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Learning curve: Half the battle is prep work, and the biggest danger is singeing your fingers.
Splurge on high-quality ingredients. The simpler the preparation (most backpacking meals use five ingredients or less), the better the individual ingredients should be in order to create a dish that wows, says Kate Rench, a French Culinary Institute graduate and chef at Café Diva in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Example: Upgrade tuna to Italian varieties that pack whole fillets in olive oil.
Begin each meal with an appetizer. Providing a tasty first act makes even a simple meal seem like an impressive performance.
Balance salty foods with sweet flavors. The pairing “plays harmony on your palate,” says Rench. Include some fig jam on an antipasto plate of hard Italian salami, elk jerky, and goat gouda.
Cooking your catch? Fish cooks best over high heat—and keep pan time brief (most amateurs overcook it). As soon as the flesh flakes (it should still look glossy), take it off the heat.
Garnish with flavor. Top a plate of pasta with bacon dust (which Rench prepares pre-trip by cooking bacon until it’s crisp, blotting it dry with paper towels, and mincing it to a powder).
Anyplace outside will do; a view adds to the ambience, as does a large rock you can use for a table. For waterside dining: Head to Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and camp shoreline on Gitchi Gumi, along the Lake Superior Trail (906-885-5275; mi.gov/porkies). Or paddle to campsite R14 on an island in Lake Umbagog, and feast while the loons serenade you (fws.gov/refuges).
Wild Berry Trout
- 2-4 cleaned trout
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 cup fine cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
- 5 mint leaves
- 2 cups fresh-picked berries (variety in season)
At home: Mix cornmeal with lemon pepper. Seal in a gallon-size zip-top bag, which leaves space so the fish can be breaded. Pack other ingredients separately.
In camp: Sauté onions until translucent. Add berries and heat until they start to swell and burst. Toss in mint leaves (torn in dime-size pieces). Simmer and stir; partially crush berries with a fork, releasing most of the juice. When it thickens into a syrup, remove from stove. Bread fish on both sides and fry in oil, two to three minutes per side, until flesh flakes off. Top with the berry compote and serve.