Food for the great outdoors

in Food and Drink · 11-09-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

For Ray Mears, there's a real magic to the simplicity and communality of cooking outdoors, from fetching water to tending the fire together. "You go right back to the origins of cooking," says the writer, presenter and bushcraft specialist. "Things do taste better outdoors."

His debut cookbook, Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors, brings this feeling together, along with practical advice on how and what to feed yourself and your fellow adventurers when out exploring (or even just 'camping' in the garden).

"I fervently believe that, if you've got very little to cook with, if you've got some culinary skill, you can still make a good meal; if you don't know how to cook, you're lost," explains the 56-year-old. "I've always valued the importance of food, and certainly when travelling in wild places, if you've had a really bad day for whatever reason, if at the end of that day you can provide yourself with a decent meal, it's like pushing a reset button for morale, psychology and physical wellbeing. Food is really important."

The book is packed with effective, if primitive-sounding, cooking ideas - from baking eggs in embers and steaming fish in a blanket of moss, to skewering cuts of venison on sticks and building a ground oven. Mears shares recipes for hearty soups and roast meats, and even a camp stove pineapple upside-down cake.

"If you go out, even for a day hike, and you take a stove with you and you decide you're going to cook something at the end of the night before you come back, you make more of the experience of having been out. It provides a lovely punctuation in a day," he says. "It's all about company and sharing. And that's the joy, and that sharing of the meal is a great time to get to know each other better, to share the experiences you've been having outdoors."

Throw outdoor cooking into the mix (where it's allowed, of course) and you have a formula that can be thoroughly life-enhancing. "Cooking is a celebration of the ingredients. And when you're outdoors, if you're fishing and catching the food as well, it's even more [than that]," buzzes Mears. "It's a celebration of the whole day, the whole event. It's a culmination and an honouring of the thing you're eating - whether it's flesh or whether it's a vegetable, it doesn't matter - you honour it in the way you deal with it."

He doesn't actually see wilderness as being separate from how we live, despite the human penchant for concrete and tarmac, glass and metal, and for cooking over gas and electric, rather than fire. "We still live in the wild country," he muses, "it's just we've transformed it locally to suit us. If you look hard enough in town, in the skies you'll see the seasonal migrations taking place, you'll still find birds who look at a tower block and see a cliff, you still see them nesting and hunting.

Canoe camp fishcake recipe


(Makes 8-10 fishcakes)

100g dehydrated powdered mashed potato

213g can wild Alaskan salmon

1tsp dried mixed herbs

Good pinch of angler's salt

Good pinch of ground black pepper

Flour, for rolling

Groundnut oil, high temp olive oil or vegetable oil


1. Reconstitute the dehydrated potato following the packet instructions.

2. Add the salmon, herbs and seasoning and mix it all together with your hands.

3. Roll into small balls, 5cm in diameter.

4. Roll each ball in some flour and then flatten into a fishcake.

5. Heat the pan, then the oil, and fry the fishcakes for about three minutes on each side, until golden and crispy.

Chicken yakitori recipe


(Serves 2-4)

2 chicken breasts

2 leeks

2 red peppers, seeded

6 mushrooms

3tsp brown sugar

4tbsp water

125ml soy sauce

125ml mirin

1 garlic clove

Ground black pepper or shichimi pepper

Pinch of salt


1. Prepare some skewers and soak them in clean water for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, beat the chicken breasts to an even thickness of 1cm. Cut into 3cm squares.

3. Cut the leeks into 4cm segments and the pepper into 3cm squares, and trim the stems on the mushrooms.

4. Prepare the skewers, alternately threading on the meat squares and the vegetables.

5. In a small billycan, combine the sugar, water, soy sauce and mirin and heat to dissolve the sugar. While it's heating, crush and add the garlic, and stir in the pepper. Once the sugar has dissolved, set the glaze aside.

6. Begin cooking the skewers. It is traditional to have some skewers simply seasoned with salt, as well as those brushed with the sweet glaze.

7. Once the cooking has reached what you consider to be the halfway point, glaze the skewers that will be sweet. Do not worry if the glaze seems thin, it is built up in layers. Season the remaining skewers with a pinch of salt.

8. Continue glazing the sweet skewers little by little until they are cooked, and the glaze is a beautiful glossy brown. Cook the salted skewers until they too are golden. Serve hot.

Drinking chocolate recipe


100% cocoa chocolate


Milk, to taste

Sugar, to taste


1. Grate sufficient chocolate according to the manufacturer's instructions or your preference. Work to a volume of water of 2/5 cup (100ml) for two cups, or 4/5 cup (200ml) for four cups.

2. Bring the water to the boil, then add the grated chocolate and when dissolved, stir into a smooth paste.

3. While stirring, add milk to taste and bring to the simmer, then taste and add sugar to your preference. If possible, whisk to aerate the drink before serving.

4. Milk powder can be added to the grated chocolate prior to the water. It can also be made without the milk if none is available. Evaporated milk mixed with water makes rich hot chocolate for cold weather.

Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors by Ray Mears is published by Bloomsbury.


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