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Time spent in the Aussie bush is for me at least, a mixed bag of experiences that combine to create a lifestyle. Without a doubt, the evening meal prepared around a campfire or out of the back of the 4WD is up there with my all-time favourite bush moments. It’s a little known fact that bush cooking is a real love of mine and something I’m truly passionate about. The thought of settling for a can of cold baked beans while out bush fills me with dread; bush cooking is a time to have fun and truly enjoy a style of food unique to your environment.
So what are my go to ingredients when I head bush? Firstly I keep a well-stocked assortment of herbs and spices in the back of the 4WD at all times. These basics form the stepping stones to tasty dishes; I’m talking things like garlic salt, mixed herbs, chilli, dry rubs, curry powder to mention a few examples. Even a simple herb and spice mix over basic snags can elevate a dish tenfold.
Next up I like a key ingredient to be the hero of a nights cooking; be that a cut of steak, a slab of fish fillet, whole chicken, you get the idea. One great tip for these ingredients is to have them vacuum packed into each night’s portions. This makes life so much easier, means less mess from leaking items in the fridge and keeps meats significantly longer. There is also the added bonus of thinking of a key ingredient each night means you take only what will accompany that ingredient and not items that will take up space and go to waste.
Next it’s time to get creative. You’ve got your key ingredient for the night, let’s have fun with it and try ways of cooking you simply can’t or don’t do at home. Even the most basic key menu items can be spiced up or cooked in alternative ways. Throw whole cloves of garlic and chilli into your camp oven and eat them roasted; it’ll blow your mind. Hit your steaks in the morning with a dry rub and then let them marinate in the fridge while you explore all day. Roll chicken legs in olive oil, garlic salt and chilli before slow cooking them over flames on the campfire. Add salmon fillets to fresh lemon slices, whole black olives, mixed herbs, salt and pepper and a splash or beer then wrap in AlFoil and cover with coals, trust me you will love it!
Really the key here is to doing just a bit of basic research surrounding your hero ingredient for the night, seeing what compliments it and then combining the concepts in a bush setting. The smokey nature of cooking over fire works with just about anything, spice your key ingredient up and cook it in a way you wouldn’t do at home and you really can’t lose.
Another great idea is to focus on your environment and utilise what’s around you. Nothing beats a fresh feed of fish caught at camp and cooked on the fire. Likewise, who would say no to a chilli pasta made with yabbies the kids caught from the river next to camp? Or how about simply using clean green Eucalypt branches as kebab sticks; adds a real bush flavour to meats cooked over open flame. Even just something as simple as a bush garnish arranged on the plates is enough to raise eyebrows in camp and almost guaranteed to have the other half calling you Chef!
One last tip is to invest in a quality bin bag for your 4WD. These are a cheap and in my opinion, utterly necessary requirement for all outdoor enthusiasts. Leaving rubbish at camp or trackside is in no way acceptable and with the addition of a rubbish bag, there are no excuses. If you take it in, you take it out; really simple rules to live by.
Bush cooking can be the icing on the cake after a day spent wheeling or exploring or even just relaxing at camp. Get a key ingredient, spice it up and prepare it bush style for camp meals everyone will be talking about long after you’ve arrived home.
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As a presenter and photojournalist, Graham Cahill is regarded as one of the luckiest men in Australia. Currently part of the 4WD Action Magazine team, Graham is known for his outrageous personality and passion for the bush.