The Backcountry Epicure

Day Three: World Beat on a WhisperLite

Jul 17, 2001
Outside Magazine

Mark Miller, impresario of fare from Southwestern to Asian, offers one-pot solutions for the peripatetic palate

Spice packs, it seems, are extremely personal items. Southwestern cuisine authority Mark Miller calls his a "gourmet emergency kit," and he never leaves on a trek without it. Whether he's crossing the Sahara by camel to collect Bedouin bread-baking tips or hiking in the Bolivian Andes to learn secrets about corn, the hyperkinetic chef packs six airline liquor bottles with his culinary necessities: basil oil, porcini oil, hot sauce, olive oil, black pepper, and garlic cloves. "You can do almost anything with that stuff," insists the 47-year-old Santa Fe resident. This sense of eclectic scavenging permeates the inventive dishes Miller concocts at his world-famous Coyote Café restaurants (Austin, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe) and Red Sage (Washington, D.C.). The menu at Raku, his new eatery in the nation's capital, boasts a similarly wide-ranging menu of "pan-Asian cuisine," based on the street foods of Japan, China, Thailand, and Korea. For Miller, it's obvious that adventurous cuisine and adventurous travel go hand in hand. "You have to be creative with your immediate environment," he insists. "And if you're camping, you have to use what nature gives you."
Breakfast: Corn Cakes with Bourbon Syrup

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 egg
1 cup fresh corn kernels
2 tbs. butter
12 oz. dark brown sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup roasted pecans
1/3 cup bourbon

Before leaving home: Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar and store in a Nalgene bottle. Puree a half-cup of the corn and store separately.

At camp: In a large bowl, combine evaporated milk and egg and then stir in dry-ingredient mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Fold in pureed corn and remaining whole kernels. Melt butter in your skillet and add batter to form three-inch cakes. Cook until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in your pot, bring brown sugar and water to a boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Continue to boil, without stirring, until the syrup thickens slightly. Mix in pecans and bourbon and then pour over corn cakes as desired.

Snack: Venison Jerky

3 lb. boneless venison
1/2 cup red chile flakes, coarsely ground
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs. salt
2 tbs. juniper berries, coarsely ground (optional)

Before leaving home: Briefly freeze the venison so that it becomes somewhat firm; then cut the meat into thin slices. Mix the remaining ingredients together and rub them on the venison. Place the slices of meat on oven racks and slowly dehydrate in an oven set at its lowest temperature (100 to 150 degrees). This process should take at least eight hours and may take up to 12. Store in resealable plastic bags.

For the venison, check with a local butcher (some carry it during deer hunting season in the fall and winter) or a gourmet specialty store. You can also substitute a top round cut of beef for the venison.

Lunch: Tom Yum Noodles

4 packages Thai Kitchen Tom Yum Noodles or 16 oz. dried, flat rice noodles and 2 tbs. Tom Yum seasoning in jar
2 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into large pieces
2-3 serrano chiles or 2-3 Thai chiles
4 one-inch pieces of fresh lemongrass
1 oz. dried peas
10-1/4 oz. Mori-Nu Soft Tofu, shelf stable, nonrefrigerated, cut into one-inch squares
2 cloves fresh garlic

At camp: Fill a three-quart saucepan with eight cups of water and add the sun-dried tomatoes. Place over heat. While waiting for water to boil, slice chiles and garlic thinly. Smash the fresh lemongrass with a flat rock. Add the lemongrass, dried peas, noodles, and chiles to the water. Boil for five minutes. Add cubes of soft tofu.

Dinner: Southwest Paella

3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped into large pieces
6 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 large jalapeños, sliced into rings
6 oz. white albacore tuna, packed in water or olive oil, drained
6-7 oz. can whole clams or shrimp
1 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, nonsalted
3/4 cup whole roasted red peppers, rinsed and cut into large pieces
3/4 cup black olives, oil-cured
6 oz. box Texmati Chefs Original Smoky Cowboy Beans and Rice
4 oz. dried spicy sausage (e.g., pepperoni), cut into 1/4-inch rounds (optional)
1 oz. dried peas (optional)

At camp: Add two tablespoons of olive oil to your skillet. Add chopped onions, garlic, and jalapeños. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are fully cooked and soft. Add two cups of water, rice-and-seasoning mixture, and liquid from the canned clams or shrimp. Cover and cook over low heat for approximately ten minutes. Add the peas, olives, peppers, sausage rounds, and the clams or shrimp. Cook five minutes longer, covered, and then top with tuna and the last tablespoon of olive oil.

Miller's rationale for both the lunch and dinner choices is simple: energy. "The pasta and the rice are high in carbohydrates," he explains. "And that's what you'll need on the trail to keep going both in the afternoon and during your hike out the next morning."

Filed To: Culinary

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