He’s a famous fine dining chef with a restaurant empire, but Charlie Palmer is just as happy and comfortable grilling or cooking with a Dutch oven outside of a tent. The avid outdoorsman and proprietor of Mandalay Bay’s Aureole and the Four Season’s Charlie Palmer Steak recently collaborated with the Remington Outdoor Company to produce Camp Cooking, a beautifully photographed cookbook and outdoor art-laden guide to prepping, cooking and eating outside.
Palmer shared recipes from the book, which can be prepared just as easily in your backyard or home kitchen, and these tips for making the great outdoors a little more deliciously convenient:
The Boy Scouts are right—be prepared! Without a grocery store handy, planning becomes paramount: You have to bring every single thing you need. Airtight bags and stackable, reusable containers with tightly fitting lids are essential gear.
Even something as simple as a pasta meal takes forethought about timing. Getting a boil going on a campfire stove will always take longer than it does on your kitchen stove.
Know the weather report. There’s no getting away from the way natural elements like wind and rain change how you cook. How a recipe turns out depends on what part nature is playing in your outdoor cooking scenario, so be flexible.
When building a fire for cooking, always put safety first—for yourself and for the environment. Be aware of wind direction, trees, whether there are stones nearby to build a surround, and how you can create a wind block if conditions change.
For a low fire, use about a ¾-inch bed of coals with a white ember top and virtually no flame, with your cooking surface 4-10 inches above the coals. For a hot fire, use 4-6 inches of coals with some flame, with cooking done on or even in the coals, or 4-6 inches above.
Prepare parts of your meal the night before, like cleaning and cutting potatoes or measuring out dry ingredients. Some dishes and desserts can be made at home ahead of time and reheated at the campsite.
Duck breast with wild mushrooms and asparagus
Tip: When using true wild duck like mallard or field duck, you will need 2 whole breasts per person. Care must be taken not to overcook wild duck (nothing past medium) or you will get that dry, liver-like taste.
4 duck breasts, boneless, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper
8 small new potatoes, halved
10 spears asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch segments
6 oz. mixed wild mushrooms (morel, shiitake caps, hen of the woods)
½ cup chopped red onion
1 large clove garlic, sliced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Method: Preheat the oven to 350. Score the skin of the duck in a crosshatch pattern and season each breast with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook until the skin is well-browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Baste the meat side of the breast with some of the released fat a few times.
Transfer the duck from the pan to a plate and set aside. Add the potatoes, cut side down, to the hot fat and transfer the pan to the preheated oven. Roast until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. Return the pan to the stovetop over medium heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, re-seasoning with salt and pepper. Sauté until the mushrooms begin to color and all of the ingredients are hot, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Return the duck breasts, skin side up, to the pan and pour in any juices left on the plate. Place the skillet in the preheated oven to roast all of the ingredients together for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for a few minutes to allow the duck breasts to rest before serving.
Wood-Planked Grilled Salmon
Tip: One great thing about plank cooking is that you get to burn the dishes afterward instead of arguing over whose turn it is to wash them. Most planks are make of hickory or alder wood, which adds flavor during the cooking process. Soak your plank for a few hours before cooking on it so that it doesn’t burn right away and introduce soot and ashes into the food, and remember, the smooth side is the cooking side.
1½ pounds salmon fillet
red onion, thinly sliced for garnish
cilantro, coarsely chopped for garnish
lime wedges, for garnish
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup water
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 to 2 tbsp. chili garlic paste
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. peeled and grated ginger
½ stalk lemongrass, bruised with the back of a knife and chopped
Method: In a bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients and mix well. Score the presentation side of the fish in a crosshatch pattern about ¼-inch deep and 1-inch wide. Place the fish so that it fits comfortably in a sealable container and pour the marinade over, making sure that it also coats the underside of the fish. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours.
Place the fish, scored side up, on the surface of the plank and place on a medium-temperature part of a covered grill. If using coals, push them toward the outside of the grilling area. If using a gas grill, turn one side up to medium or medium-high and leave the other side off, cooking the fish on the off side. Close the top of the grill and cook until the edges of the fish flake apart easily when gently pressed, 10 to 15 minutes. Every few minutes, pull up the lid just enough to check for flames, which you can extinguish with a small squeeze bottle of water. Top the fish with a scattering of sliced red onions and chopped cilantro. Squeeze the limes over and serve right on the plank.