We did some camping this weekend up in the San Juan islands and food was on my mind before we even left our house. You see, cooking over an open fire is still something that gets me a little nervous. Sure, I can grill a hamburger, or boil some water, or make chili or something, but when it comes to accurately controlling the heat of a grill or an open fire for a long time, as would be required for something like barbecued ribs, then I feel a bit lost. I didn't actually tackle that fear this weekend, but I did learn some things about using fire to cook with.
First, braises can be converted to open fire recipes quite easily with a good cast iron dutch oven and, preferably, a hook or some other way to vary the distance between the pot and the fire. One reason for this is that the water-based internal environment of the dutch oven helps limit the maximum temperature inside the pot to around the boiling point of water. So you end up getting a similar internal heat even if you don't have the most consistent external heat source (like a fire pit). Of course, there is still a "rolling boil" versus a "simmer" so it's up to the cook to figure out a way to keep it to a simmer as much as possible. . . that's where the hook comes in handy.
So one night I made pulled pork sandwiches mostly following this recipe. I decided to brown the meat in some oil before adding the cooking liquid, and here's the next thing I realized about open fire cooking: lacking the ability to turn your head to "medium" or "medium-high", you must really lean heavily on your senses of hearing and smell (and sight of course) to gauge the heat. And so, as I browned the pork shoulder, I continually adjusted the position of the coals or the height of the hook until I heard a nice sizzle out of the pot indicating the meat was browning nicely, but not burning. It looked lovely.
Next I added the cooking liquid that I had prepared before leaving home. It really made things much easier that I had chopped and combined ingredients that were all to be added in a single step at home before I left. This sauce of spices, onions, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, and sugar had been blended the night before we left and then frozen to maintain freshness during the trip. Another adjustment of the height of the pot and the pork was left to simmer in the liquid for about two and a half hours. It certainly came to a rolling boil at times by accident, which just goes to show how forgiving a braise can be in the end.
When it was tender (and boy was it tender), I shredded the meat and reduced the liquid to sauce consistency before adding the meat back in to heat it up. It came out great, served up with a little coleslaw . . .
and of course it didn't hurt our perception of the finished sandwich that we were out in the middle of the woods!
more open fire dishes and things I learned about them in future posts...