By Abigail Murphy
Cooking while camping is quite different from cooking in the kitchen. You could even say that it is much simpler. The most popular or common camping recipes are usually fuss-free. Recipes optimized for the great outdoors often require little equipment and few ingredients. The process is also uncomplicated. Cooking outdoors is also a lot more fun. You get to enjoy beautiful views and the company of your camping buddies while the aroma of your sizzling hot food fills the air.
Campfire cooking is one of the highlights of camping trips. It’s easy to learn, but the learning has to be hands-on. You will learn by doing. Some food items will be easier to cook than others. People often get intimidated when it comes to cooking soft perishable items like fish on a campfire. That’s because such items look like they’ll burn easily. With the ways of cooking fish detailed here, you’ll have results that are as good as a seasoned pro at campfire cooking. With each of these ways, there are tips and tricks that will help you cook perfectly or improve the outcome. Without further ado, here are the simplest, but most rewarding ways of cooking fish over a campfire:
The Historical Way
Open-fire cooking was the oldest method of cooking. Food items were basically thrown into the fire, and retrieved when done. You’ll be doing something similar with some modifications and a little bit of preparation.
Start with a small fire, preferably using flavorful wood such as maple, hickory, cherry, or sugar apple. Avoid any treated or painted pieces of wood, as these may release toxins that will get into your food. Let your fire burn down to hot coals. Remember, there should be no flames left. You just need the hot embers, not a blazing fire.
While your cooking medium is getting ready, you can start prepping your fish. Remove the scales of the fish, but do not take off the skin. The purpose behind this is to protect the meat and keep it from flaking apart right into the coals. Proceed with the gutting and cleaning of the fish.
You won’t be using any dry rub, wet rub, or marinade, on the external surface of the fish, because it will burn off or taste bitter. Season the inside of the fish though.
For each fish that you need to cook, you will require a long, thick stick with a sharpened end. Insert the stick from the mouth of the fish, pierce the meat, and let it jut out slightly from the tail end. Then, if it’s a large fish, you can use a few smaller barbecue skewers across the body to stabilize the meat further. Smaller fish do not need this step. Secure the fish with a damp kitchen string. Your fish is now ready for cooking.
Using the sticks, arrange the fish on the hot embers. You should be able to turn around the fish as required using the free end of the sticks. This is one of the fastest ways of cooking fresh catch. You’ll need to keep a careful watch. It’s preferable if the skin undergoes some charring because this will make it easy for you to peel it off when you sit down to eat. There’s merit to this way of cooking, which is why people it’s still in use. Try it and you’ll definitely get hooked. Season the external surface of the fish after it is done. Slide it onto a plate and serve hot with lemon wedges. The enticing aroma might make your buddies start eating it right off the stick!
The Convenient Way
People love this way of cooking because of its simplicity and ease. Cooking in this way also makes the post-meal cleanup a breeze. You’ll be using foil for cooking as well as for serving. This makes this way of cooking ideal for camping trips.
Start by gutting and cleaning the fish. You can cut the fish to make fillets or other pieces. This way of cooking is suitable for whole fish as well as for big and small portions of fish.
Apply a wet rub to the fish. Use lemon, herbs, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, or any other ingredients of your choice. For creating the foil packets, cut foil pieces (square or rectangular) according to the size of the fish. The pieces should be able to cover the fish liberally. Grease each foil piece lightly before placing the fish on it. At this point, you can add some other ingredients such as onion slices, orange or lemon slices, and fresh herbs on top of the fish. Fold the foil around the fish and make sure each packet is sealed well.
Position a grill above hot coals, or use a UCO Flatpack Grill, and place the foil packets on it. You can also place other seafood on the grill. For instance, you can cook lobster or scallops alongside the fish packets on the grill. The other option for the foil packets is directly on hot coals. Again, there shouldn’t be a blazing fire; hot coals are sufficient to cook the fish. Cooking in foil packets helps seal in the flavorful juices of the fish. The outcome will be moist and delicious.
The Smokey Way
Out of all three ways of cooking, this is the most time-consuming. However, once you try this, next time around you won’t mind giving it the time it needs. The slow cooking process allows the smokey flavor to permeate deep into the meat. The taste of the fish cooked this way is unsurpassable, and you’ll find yourself craving it from time to time.
To start, descale and gut the fish. Oily fish like trout is perfect for this method. Butterfly the fish, and season it according to your preference. Try not to overdo the seasoning. You don’t even need many ingredients. Salt, pepper, and garlic will suffice.
You’ll definitely need to start early, as it requires at least 2-3 hours. Start a fire with wood, and let it get reduced to hot coals. Alder wood, apple wood, cedar wood, hickory wood, and mesquite wood are good options for smoking fish. You can gauge whether the coals are ready for smoking by holding your hand above the grill. If you can hold it there for a long time, then the coal is just right for smoking. Spread the coals out thinly, and add a few chips of the wood on top. Place a grill, roughly 10 inches above the coals. Place the fish meat side down on the grill. Use foil to cover the grill. You can then relax, take a nap, sip on some iced tea, play some games, or prepare some other dishes to go with the fish.