Chris Nuttall-Smith’s cookbook Cook It Wild: Sensational Make-Ahead Meals for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors, launches on May 9. The well-known Canadian food writer, Top Chef Canada judge and camping aficionado shares 80 recipes that will take you from kitchen to campground. Cook It Wild even shares how to get most of the cooking done in advance of your camping trip.
Chris shows readers how to bring the stress-free simplicity of meal-prepped cooking to the great outdoors. With some simple prep and a bit of knowledge, Cook It Wild proves that cooks and campers of every level can have the most spectacular campfire meals just in time for summer’s long weekends. Now, here are three delicious recipes from Cook It Wild.
Fancy Not-Fancy Quesadillas
My neighbor Alonso offered to make lunch when we took him and his family canoeing a few summers back. “I’m just going to make some quesadillas,” he told us, as if it was nothing. Then he delivered the most ridiculously delicious lakeside meal we’d had all year.
Alonso’s quesadillas combine panseared white cheese with blistered green beans and an inky, charry, burntpepper salsa. They’re creamy and crunchy, milky and briny, wondrously dark-flavored and spicy (do not neglect to make the salsa!), and somehow wildly refreshing too. Better still, they’re almost entirely prep-ahead, so they’re ready in 15 minutes or less.
The chiles in this salsa pack a ton of spice. Kitchen gloves are always a good idea when handling them raw, and be sure to run your stove exhaust and open any windows through the charring step.
Ingredient Weight: 42 ounces
[cooler] [fire] [stove]
8 habanero or Scotch bonnet chiles, halved and stems, ribs, and seeds discarded
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1½ tablespoons water
½ pound green beans, trimmed
1 . CHAR THE VEG FOR THE SALSA
Set a dry, medium skillet over high heat. Add the habaneros and garlic, flattening the chiles against the pan with a spoon or spatula.
Roast the veg, turning every few minutes, until the chiles are mostly blackened, with just a few unburned spots, 10 to 15 minutes. (They should look almost like charcoal.)
- PUREE AND PACK THE SALSA
Transfer the charred habaneros and garlic to a food processor, blender, or molcajete, along with the olive oil, vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the water, and ¼ teaspoon salt.
Process until reasonably smooth (a few small chunks are okay), adding the remaining ½ tablespoon water as needed to make the salsa thick but pourable.
Pack the salsa into a small, leakproof bottle and refrigerate.
- PREP THE GREEN BEANS
Bring a medium saucepan of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and let simmer until they’re tender and mellow-tasting, 6 to 10 minutes.
Drain the beans, then rinse with cold water to cool. Drain again, and dry them in a salad spinner or on a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the beans in paper towels before packing and then refrigerate.
Instant Caramelized Shallot-Cheese Fondue
This is exactly the dish you pull from your pack at 7,500 feet as a prewinter storm blows past. It’s also exactly the dish you pull from your pack while car camping on a crisp fall day when everybody’s got rosy cheeks and ridiculous smiles and they’re high on that whole outdoor life thing. Wherever you make it, this one-pot is drop-dead easy and crazy delicious, and it will make you a bona fide backcountry (or KOA-country) star.
Ingredient Weight: 2½ pounds
[cooler] [fire] [stove]
[backpack] [paddle] [car/rv]
1 tablespoon salted butter
3 small shallots, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces Gruyère cheese, rind removed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Scant ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine (thawed) [F]
Prepared cheese and shallots (thawed) [F]
1 crusty baguette
A few hardy, crunchy dippables such as endive leaves, or apple slices
1 . CARAMELIZE THE SHALLOTS
In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and salt and let them caramelize slowly and gently, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender, sweet-tasting, and an appealing hazelnut brown, 15 to 25 minutes.
Let the shallots cool, then wrap tightly in a small piece of parchment paper or wax paper.
- PREP THE CHEESE
Meanwhile, over a small bowl, grate the Gruyère on the coarse side of a box grater. Add the cornstarch and nutmeg and toss to combine thoroughly.
Pack the cheese mixture into a resealable bag or airtight container, stick the packet of caramelized shallots inside the bag (on top of the cheese), seal the bag, and refrigerate or freeze. (The cheese mix and shallots will keep for 1 month, frozen.)
- MELT, BURBLE, AND SERVE
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the wine to a simmer. Add the cheese mixture and shallots. Decrease the heat to low and stir to melt the cheese.
Once the cheese has melted and the fondue is bubbling gently, decrease the heat to its lowest setting. Your goal is warm, very gently bubbling cheese. If your stove’s lowest setting has the cheese bubbling furiously, feel free to shuttle the pan on and off the burner.
Serve the fondue with sliced or torn bread and crunchy dippables, as well as forks if there are known double-dippers in your midst.
3 days, unrefrigerated, or up to 1 week, kept cold
Campfire Paella Is the Best Paella
No other outdoors dish says party quite like paella. Paella is meant for feasts, for gatherings, for wood-fired cooking. And if you break it down into steps and pay attention as it cooks, truly great prep-ahead camp paella is remarkably straightforward.
While the main recipe is for the show-stoppiest of showstoppers—fire crisped rice under a tangle of squid and smoky seared shrimp—I’ve also included a chicken and artichoke version, as well as a vegan chickpea option. All three are celebrations in a pan, and absolutely sublime.
