Friday, 1 June 2012

How to cook supper on an open fire

I have been asked for recipes and ideas for a meal cooked on an open fire.

The secret is to first collect a good quantity of really dry wood. Cumbretum or Bushwillow is the best.
Light a fire, quite early in the evening, relax and have a drink while the wood burns and produces coals - for it is the coals that you need to cook on.

Ideally you need a spade to manipulate the coals,
a pair of long tongs,
a roll of aluminium foil,
a BBQ or Braai grid
and a black iron pot.
I soon found that the most essential item of camping equipment was a pot holder or thick leather glove. We called this 'The hairy hand'.
If you cook in full length leather chaps you won't get hot legs.

Beer bread:
Take a cast iron pot. We use a round pot-bellied pot with three legs and a lid, which are readily available in S.Africa. In the United Kingdom I'd try using an old le Cruset pot.
Pour a small amount of peanut or sunflower oil into the pot and rub this in with half an onion, heating it a little to 'cure' the pot.

Mix an ordinary, small can of lager (Amstel, Castle or what-have-you) with a small 500g packet of self-raising flour. Mix in a good pinch of salt and knead together. Throw this into the warmed pot and set over the coals. You can add crushed garlic or crushed sea-salt on top. Put the lid on the pot and heap more coals onto the lid with a spade - or graaf, if you speak Afrikaans. The bread should take about 30 minutes to rise, form a crust and cook through. The yeast in the beer causes it to rise. When cooked keep warm to eat that evening. It won't keep.

Baked vegetables:
Take whatever vegetables you like, wrap individual portions in tin foil with a knob of butter and place them on the coals. Turn occasionally.

Butternut can be cut in half, and if sprinkled with curry powder and put together again will cook well - taking about 30 or 40 minutes depending on their size. Serve on the plate cut in quarters. This is delicious if sprinkled with goats cheese, a splash of olive oil and roasted pine nuts and makes a good starter or vegetarian dish.

Aubergine bake well and taste glorious if you cut a deep cross adding salt, lots of olive oil and squashed garlic. Add lots of chopped basil leaves if you can get them. When cooked through you can scrape out the flesh and mix it up in a bowl to make Baba ganoush, which will act as a sauce, or on the beer bread.

Potatoes are always good baked on the fire, as are onions.

Tomatoes work well and cook quickly - cut a cross over the top and add pepper before wrapping in foil.

You can roast vegetables on a grill, making kebabs, but they tend to dry out, whilst the foil method keeps in the juices.

Joint of lamb or Fillet of Beef:
Instead of fiddling about with numerous sausages, beef burgers or chicken pieces I would recommend taking a joint of lamb or a fillet of beef and searing it on a clean grill or cast iron griddle. Let it heat through, and cook, enjoying it as rare or well done as you like. Carve on a wooden board and serve with the vegetables, bread and sauces of your choice. The responsibility for this can be delegated.

You will need to practice with timings and quantities before you cater for 14 guests. Start by concentrating on the meat and baked potatoes by serving them with a salad, and have fun experimenting with the vegetables.

As it is difficult to keep plates hot in the bush we found Bakelite picnic ideal.

Banana boats:
Take one banana per person.
Use a small sharp knife or penknife to cut through the skin, slicing the banana from below the stork to near the blunt end. Squeeze it open a bit. Add about three or four squares of chocolate lined up along the slit. Wrap in foil, pinching together the edges along the slit. Put these boat-like creations on the grill over coals whilst everyone is eating the main course. After about15 minutes the bananas will have cooked through and the chocolate will have melted. Carefully ease open the tin foil and eat with a teaspoon.

All this tastes much better eaten around the fire, by the light of a paraffin lamp.

Take great care when pouring from a kettle heated on an open fire. Avoid letting the water boil in the spout. It tends to hyper-heat and splash everywhere. Never pour into a cup that is being held in someone's hands. Ask them to set it down first.

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