Dan Marsiglio

The Reflector Oven

A reflector oven cooks by directing a campfire’s heat down toward a cooking shelf that holds the food. You can buy a traditional reflector oven and use it time after time, or you can make your own from aluminum foil. First, cut two branched sticks about 20 inches below the Y. Drive them into the ground at the edge of the fire ring, 18 inches apart. Wrap a 22-inch-long stick with heavy-duty aluminum foil, place it in the forks of the Y-sticks, and unroll foil at a 45-degree angle away from the fire to the ground. Anchor the foil with another stick and unroll a shelf of foil toward the fire. Tear off the foil. Place four dry rocks on the bottom of the shelf. These will hold the baking rack or pan. To create the oven sides, wrap one of the upright Y-sticks with foil. Unroll the foil around the back of the oven. Tear off the foil. Repeat on the other side. Pinch the two pieces of foil together. To broil fish, line a baking pan (or simply use the bottom shelf as the baking pan) with onion slices. Add the fillets, seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. An easy way to punch it up is to slather with store-bought chipotle sauce. Top with a few more onion slices. Flip once, and cook until fish flakes with a fork.

The Bean Hole

Digging a bean hole has long been a storied tradition in the North Woods, but there’s no reason it can’t be done at a deer or fish camp anywhere. The combination of woodsmoke and molasses flavors in this bean dish can’t be duplicated any other way. Ingredients:
_10 cups dried great Northern or yellow-eye beans
1 lb. salt pork, cut into 2-inch strips
2 large onions, diced
21⁄2 cups molasses
2 tsp. black pepper
4 tsp. dry hot mustard
1⁄2 cup butter
Step 1: Dig a hole that’s twice as deep as and 1 foot in diameter larger than your Dutch oven. Toss a few rocks or a length of chain in the bottom. Fill the hole with hardwood, and burn it down until the hole is three-quarters full of hot coals. Step 2: Precook the beans by slow-boiling them for about 30 minutes. Drain. Step 3: Place salt pork in the Dutch oven, layer onions on top, and pour in beans, ­molasses, black pepper, and mustard. Slice butter and place on top. Add enough boiling water to cover beans by 1⁄2 to 1 inch. Cover the pot with aluminum foil and then the lid. Step 4: Shovel out about a third of the coals, and put the bean pot in the hole. Replace the coals around the sides of the oven and on top, and fill the rest of the hole with dirt. Cooking time varies, but give it a good 8 hours.

The Drugstore Wrap

Many a campfire meal has been ruined with a fire-blackened version of this Boy Scout staple. It doesn’t have to be that way. Start by learning the “drugstore wrap.” Tear off a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil three times the size of your pile of food. Place it shiny side up on a flat surface. Put food in the center (a). Bring up two opposite sides to form a tent, and roll over tightly three times (b). Press tightly along the fold to seal the seam. Seal the other two ends with three tight folds (c). Now add a second layer of foil, with looser folds. This layer protects the inner layer from punctures and keeps it clean so you can use it as a plate once opened. What to put in a foil pouch? How about a Deer Hunter’s Hobo Supper? Pile up 10 ounces of venison backstrap, cut into 2-inch cubes; a medium onion, quartered; a diced potato; half a red pepper cut into 1-inch squares; pineapple chunks, drained, from a small can; 1 tablespoon each of pineapple juice and soy sauce; and a dash of coriander, ginger, and cumin. Fold the foil, and cook on coals about 25 minutes.

The Crowd Pleaser

Making a one-pot meal in a Dutch oven is a campfire staple: It frees up the cook to sip whiskey and trade stories while pretending to be hard at work. This chicken quesadilla pie comes from O.A.R.S. guides on Oregon’s Rogue River (oars.com), where it’s made in gargantuan quantities. This version serves 10 to 12, and it’s as easy as falling off the log you’re sitting on while claiming to cook. Ingredients:
5 lb. chicken breasts, cut into stir‑fry-size chunks
2 medium sweet yellow onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
1 large yellow squash, cubed
1 19-oz. can enchilada sauce
25 small corn tortillas
2 lb. shredded cheddar-jack cheese
1 16-oz. can black beans
1 16-oz. can corn kernels
3 boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix
3 eggs
1 cup milk
Step 1: Saute chicken, onions, green pepper, and squash. Step 2: In a 14-inch Dutch oven, layer enchilada sauce, tortillas, cheese, canned ingredients, and cooked chicken-and-vegetables mixture. Step 3: Mix cornbread according to box instructions, and spread over the top. Step 4: Bake for 1 hour using six to eight coals on the bottom and a tight ring of coals around the top.

Used to be, a meal in the woods involved a marriage of basic elements: wood and flame, meat and fire-­blackened iron. We’re not saying that today’s campfire gourmands are lesser outdoorsmen than, say, a French voyageur who could make a meal out of a hunk of beaver rump and a little seasoning scraped from a salt lick. But there’s something about the basic application of heat to grub that transcends a backcountry meal dolled up with polenta and chervil.

Here are four ways to use fire to soothe the ravenous ogre that’s set up shop in your belly. Some harken back to days of leather-fringed yore. A few involve ingredients slightly more basic than cream of mushroom soup. But not a one requires that you flash-sauté or prepare a demi-glace or—for the love of jerky—wet-roast a squab. Just fire up the coal bed, brother, and dig in.