Cooking While Camping
Grilled Oysters with Spicy Mignonette Butter
The day before we left I booked our camping spot. Using the Hipcamp app on my phone I found a spot that felt private, a little adventurous, and provided the most lovely scene, perfectly suitable for doing nothing but sitting and staring.
My friend Kacie joined me on this last minute camping adventure and of course the first question we had was “what are we going to eat?” Located right down the beach from Taylor Shellfish it seemed this spot was made for seafood so I packed my cooler and backpack with a few things that would make a fine accompaniment to grilled oysters and fire roasted crab. The oysters were plentiful at the seafood market but unfortunately crab season is now closed to commercial fisheries (but open for recreation!) The morning we left I plucked green beans, snap peas, zucchini, artichokes, garlic scapes, young garlic, and carrots from the garden. Kacie stopped at the bakery along the way for some bread and we each brought a couple of selections of cheeses.
The first night we grilled up vegetables using a well worn grill grate from a Weber grill found at the site. Typically I bring along some hardwood charcoal to the campsite but this spot required a ten minute walk through sinking mud, a creek covered in slippery seaweed and jagged rocks, some more secure than others. A somewhat treacherous jaunt that only added to the laughter, some bruising, and mud covering our feet and shins. So we made do with the firewood provided to us and burned that down to coals before setting the grill on top.
Once off the grill we adorned our vegetables with olive oil, flake salt (yes, I do always camp with flake salt) and fresh herbs. I also brought with me a couple of store bought hot sauces that we doused on top of the grilled vegetables. Kacie and I took turns imploring the other to try different combinations of vegetable, cheese and bread. One favorite was grilled porcini with a semi hard cow's milk cheese and grilled young garlic that softened and sweetened under the heat of the fire.
Camp cooking need not be fussy but I do believe it needs to be delicious. I find that eating a satisfying meal is mindfulness practice. With one bite that excites my senses I’m aware of my body, the joy I feel and can easily connect to what surrounds me in that moment. It’s often the wake up call I need to get out of my head and be here, now.
The very fact that you are limited by the elements and what will fit in your backpack or car trunk gives you creative freedom to make do with what you have. This is what I love about cooking outside; I become aware of how simple good food really is and it’s more about the ingredients than anything else. Cooking over the fire is also a bit wild, unpredictable and keeps me focused on the process and the present.
Along with my backpack and bug spray I bring along a pretty solid plan of what I’d like to cook but one that also leaves room for the possibility of foraging around the campsite or if you happen to camp near a seafood market, the possibility of purchasing some of the best seafood around. I’ll include some olive oil, a lemon or two, salt, fresh herbs and a very simple knife kit that includes a very sharp knife, a spatula or wooden spoon, metal tongs, a heat proof glove and a wine key.
On the second night we bought some oysters to grill from Taylor Shellfish. While back at home I had prepared a spicy mignonette compound butter with finely diced shallot, red wine vinegar, hot sauce and plenty of black pepper. I froze that the night before we left then tucked it in the cooler. I love a bright and tangy shallot laced mignonette with fresh oysters so I thought the pairing with grilled oysters would work well too. It did. Once again we ate our weight in grilled vegetables along with the remains of the cheese, bread and the grilled oysters.
The night ended with a sunset that turned the sky into an ombré pallet of purple, pink and warm blue tones. The waves washed away our spent oyster shells while we toasted marshmallows to a deep golden crisp. The homemade apricot jam I brought with me along with the salted almond dark chocolate offset the sweetness of the marshmallow and graham cracker quite nicely. We tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags just as the swallows swooped in for their evening feast. The magnolia tree faded from a brilliant orange red, lit by the sun, to a silhouette of its outstretched arms reaching over the water. Full, happy and listening to the nightly lullaby’s of the birds and the ocean in constant motion, we fell asleep.
Over the years I’ve written plenty about cooking outside and will continue to do so until we all are keen on camping with our cast iron and flake salt. Here are a few spots where you can find more information on how I pack, prep, and cook while camping.
King Arthur: Baking Outdoors? Here’s where to start:
Kitchen Unnecessary: Essentials for Outdoor Cooking
Check out the latest Outside Magazine for an article featuring myself and other inspiring outdoor chefs (hello, Francis Mallman and The Woks of Life!!)
For more outdoor recipes head to kitchenunnecessary.com
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Grilled Oysters with Spicy Mignonette Butter
The amount of oysters you grill is up to you. The recipe for the butter would be enough for at least 15 oysters I’d say. We also enjoyed the butter with some of our bread and grilled vegetables. The butter has a soft heat but isn’t too spicy. Bring along more hot sauce if you want to add more heat. I used Crystal hot sauce here because I wanted to add even more bright vinegar tang while also bringing in some warmth. The butter will freeze for up to three months but will keep in the fridge for at least one week.
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 stick softened unsalted butter
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
Pinch of salt (not too much as the oysters add a lovely briney saltiness)
Enough fresh oysters to feed your crowd
Set a grill grate over a fire or hot coals. Place the fresh oysters right on top then carefully remove with metal tongs once the oysters have popped. When cool enough to handle, use a paring or oyster knife to remove the top shell (the shell that is more flat) then add about 1/2 tablespoon of the mignonette butter to the top of the oyster. Return the oyster to the fire then grill until the butter is bubbly, about 2 - 3 minutes depending on the heat of your fire. Remove the oysters from the fire then enjoy while warm.