A Great Pre-Cooked First Night In Camp Meal
*Author’s Note: As we look all eagerly look forward to packing our gear and heading into camp, I thought I’d share a Monroe family “First Night in Camp” meal tradition: “Hunter’s Stew.”
I first drafted this piece shortly after my “Cliff the Bear” story was featured by Adirondack Life magazine for the second time (once in print, once on-line). For a variety of reasons, I never submitted it.
Sometimes writing, like a good recipe, has to sit & simmer awhile. This one has, so I thought now might be a good time. I hope folks enjoy it. I know everyone, hunter and non-hunter alike, who visits our camp for a meal sure does!
This recipe is actually my interpretation of my Mom’s original recipe. When my brother and I were growing up in the Adirondacks, whether we were in camp for weeks, or I was up along the slopes of Ampersand or Phelps Mountain hunting deer with my father, first night in camp, we ate Mom’s Hunter’s Stew. Mom’s simple, rustic recipe consisted of a ball of raw hamburger & sliced onions, several par-boiled potato chunks and one carrot (always one carrot- I don’t know why), salt, pepper & butter, all double foil wrapped and ready to roast in a hot bed of coals.
It still took a while to build a good bed of coals hot and deep enough to cook four hunter’s stews. Despite Mom’s best efforts, once finished cooking, the meat wasn’t ever evenly done. The inside was still a bit raw, while the outside frequently got charred. Though they certainly hit the spot, a healthy dose of ketchup and salt & pepper was almost always required. As a result, I have adapted the recipe accordingly. (Sorry Mom)
I pre-cook everything now. I also added a wider array of spices and vegetables. With everything pre-cooked, my “Hunter’s Stews” are ready to eat much faster because they don’t have to cook, just warm up. They also keep much longer. They are good for several days in a camp cooler. So, I may make six or eight of them to use as quick camp meals, lunch or dinner, for folks who’ve worked up an appetite fishing, boating, swimming or hiking on and around our favorite lake.
There are other advantages to pre-cooking everything before heading into camp. Doing so involves far less bulk, mess, and trash once in camp. They require far less in camp prep time, which is key, especially after that long first day getting into camp, gathering firewood, and getting everything set up. Everyone’s tired, kids want to swim or fish, no one wants to cook.
Also, with no raw meat involved, if they are going to be eaten first night, for an overnight hike or hunt, no cooler required. I also suspect they are less of a draw for hungry critters & bears.
What I know is this: when I announce that I’m making Hunter’s Stews for camp, every camp crew member wants one. I even get special orders! However many or type I end up making, they never last long!
Hunter’s Stew is an at home, pre-cooked “Camp Chef” recipe that’s sure to guarantee many satisfied customers.
The name belies its content. Hunters and non-hunters alike can make and enjoy them. While I generally make ours using ground venison or beef, it’s a very adaptable recipe, another part of its beauty. Folks should substitute freely to suite individual tastes, lifestyles, and dietary requirements.
You Will Need:
Two Big Frying Pans (I like cast iron)
A Big Pot to Boil Stuff In
A Cutting Board
2 Big Bowls
A Roll of Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil
Non-stick Cooking Spray
A Big Stirring Spoon
A Good Sharp Knife
An Indelible Marker (To label each wrapped stew)
Several Big Gallon Baggies (even foil wrapped stews will leak juice!)
1 pound ground venison or hamburger/3 stews * Chef’s Choice
Potatoes (I prefer whole baby reds & whites, but regular sized potatoes work too)
1 Bag Baby Carrots
1 Big Red Onion
2 Big Yellow Onions
1 package whole Mushrooms (I prefer Baby Bellas)
2-3 Small Zucchini
1 Package Fresh Whole Green Beans
1 Big Green Pepper
1 Big Sweet Red Pepper (for color)
1 Fresh Ear of Corn/every 2 meals prepared
Montreal Steak seasoning (*Chef’s Choice)
Several Sticks of Butter
#1: In one of the big frying pans on medium high heat, combine the meat and about of one of the big yellow onions, diced. Add some butter, salt, pepper, Montreal Steak Seasoning, & a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce & liquid smoke to taste.
