are enjoying forays into the woods with their new families.
The following recipe for Decadent Camp Stew has been developed and refined over the years. My kids would sometimes ask to go camping just so they could get some of this heavenly stuff. The concoction was initially developed for a car camping environment where you would pack the car, stop at the grocery store, head to the campground-only about a 10 minute ride from home-and set up shop. Or camp kitchen, as the case may be. But as my kids continued to rave about it and their friends began to love it as well, the recipe was adapted for different situations. I’ve made this recipe on a 2-day hike on the Appalachian Trail, and once at a Philly Eagles tailgate party.
Elegant in its simplicity, Decadent Camp Stew combines the best of all worlds. Tender steak and a cornucopia of fresh veggies simmered over an open fire in a simple gravy of whole butter and steak juices, then served on tin plates at a picnic table next to a glowing campfire. It just doesn’t get any better than that. We typically serve it with foil wrapped baked potatoes, roasted in the fire while the stew is simmering. (Be sure to bring some extra butter for the potatoes.) My kids would tell you that this dish is usually served around 11:00 pm which is generally true and stems from the fact that because with all of the slicing, dicing and icy cold brews, I usually tend to drag the process out. But assuming your campfire’s already lit and you get right to work, from the time you slice your first veggie until you serve it up, you can easily figure on an hour and half, tops.
It’s simple and foolproof, and if you generally follow the instructions, you’ll have great success with this recipe as well. But there are two things to be aware of. If you are super health conscious, don’t eat red meat, or shy away from dishes made with whole butter, stop reading here and move on-this recipe isn’t for you. Also, don’t try to make this over the stove at home in the kitchen. We’ve tried that and the kids always say it doesn’t taste the same as when we’re camping. I agree, and I think it’s because the smoke from the campfire adds a distinctive and irresistible flavor to the dish that you just can’t get at home.
In addition to the ingredients, I’ve included a list of equipment necessary to make Decadent Camp Stew, as well as variations of that gear that can be backpacked. I’ve also included some suggestions for pre-preparation, but I recommend that the dish only be pre-prepped if you’re backpacking. In a car camp, part of the fun is slicing and dicing at the picnic table, maybe sipping a few cold ones, as the expectant campers look on hungrily. It’s a great time to socialize.
Here’s what you need:
Small, flexible chopping mat (used for the steaks if everything is pre-prepped)
A small backpacking grill grate works; you can also use hot rocks over the campfire in a pinch
Large stock pot, at least 4 qt.
Pot from the packable cooking kit
Stirring and serving spoon
Tin plates or paper plates
INGREDIENTS (the basic recipe will abundantly serve 4 happy campers)
New York Strip or Ribeye steaks, 8-12 oz, each, 1 per person (I prefer the strip steaks because they are very flavorful with less fat than the ribeye. But the ribeye will yield more juice.)
(4) Bell peppers, assorted colors
(1) Large red or yellow onion
(1) Head garlic
(3) Celery stalks
(1) Pound of mushrooms (optional)
(2) Sticks of salted butter
Salt and Pepper
The process is pretty straight forward, but here are some things to consider. If you’re backpacking, clean the veggies and do all of the slicing and dicing at home. Bag the produce in either zip lock bags, or even better, seal them using a vacuum sealer. Season the steaks, bag them the same way, and then freeze them for at least 48 hours prior to departure. Freeze the butter as well.
Now here’s what you do:
Arrange the fire so you can place the cooking grate over an area of hot coals, but out of direct flame. Make sure you give yourself access so that you can add wood if necessary.
Place the cooking grate over the coals.
Begin melting both sticks of butter in the pot while you are prepping the veggies. When you finish slicing and dicing, set the veggies aside but keep them separate.
Wash the veggies.
Cut the peppers into 3/4″ cubes.
Peel the garlic and chop all of the cloves (no, this isn’t a typo) into a very fine dice.
Chop the celery stalks into a 1/4″ dice.
Peel the carrots, and slice to 1/4″ thickness.
Clean and slice the mushrooms.
Once the butter has melted completely, add the onions and garlic to the pot. Be very careful not to burn the garlic.
After about 15 minutes, add the peppers, carrots and celery.
Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper, while continuing to stir the pot occasionally.
Add wood to the fire, and move the pot filled with the veggies to a cooler part of the grate.
Put the steaks on the grate, and grill them until they are very rare, about 4-5 minutes per side, turning once.
Remove the steaks from the grill and set them aside to rest for at least 5 minutes.
Add the mushrooms to the pot.
Trim any excess fat, and cut the steaks into 1″ cubes. I like to use a cutting board that has a groove around it to catch all of the juice, because we’ll use that in the next step.
Add the steak cubes, along with as much juice as you’ve captured, to the pot.
Allow the stew to simmer over low heat for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all of the amazing juices are blended.
Taste the stew during this final simmer and add salt and pepper to taste. Don’t be bashful with the spices, either. The flavors of the stew will jump right out at you when the seasonings are right.
Serve and enjoy. I usually have the kids line up and then I spoon the Camp Stew into their plates. Just make sure you leave enough of in the pot for yourself.
Now you can sit down, maybe crack open a cold one, and enjoy your dinner. The standing rule is that the camp chef doesn’t have any clean up chores, so it’s time for you to relax and become a happy camper yourself. Everyone else will already be one.