Serves: 4 to 6
Ingredient Weight: 3⅓ pounds
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil (thawed) [F]
Prepared green beans
2 bunches green onions, trimmed of roots and any mangled ends
Prepared squid, patted dry (thawed) [F]
½ pound raw wild shrimp or prawns (thawed) [F]
Prepared sofrito (thawed) [F]
1½ cups paella rice (see Note)
1 teaspoon saffron threads
4½ cups water, plus ⅓ cup
½ teaspoon peperoncini piccanti (optional; thawed) [F]
2 lemons, cut into halves
13-inch paella pan or a large (12 inches or more) fireproof skillet (see Note)
12 ounces cleaned squid, both tubes (bodies) and tentacles
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
4 small ripe tomatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pimentón Spanish smoked paprika)
½ pound green beans, trimmed
1 . PREP THE SQUID
Coarsely chop half of the squid tubes and set aside for the sofrito.
Slice the remaining tubes into ¼-inch rings. (Leave the tentacles whole.) Pack the rings with the tentacles into a resealable bag, and freeze. (The squid will keep for 1 month, frozen.)
- PREP THE SOFRITO
Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop. Add the reserved chopped squid tubes, onions, and bell pepper and pulse to make a fine mixture. (Alternatively, finely chop the mixture with a sharp knife.)
Place a box grater over a medium bowl. Using the coarse side, grate the tomatoes. The pulp will fall into the bowl while the skin and stems (which you’ll discard) stay in your hand. Set aside the tomato pulp.
- SLOW-COOK THE SOFRITO
In a large, nonreactive skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion-squid mixture and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is tender, fragrant, and beginning to color, 5 to 10 minutes more.
Add the tomato pulp and pimentón to the skillet and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sofrito is sizzling and the vegetables are richly brown in spots. Remove from the heat.
Let the sofrito cool and then seal it in a leakproof container or reusable bag and freeze. (It will keep for 1 month, frozen.)
- PREP THE GREEN BEANS
Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and let simmer until they’re mellow-tasting and tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
Drain the beans, transfer to a clean kitchen towel, and let them cool and dry. Roll the beans in paper towels before packing in a resealable bag (see page 14).
- BUILD THE RIGHT FIRE
The ideal paella fire has a deep bed of orange coals, with a few small burning logs at its center and off to the side. It’s medium-hot when your cooking starts. But in the 30-odd minutes it’ll take to make the dish, the embers should fade to medium-low.
Place a sturdy grill 6 inches above the coal bed and make sure it’s level.
- SEAR THE TOPPINGS
Place the paella pan on the grill and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. The pan should be very hot and the oil should shimmer.
Add the green beans and green onions to the pan and sear, stirring occasionally, until they char in spots, about 2 minutes. Adjust the pan’s position if it’s too hot or cool. Remove the vegetables to a clean plate, season with a large pinch of salt, and keep warm.
Add the squid to the pan, season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sear until it becomes browned and charry in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to the vegetable plate and keep warm.
Add the shrimp to the pan, season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sear until it becomes pink and slightly charred in spots, around 2 minutes. Remove to the veg/squid plate and keep warm.
- START THE RICE
Add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and sofrito to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the sofrito is sizzling and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add the rice and saffron to the pan and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains turn translucent at their tips, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the 4½ cups water, peperoncini piccanti (if using), and ½ teaspoon salt to the pan, then stir once and give the pan a shake to distribute the ingredients in an even layer.
- LET IT COOK
Depending on your fire’s heat, the paella will take 15 to 30 minutes to finish cooking. Watch the pan closely and rotate or shift it on the grill as needed so it’s bubbling evenly, but do not stir.
Once most (but not all) of the liquid has cooked off, taste a few grains of rice. They should be tender on their outsides but still slightly firm in their centers. If the rice is still very firm, add up to the remaining ⅓ cup water.
- F INISH THE RICE
The final stage of cooking will require your senses. The sound will progress in the last 5 minutes from a busy burble (the residual liquid) to a snappy sizzle (the olive oil) to a somewhat alarming but
completely normal sizzle-crackle (the rice crust–forming stage). When the sizzle-crackling starts, arrange the seared vegetables, squid, and shrimp on top of the rice. Give your paella a few additional minutes on the heat, using your eyes and nose (or a look under the rice with the tip of a spoon) to ensure it doesn’t burn. If you like a crisp, golden crust where the rice touches the pan, this is the stage to be brave.
When you can’t stand the suspense any longer, remove the pan from the heat, cover with aluminum foil or a clean kitchen towel, and let the paella rest for 5 minutes.
- GRILL THE LEMONS AND SERVE
As the paella rests, add the lemon halves (flesh-side down) on the hottest part of the grill and grill for about 5 minutes; a bit of char is nice.
Serve the paella with the grilled lemons.
The raw seafood, chicken, or chickpeas, 2 days, after thawing, kept cold; the sofrito (squid version), up to 1 week, after thawing, kept cold; the green beans, 3 days, kept cold
Excerpted from Cook It Wild by Chris Nuttal-Smith. Copyright © 2023 Chris Nuttal-Smith. Photography by Maya Visnyei and illustrations by Claire McCracken. Published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.