Canoe trip cooking adheres to a less is more, zen-like philosophy. The chef must manage the intensity of absences, the maximization of omissions. The carrying weight of a tripping pack, storage restrictions and spoilage all combine to limit the boundaries of mis en place. Culinary science as outdated rhetorical lunacy, the act of banal heroism. My muse may not be a Jack Tripper Coq-au-Vin but “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy,” cooking outdoors is just plain fun.
The simple and meditative act of back country canoe camping perculiarizes the anthology of Canadian culture. Long before the assembly to dominion it was a summoning that defined our call to being. Today, the courir dans les bois persists as a tug of positable mythic that underlies who and what we are. Cherrywood paddles cutting whirlpools through ambient lakes. Portage ambling over trails cut out of the forest lined with networking tree root systems and glacially deposited rocks. This base traversing of the landscape, in and out of a canoe, plodding a direct and simple course from points A to B.
“Living on nuts and berries” once sustained us, we gatherers, fishermen, hunters and farmers. Canoe trip cooking marked an enlightened beginning for many Canadian chefs, a list not the least of which includes me. It was simpler back then. Tripper’s stew, Mac and Cheese, Boil in the Foil. I don’t miss and reminisce on those anti-culinary days. The paradox of modern campfire cooking merges the taste of maple, pine and birch smoke with gastronomical possibilities that leave beef jerky and tuna surprise in the dust. The demotic canoe trip maxim might state “show me a good casserole and I’ll show you a casserole.”
The key to canoe trip cooking, especially in the heat of the summer, is to keep perishable food cold for as long as possible. Freeze everything that can be frozen the night before departure, transfer to the food barrel and don’t open until dinner. Remove only last in, first out items and re-seal the barrel. The following morning the milk, eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese will all be good to go, straight from the “fridge.”
Recent years have seen preparations that included Glazed Baby Back Ribs, Smashed Potatoes, Fried Rice, Deep Dish Pizza, Tortellini in Brodo, Grilled Flank Steak and Mushroom Risotto. Night one in July 2012 ventures into some new territory. Vietnamese Phở Bò Tái Nạm, Pan-Fried Halibut, Salad of Green Beans, Golden Beets, Greek Feta and Kale Shoots.
Pho Bo Tai Nam
1 package of flat rice noodles
2 lbs. centre cut beef tenderloin
2 litres frozen chicken stock
cheesecloth spice bag filled with cassia (cinnamon bark), fennel seed, whole cayenne chile, coriander seed, star anise, Szechuan peppercorn and clove. tied up with butcher’s string
fresh bean sprouts or baby greenhouse pea shoots
Thai basil (can substitute regular green, Genovese or purple basil)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Bring water to a rolling boil for 15 minutes and add rice noodles. Cook for three minutes, strain out the water and coat liberally in canola oil.
Grill Beef Tenderloin over campfire coals until charred and rare. Remove and rest for 20 minutes.
Take out frozen chicken stock from the food barrel, transfer to a stock pot and add one litre water. Drop in a sachet of spices. Bring to a rolling boil over extreme campfire heat and continue to boil for 15 minutes.
Slice beef very thin.
Serve bowls of broth with rice noodles, sliced beef, bean sprouts and Thai basil.
Braised beef, fully cooked and frozen ahead, effectively works protein into night two of a canoe trip. Rump roast, stew beef and short rib can all be reshaped into stew. BBQ sauce glazed boneless short rib acts as esculent partner to rice, beans and pasta. In this case, good-bye baked beans and hello Garam Masala-spiced green lentils. The beef would star in a Khao San Road inspired Khao Soi but tonight it rides along with grilled Veal Knuckers, gluten-free corn pasta, olives, baby carrots and Padano Parmesan.
Beef Short Ribs
3 lbs. beef short rib, cut “flanken” style”
2 shallots, peeled and sliced in half
4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
2 cups dry red wine
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup BBQ sauce
The day before the trip, season flanken butchered short rib with salt and pepper.
Braise for two hours in a 375 degree oven covered in red wine, shallot and garlic.
Remove from the jus, cool, discard the bones, then deep freeze wrapped in foil and double-bagged.
Glaze with BBQ sauce and grill over hot coals, two minutes each on all four sides. Slice and serve.
Boxed wines have been the go to beverage to pair with my uptempo, combative and sanguinary campfire cooking. On my next venture into a Canadian nature preserve I plan to bring better wine. On the reliable and heady advice of AM, hereto referred to as my “wine conscience,” this contraption will house a bottle or two of something more than drinkable. I’m not suggesting a classified growth Bordeaux or Barolo here. I’m thinking dry as the desert Italian reds will find their way inside the preservation system.
Argiano NC Non Confunditur 2009 (72397, $24.95) achieves crunge by amalgamating Cabernet Sauvignon (chocolate and berries), Merlot (basil, lead), Syrah (black as night) and Sangiovese (animale grosso) in a Super-Tuscan, spezzatura package. Could paddle without a care to the world and sip this all day while searching for “that confounded bridge.” He sure is a good friend. 90
Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2009 (977629, $25.95) confounds as a juxtaposition of the exquisite and the atavistic. A prince of raspberry purée, “I think I love you.” Yet oak and osseous variation turn the Mazzei into a Black Beret, a strong-willed and big-boned, alpha male animal. Walk with the Moose. 88
Good to go!