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How to Cook a Gourmet Meal on a Campfire

A knock-your-socks-off meal anyone can make over a campfire, taught by a professional chef

If there are positive things to come out of this whole pandemic deal, they’re cooking good meals, learning new skills, and catching up with old friends. So I figured I’d set up a Zoom call with Good To-Go cofounder and head chef Jennifer Scism and have her teach me how to cook a gourmet meal on a campfire.

Here’s an in-depth look at the recipes and methods you’ll see her showing me in the video, so you can up you campfire-cooking game, too. 

Grilled Chicken with Eggplant Tian

“Marinate the chicken before you head for the hills,” says Scism. “I would make the tahini sauce ahead of time, too. This leaves making the tian and grilling chicken while you’re camping.”

Equipment You’ll Need

  • Grill and firewood. If you’re not bringing a grill, make sure your campsite provides them. 
  • Tongs
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Small Dutch oven

Marinade Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 lemon, washed, zested and then juiced 
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Tahini Sauce Ingredients

  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2/3 cup tahini 
  • Pinch of ground cumin

Tian Ingredients

  • 2 small Italian eggplants cut into 3/8-inch rounds. Toss with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and let drain for an hour. 
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 4 medium-ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch rounds. Toss with sea salt just before arranging.
  • 4-ounce block of feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 5 sprigs Italian parsley, washed, dried, and chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh mint, washed, dried, and chopped

Directions

Mix the marinade ingredients together. Toss the chicken with the marinade, and refrigerate overnight or for at least four hours. Double-bag it in resealable plastic bags if you choose to do this ahead of time.

Make the tahini sauce. Put the garlic cloves, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt into a blender or food processor. Blend on high until you have a coarse paste. Let stand for ten minutes. Strain the puree through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl, throwing away any solids that don’t pass through. Add the tahini to the strained lemon juice, and whisk them together; this mixture will thicken considerably. Continue whisking, adding cold water a little bit at a time until the mixture becomes a creamy, thick sauce. Season to taste with sea salt and cumin. Leave it in the refrigerator or cooler until serving. This can keep refrigerated for a week or so.

At this point, get the fire going. It should be built large enough so that, when the flames die down, the coals stay hot but emit a small flame. Too high of a flame will burn the chicken and the eggplant.

Next, prepare the tian. A tian is a traditional shallow French ceramic bowl but also the name of this dish. The flavors of this version are more Middle Eastern, but the French-style presentation is easy and aesthetic. To prepare the tian, toss the seasoned, drained, dried eggplant with one-fourth cup olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook it on the hottest area of your grill, trying to achieve dark grill marks without catching it on fire. Cook the eggplant slices on both sides for a total of five to ten minutes, depending on the heat. You want to keep the eggplant intact and not cooked completely through. Remove it, and let it cool. When the eggplant is cool enough to touch, assemble the eggplant, seasoned tomato, and feta in your tian dish. This is done by vertically arranging the slices and feta crumbles in a small Dutch oven (i.e., eggplant slice, tomato slice, and crumbles, repeat). Drizzle the arranged tian with a bit more olive oil. The tian can be cooked in an oven heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or covered and placed on a grill. (Grilling may take a bit longer, depending on the heat of your fire.)

Once the tian is about halfway cooked, grill the marinated chicken.

To serve the tian, sprinkle the olives and herbs over the top of the vegetables. Portion out the tian, place the chicken on the side, and drizzle it with the tahini sauce.

Gluten-Free Apple Tarte Tartin

“Make and form the dough into a ten-inch round before heading out,” says Scism. “You can transport it on a paper plate or, better yet, a Frisbee. Keep it cold in a cooler so it does not disintegrate.”

Equipment You’ll Need

  • Two 9-inch cast-iron pans. You need two because you’re making a rudimentary Dutch oven.
  • Rolling pin or wine bottle
  • Mixing bowl

Pastry Dough Ingredients

Filling Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cubed 
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon or Calvados
  • 5 apples (the best varieties for baking are Braeburn, Honeycrisp or Jonagold), peeled, halved, cored, and tossed with the juice of 1 lemon and a pinch of ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Vanilla ice cream to serve

Directions

First make the dough. In a bowl, crumble the butter, flour, and salt together with your fingertips until a sand-like texture is achieved. Make a well in the middle. Crack the egg in a small bowl, whisk it with a fork, and pour it into the flour well. Bring the mixture together with a spatula or a pastry scraper, being careful not to overwork it, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. When the dough has rested, roll it out on a floured surface. Form it into a circle a bit larger than your cast-iron pan. Lay it on a plastic-wrapped tray or plate, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

Make sure the fire’s coals are plentiful and hot.

Prepare the tarte. Set the pan over a medium flame. Add the sugar and water. Do not mix but rather swirl the pan to combine. Cook the sugar until it starts to turn an amber color. Add the butter; this will stop the caramelization. Cook the mixture for one minute. Remove it from the heat, and add the spirit of your choice. Put the pan back on the campfire to cook it down for a few more minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. To finish the tarte, remove the pan from the heat, and arrange the apples, round sides down, in the pan. Remove the pastry dough from the cooler, and let it warm to room temperature for five minutes. Gently place your prepared pastry dough over the apples, tucking the edges down into the sides of the pan. Cover the cast-iron pan with another pan of the same size or slightly larger. If you’re cooking on a grill, Place it six inches above the hot coals, and spoon additional hot coals atop the cast-iron pan. Bake it like this for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and done. Pull it from the heat, keep it covered, and let it cool for 20 minutes. Remove the top pan, and cover the pan containing the tarte with a serving plate, and flip it over, inverting the tarte. (If you flip out the tarte when it’s too hot, the caramel will spill out.) Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream.

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