Betsy and I were able to squeeze in one last camping weekend with friends a few weeks ago before our big move away from the Western side of Colorado. Camping in this area has been really fun just because there is such a huge diversity of landscapes all within driving distance. We can be in alpine country and two hours later be in red rock desert.
We chose to take a trip to the desert side this time and made our way over to Moab for some red rock camping!
For dinner one night I made a campfire jambalaya that I was somewhat concerned about, but it turned out pretty much perfect honestly. As with most cooking successes, the key to a good meal is mostly about planning.
1) I recommend chopping the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic before you arrive at camp as that is most of the work.
2) When you get to camp, get your dutch oven hot over a medium flame and add 2 tablespoons of oil and all the sausage. Get a nice brown on the sausage on all sides (about 4-5 minutes per side). Then remove the sausage and cut into coins.
3) Add veggies to dutch oven and extra oil if the pan is dry. Cook veggies until they start to soften, about 5-6 minutes.
4) Add spices, tomatoes, and stock to the pan and bring to a slight simmer. Add sausage back to pan along with rice. Stir everything together, cover, and let cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Then check to make sure rice isn't burning. It might need a few more minutes though for rice to be cooked through.
5) When rice is cooked through, adjust spices (salt/pepper/creole seasoning) to your liking and serve with chopped scallions and more creole seasoning.
Very loosely adapted from Campfire Cuisine.
Cooking Over a Fire
I’ve been cooking over a campfire (or watching my dad do it) for pretty much my entire life, but it can be a bit of an intimidating situation. After all, it’s like a grill except without the grill. Here are my basic tips for campfire cooking success though:
1) Time. Give yourself plenty of time to cook. It’ll take longer to get the fire the right temperature and you don’t want to rush it or you will almost certainly end up burning something. Fire doesn’t exactly have an off switch.
2) Equipment. A decent dutch oven is invaluable when it comes to campfire cooking. It heats evenly and if you happen to drop the cast iron thing in the fire, no big deal. I usually recommend some sort of grill grate also to help control the level of heat to your pot. A friend we were with on this particular trip had this cool tripod situation where you could raise and lower your pot. It was perfect for heat control.
3) Charcoal and Coals. Most people rush when they cook over a fire. The truth is that you want to cook over very hot coals and not a raging fire. This requires that you start the fire probably an hour before you plan on cooking. I also like to cheat a bit if I’m car camping and bring a bag of charcoal. Tossing a few handfuls on the fire will help keep the fire hot and regulate the temperature.
Starting the Meal
A lot of jambalaya recipes contain chicken or seafood, but just to make it easy, I did an entirely sausage version for this trip. Well, actually I also did a vegetarian version by substituting some of the sausage for soyrizo which was surprisingly delicious.
Start by heating a few tablespoons of oil over in the dutch oven and then browning all your sausage over a medium-high heat.
The sausage should brown nicely for 4-5 minutes per side. Then remove the sausage and cut it into pieces (it won’t be cooked all the way through at this point which is fine.)
Then add all your veggies to the pot and continue to cook.
I highly recommend chopping all of these at home and just sticking them in a bag for easy transport. Chopping is the hardest part of the recipe.
Like I mentioned I also made a vegetarian version in a cast iron skillet on the side of the fire. It was super flavorful and spicy which I loved. I didn’t even bother to take out the soyrizo and just added the veggies to the pot as it cooked.
Once the veggies have cooked, I added my sausage back to the pot along with the tomatoes, spices, and broth.
All of the campers in my group agreed that the rice was an ambitious step over an open flame. Rice is notorious for burning and it’s almost impossible to control the heat in this environment.
You kind of have to take a leap of faith with the rice I guess. Stir it in, add enough broth, cover it, and let it simmer away.
Check on it after 20 minutes or so and give it a stir. It will probably need another few minutes. Check the bottom of the jambalaya to make sure the rice isn’t burning and feel free to add more water or broth to the pot to keep the rice from burning. Taste it regularly so you know when it is just cooked through.
Other than that this is a pretty hands off meal once the lid goes on. Go do something else for twenty minutes!
A Camping Break
Here are a few shots from our camp site. We found this sweet little spot in a canyon surrounded by red rock cliffs.
Our camp site resembled a Subaru commercial although the guy in front isn’t technically a Subaru.
Porter played so hard the first two hours we were there he had to immediately take a nap.
And yes, we did manage to find a place in the desert with a little stream running through it. What luck!
Back to Cooking
After the pot simmers for 20-25 minutes, give it a stir and it’s probably ready to go! (hopefully)
I served this stuff with lots of chopped scallions, hot sauce, and extra seasoning!
It was a serious hit of a meal.
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t eat fantastically and everything tastes better over an open flame (science).
Of course, if you wanted to cook this not camping, you absolutely could cook the whole thing on your stovetop and probably have much more consistent results.
The view of the stars probably sucks from your kitchen though…