Backcountry meals along California’s Discovery Trail

Camping and grilling it’s an all-year affair for me, but if I had to choose a season I really enjoy, it would be late spring time camping. On this trip we visited the dry yet lush, and incredibly scenic vistas along California’s rugged Backcountry Discovery trail. A long stretch of highly diverse roads and landscapes reaching from the Oregon border to the far northeastern corner of California, and down into the heart of the Modoc County along the western boundary of the Klamath National Forest.

Our crew was comprised of three intrepid bikers and four of us traversing the trail in two separate 4x4s, which proved more than ideal given the rough yet welcoming volcanic terrain. 

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Jeeps

David, our fearless dust-covered leader, proved to be a knowledgeable navigator, with his extended experience wandering in the most remote backcountry corners I’d follow him anywhere. 

David

As with all our trips every meal plays an integral part of the overall experience, and this time it wasn’t any different. To be able to camp and grill in the uninhabited wilderness along many of the CBDT’s discovery points seemed like the perfect trip in my book. 

landscape
Early summer vistas.
Flowers
Complimentary roadside penstemon and painted brush flowers.
camp
Our first pit stop was the Orr Lake campground, which was completely empty upon arrival.
lake
Orr Lake has quite the stylish entrance and it’s properly stocked with trout.

Once we settled into Orr Lake’s campground, it was time to make our first meal.

guys

fire

Slowly braised beef chuck roast

I love this classic cut of beef as it is ideal for braising, and when done low and slow it really retains that savory meaty flavor. Since this cut is not naturally tender (yet flavorful given its fat ratio, connective tissue, and muscle composition) the best method, aside from sous vide, is a long and steady braise to tenderize while breaking down proteins. One of our travel companions follows a paleo diet so this recipe fit the bill. 

You’ll need:

  • 4 lb boneless or bone-in chuck roast
  • 1 tbsp herbes de Provence. I never go camping without this blend.
  • 1 tsp kosher or sea salt
  • ½ tsp cracked black pepper
  • Olive or grapeseed oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup of carrots cut in small cubes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cups red wine, or more as needed
  • 2 fistfuls of finely chopped fennel or celery leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp anchovy paste or 1 ½ ground up anchovies 
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

The secret ingredient here are the anchovies, as they add an extra layer of savoriness to the dish. While browning the meat seals in its flavors, vegetables add texture while enhancing the sauce, tomatoes add a sweet richness, vinegar adds a finishing brightness, but it’s the anchovies that really bring it all together in the end. 

Step 1

After patting the roast dry with paper towels, and coating the meat with a few sprinkles of olive oil, combine the herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper, then liberally rub the mixture to every inch of the roast so it adheres. The oil helps to bind these ingredients to the surface.

Step 2

Heat the Dutch oven over medium heat. I placed it near, but not directly on the hot coals. Once the pan is hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the bottom. Place the meat in the Dutch oven to brown. At this point the meat should have a gentle sizzle, but not too hot to avoid the herbs from getting burnt.
Sear the roast on all sides until it reaches a rich brown crust, about six minutes per side. Remove and set aside. 

roast8
In this case I had to cut the roast into smaller pieces to fit comfortably in the Dutch oven.

Step 3

If needed, add more oil, then place the anchovy paste, garlic and trinity of veggies in the Dutch oven. Cook at medium heat while stirring from time to time until they are softened. About 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, the tomato paste, and stir once again to coat the vegetables. 

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Step 4

At this point, add the roast back in on top of the bed of veggies before settling in for the long roast. 

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Add a healthy amount of red wine, which will help to create a rich sauce while allowing the meat and vegetables to cook properly without the risk of getting burnt. Since braising at home is aided by circulating convection heat, the heat source in campfire Dutch oven braising comes from the hot embers on the ground. For this very reason we need to continue adding liquid (red wine, vegetable or beef stock) from time to time to avoid the bottom from getting burnt. 

roast4

Step 5

We want to make sure that there is a healthy amount of embers throughout the long cook, which will take roughly 3.5 to 4 hours. Spread out some of the embers so the heat is not too intense as we are going for low, but consistent heat. From time remember to pour in some liquid, but for the most part it just makes itself. 

roast-final

Step 6

30 minutes before the end of the roast, add the tablespoons of vinegar to brighten up the dish. Blanch some finely chopped carrots until they are al dente. Once drained, they are going to go right on top of the chuck to add color and texture to the meat.

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I also minced some fennel leaves from my garden and sprinkled them prior to serving.

roast2

Brussels sprouts salad with pancetta and sherry

We served this dish with a quick Brussels sprout warm salad that I put together at camp. 

You’ll need:

  • 2 lbs Brussels sprouts
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup sliced pancetta
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1

Bring a large pot of very salty water to boil. Trim the stems of the Brussels sprouts, then cut then in half alongside the stem. Blanch the sprouts in the hot water for about 2 minutes. You want them to be crispy to the tooth. Drain the hot water and shock the sprouts in ice water to avoid from getting cooked further. 

Step 2

In a bowl, make the vinaigrette by whisking the oil and vinegar until emulsified. 

Step 3

In a cast iron skillet or regular pan over medium heat, cook the bacon and when it begins to crispen up, add the sprouts in the pan to take in some color. About 1 minute. Add the garlic, shallots, and thyme, toss to mix well and cook while stirring until the shallots are transparent. 

Step 4

Pour in the vinaigrette over the sprouts (while in the skillet) to coat, season with S&P to taste and enjoy!

Slowly grilled chicken with chorizo oil roasted corn

For the second night’s meal I used some of this home-made chicken rub and sprinkled it generously on the drumsticks. I also made a mix of soft butter, a few pinches of smoked paprika, and a few tablespoons of chorizo oil that I had served from before. After soaking in water for about twenty minutes, simply pull each husk away from corn without detaching it and brush the butter mix on the kernels. Close the corn back up before going on the hot embers for about 12 minutes. Remember to turn them every once in a while to get an even cook. 

Shakshuka and asado with chimichurri

One of my all-time favorite breakfast meals while camping is shakshuka, with a full recipe via this link. This time I made some chimichurri ahead of time (which keeps really well on roadtrips) to go alongside a grilled asado. 

Breakfast

Keep on exploring…

: Jaime

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