Stews are one of my favourite dishes to cook when we go camping. Of course, they are brilliant in winter to warm you up before you climb into your sleeping bag for the night, but even on the sunniest of summer days, I love to finish a busy (or not!) day with a big bowl of stew and some damper for mopping up the juices. I start my chopping in the late afternoon, then as the sun starts to set I get the onions browning away. Then I add a few more ingredients, pop the lid on and sit my camp oven (a cast iron cooking pot) among the coals. With a few stirs and some gentle cooking, within an hour I have a delicious dinner. I add potatoes (or sometimes beans) and plenty of vegetables so I don’t have to cook any vegetables separately and voila I have a one-pot meal that can be served in a bowl and there’s very little washing up!
Cooking over a fire is one of the best things about camping. There’s no ‘preheat the oven to 180′ or ‘line a baking tray with paper’, it’s just get some wood, strike a match and off you go. If you’ve never done it before, there may be a bit of trial and error, but so what, you’re not going anywhere in a hurry! Get everyone involved in gathering a lovely big pile of wood and building your fire. One thing, always be aware of whether it’s OK to take wood from the bush. Many national parks don’t allow you to collect fallen branches as these provide important habitat for wild animals. Many campgrounds do, however, provide free fire wood, so check before you start collecting. Otherwise bring your own.
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, sliced
300 g pumpkin (squash), diced
1 large fennel bulb, sliced (optional, but definitely worth adding)
800 g skinless, boneless chicken thigh or breast fillets, cut into large pieces
200 ml (a small wine glass) white wine
About 12 waxy potatoes, quartered
1 Heat the oil in a large camp oven or casserole dish on a grill rack over the fire. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly until they start to turn golden and caramelise – ensure the pot isn’t too hot, or they will burn.
2 Add the carrot, pumpkin and fennel and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring every now and then. Add the chicken, stir well to combine and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the chicken is starting to brown. Add the wine and bring to the boil for about 1 minute to cook off the alcohol.
3 Add about 400 ml water (just over 1 ½ cups), then add the potato and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and bring to the boil, then move to the side of the fire away from direct heat or sit the camp oven in amongst the coals (rearranging them as needed and topping up as needed) and cook for about 30–40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potato is very tender. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary, then serve in bowls.
Organise a game of cricket while dinner is cooking or calm everyone down with some reading or drawing.
This recipe is taken from my soon-to-be published cookbook the Hungry Campers Cookbook. For this recipe and loads more like it, see here for more information. My book will be available in the shops in Australia on October 1st and in the UK from May 2014.
Thanks to Natasha Milne for the photography. Photography copyright Explore Australia.