Groundhog Day brought us six more weeks of winter, but here in Alabama the weather is trending a little warmer—and that has us dreaming of outdoor adventure. There’s nothing quite like cooking over an open fire, whether at a campsite or in your backyard. Chef Ray has cooked up some recipes that are perfect for preparing over a campfire and taking advantage of winter’s lingering harvest.
BURIED SWEET POTATOES
This recipe is called “buried” sweet potatoes because you wrap them in aluminum foil and bury them in the coals of a fire. It works great with smaller sweet potatoes because they have a delicate, sweet flavor and a much shorter cooking time.
8 small sweet potatoes
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole head garlic, cut in half laterally across the equator
10 sprigs fresh thyme
4 fresh bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by washing the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Next, roll out two sheets of aluminum foil 24″ by 12″. Stack them on top of each other to create a double layer. Place the potatoes in the middle of the foil, drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes, season generously with salt and pepper, and add the garlic and herbs. Fold over the ends of the foil packet to make a tightly sealed pouch. Using tongs or a shovel, make a coal bed by the side of your fire and place the foil packet directly onto the coals. Place more coals and ash over top the packet to insulate it and speed up the cooking process.
The total cooking time should take 40 – 50 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes. However, every fire is different and you should begin to check them after 30 minutes of cooking. Use the tongs to poke at the sweet potatoes, when they begin to soften they are done.
Carefully, remove the packet from the coals and let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, open the packet, and the sweet potatoes are ready to serve. (If you don’t have a campfire, you can also make this recipe on a charcoal grill or in a 400-degree oven.) Serves 4 people.
The recipe is very simple, calling for just three ingredients. It can be made at home on the stove or outside over an open fire. Use the type of cabbage that looks best at your local farmer’s market. (Red cabbage turns a beautiful purple color once cooked.) Aside from salt and pepper, use the vinegar as your other seasoning. Taste throughout the cooking process to dial in the level of acidity. Add crushed red pepper flakes to the pan after you add your butter to make it spicy.
1 large head cabbage, red or green
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar you like)
Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by removing the loose outer layer of leaves. Next, cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the core. After removing the core cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. This doesn’t have to be exact, you’ll want bite-size pieces. Next, use a shovel or rake to move the hot coals from the fire to the side and make a coal bed big enough for your skillet or dutch oven. Melt the butter in the skillet until it begins to bubble, then add half of the cabbage. It will wilt down once it starts cooking. Add the other half of the cabbage and season generously with salt and pepper. Once the cabbage starts wilting, add the vinegar. Simmer on high for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the cabbage is cooked to your liking. (I like to have a little bit of crunch left in mine.) Check the seasoning and acidity before serving. If you think it needs more vinegar, add a splash and give it a stir.
EMBER-GRILLED COWBOY RIBEYE
This dish is an homage to the time I spent working under Chef Sean Brock at Husk Restaurant in Nashville, Tennesse. Working there gave me a love for cooking over embers and open fire. Husk sources beautiful ribeye steaks from Bill and LeeAnn Cherry at Bear Creek Farm outside of Nashville near Leipers Fork, Tennessee. They would be seasoned, grilled directly over the embers, and served with what we called “love love” sauce. Here is my version of that dish geared towards a campfire.
2 1.5″-thick cut, bone-in ribeye steaks (set out for 30 minutes to come to room temperature)
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil (canola, vegetable, peanut, etc.)
Freshly ground coarse black pepper
For the baste/sauce:
1 stick of unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 lemon juiced (keep the lemon after juicing)
1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce
Once your campfire has been burning long enough to have a substantial amount of coals, it will be the perfect temperature to cook the steaks. You will need a long pair of tongs, a small pot, two rocks roughly the size of a softball, and a grill grate or wire resting rack.
First, rub the ribeyes with oil and season heavily with salt and pepper. These are very big steaks and you are only seasoning the outside, so don’t be shy.
Let the steaks sit for about 15 minutes and begin working on the basting sauce. Melt the butter in a small pot. Once it is melted, add the garlic, peppercorns, and herbs. Cook until they become fragrant and then add the Worcestershire and lemon juice. Toss the lemons in the pot and place it at the edge of the fire to stay warm while you cook your steaks.
Rake hot coals to the edge of the fire to make a coal bed big enough to fit under the grate. Set the grate directly on the coals and let it heat up for a few minutes. Once hot, place each steak directly on the grate. Cook for about two minutes without disturbing them then check for a nice sear. Flip the steaks and repeat on the other side. After the first flip, use a pastry brush to baste the sauce on the steaks. Repeat this until you have reached the desired doneness (125 degrees Fahrenheit for a nice medium rare). Because you are cooking directly on the coals, the steak will color quickly. Place the two rocks to under the grate to lift it off the coals and slow down the cooking time. Don’t be afraid to flip and baste often. Every fire is different and your patience and persistence will be rewarded. If the coals smother out before the steaks are done, rake fresh ones underneath the grate and keep grilling. Once the steaks are cooked, pull them from the fire, baste one last time, and let rest for ten minutes. Cut off the bone and slice against the grain or serve the steak whole. Once you’ve eaten a steak cooked directly over embers, it’s hard to go back to a gas grill.
NATALIE’S APPLE CRISP
Desserts can be tough for camping. S’mores are the gold standard, but when I camp I want something that warms you up. When I found out Natalie had a recipe for apple crisp, I couldn’t think of a better camping dish. Natalie’s Whole Wheat Apple Crisp recipe has been modified from a home oven to a cast iron dutch oven that can be used on a campfire. This recipe was originally featured in Bon Appetit’s October 2015 issue.
6 medium tart apples (such as Pink Lady or Gala), peeled, sliced
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar, divided
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Vanilla ice cream (for serving)
Peel and slice the apples then place in a 2-quart cast iron dutch oven and toss with brown sugar and butter. Toss oats, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, salt, remaining ¼ cup brown sugar, and remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a small bowl until evenly mixed and no dry spots remain (it should be very wet and form into clumps when pressed together). Sprinkle oat mixture over apples.
Place the dutch oven on a small coal bed, covered for the first 20 minutes. Check after the first five minutes to see if it is simmering. Add or remove coals to get desired temperature. Rotate, uncover, and bake for another 30 minutes. Press down on the crust halfway through baking to smash the apples. This step should be done on a coal bed and near enough to the fire so that some color appears on the top of the crumble. Bake until topping is golden brown (it will crisp as it cools) and filling is juicy and bubbling, 50-60 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes to let juices set. Serve topped with scoops of ice cream. Serves 8.
Images courtesy of Abraham Rowe and styling by Susan Rowe.