#2: While the meat is cooking, rinse & core the peppers, then chop the peppers, slice the mushrooms & remaining onions, and add them all to the 2nd pan, again on medium heat, with butter salt & pepper, a few shakes of Montreal Steak seasoning and liquid smoke, until the onions are nicely browned. (Sometimes I put the onions in alone for a few minutes first.)
#3: While those two pans are cooking, bring the pot of water to a boil. Husk the corn (I break the ears in half BEFORE I put them in to boil), clean the potatoes (6 baby potatoes /stew or equivalent), add a few dashes of salt and a pad of butter to the pot, and bring the potatoes & corn to a boil together until fully cooked (should be able to slide a fork through the potatoes).
#4: While stirring the meat & onions & bringing corn & potatoes to a boil, clean & cut up the remaining vegetables into bite sized chunks, and set them aside in the bowl.
#5: Once the meat cooked fully through, remove it from the heat, empty it all into one of the big bowls, and set that aside for the moment. Add all of the chopped up vegetables back to that pan, along with a fresh dose of butter, salt & pepper, Montreal steak seasoning, & liquid smoke and saute on medium high heat until cooked, but still firm. Don’t overcook and let the vegetables get too soft.
(*Note: you may want to leave the cutup carrots on the cutting board and put them in for a few minutes first. They take longer than the other veggies.)
#6: Once the corn & potatoes are done, remove them from the heat strain the water out, and set them aside.
#7: Once the onions peppers & mushrooms are nicely cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
#8: Saute the remaining veggies until cooked but still firm. Once they are done cooking, remove from heat and add them to the remaining big bowl. You should now have a bowl of cooked meat, a bowl of cooked veggies, a pot of potatoes & corn, and a pan of mushrooms peppers & onions.
Once those steps are complete, you are ready to begin assembling individual Hunter’s Stews. One pound of meat makes about 3 good big stews. Each meal should also have 1 half ear of corn & six baby potatoes or bite size chunk equivalents, plus a good scoop of veggies, all topped with another scoop of mushrooms onions & peppers.
*Note: when I am making more than 3 meals, which I usually am, I make them in batches. There’s only so much room in each pan!
*Also: And I think this is important: If I am making both venison and NON venison meals, I make sure to cook those batches separately, and clean the meat cooking pan thoroughly in between.
Step 1: Lay out 3 approximately 18 inch lengths of heavy duty foil SHINY SIDE DOWN. Spray each with non- stick spray.
Step 2: Scoop 1/3 pound of cooked meat into the center of the foil
Step 3: Add a half ear of corn & six potatoes arranged around the meat in a circle to each meal.
Step 4: Add a scoop of veggies to the center on top of each meal.
Step 5: Add a scoop of mushrooms/onions & peppers on top of the veggies.
Step 6: Hit everything again with a dash of salt & pepper, Montreal Steak Seasoning, & a shake or 2 of Liquid Smoke.
Step 7: Add a good pad of butter on top of it all.
Step 8: Bringing front & back of the foil together 1st, fold & crimp tight. Then fold the outsides over that. When done each meal should be shaped sort of like a fruit cake in a foil rectangle.
Step 9: Tear off 3 more lengths of foil the same size as the 1st. Lay each SHINY SIDE DOWN, and place one meal on each, lengthwise, at the end. Roll them up, fold & crimp the ends, put each meal in a big Ziplock baggie & refrigerate until ready put in a cooler & head into camp.
In Camp Cooking Instructions:
Everyone’s tired from a long day of camp set up. Kids want to swim. Folks want time for a quick fishing trip before dark.
But what about dinner?! Great News! These meals are pre-cooked! Warm them up on a good hot fire for about 20 minutes or until piping hot inside. It’s easy to test one, just open the foil. If it’s not quite hot enough, just toss it right back on the grill.
That’s it! Time to eat!
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’m anxious to head back into camp & roast another big batch of Camp Chef’s Hunter’s Stews to share with family & friends of our hungry camp crew. If you happen to be up on the lake and we’re in Bull Rush Bay- don’t be afraid to stop by. Guests are welcome. There’s always plenty!