If you belong to the first group, may as well stop reading right now. But if you believe in setting a fine table at hunting camp, then read on. What we'll be doing is exploring the problems and special conditions inherent in cooking "gourmet," given the restrictions imposed by time, location, and available tools and appliances.
First thing to keep in mind is that you have to make some compromises. To be sure, I've been fortunate, in my work, to enjoy meals at some upscale hunting camps that would hold their own against anything served in a fine-dining restaurant. Such camps, however, have full-time cooks and kitchen staffs. On the other hand, you are there primarily to hunt, just like the others in camp. So time management becomes a crucial part of the mix. Even giving up some of your hunting time in order to cook still means curtailing some of the more complex dishes you might otherwise like to make.
Here's an example. I used to hunt waterfowl in the Louisiana swamps out of a permanent camp. The camp was a 40 minute boat ride from the nearest civilization. That's where I learned to make Cajun-style seafood gumbo.
When you're starting with a tow sack each of oysters and shrimp, which have to be prepped, and a mountain of onions waiting to be sliced, just getting the ingredients ready can be time consuming to say the least. However, because the actual hunting periods are so short (it's nothing to take a limit in only an hour), there's plenty of time---and available hands---to get the job done. I would not, however, recommend this for the typical deer or turkey camp---not unless you're willing to skip a day in the woods and spend it cooking instead.
Thus, you want to plan meals that either require little prep and cooking time, or which can pre-do much of the prep ahead of time. For instance, spice mixes can be made up at home, instead of in camp. Similarly, all the dry ingredients for baked goods can be done ahead of time. And so forth.
Next thing to consider is available tools and appliances. If you're camp is equipped with a three-burner cook top and no stove, for instance, it's silly to even thing about roasts and baked goods. When planning camp meals, that has to be taken into account. Your camp might be as fully equipped as your home kitchen. Or it might consist of a couple of camp stoves and a charcoal grill.
Personally, I don't give much thought to kitchen tools, because I have a portable kit containing almost everything I might need---including knives. That kit goes with me to camp. But if you don't have such a kit, give serious thought to what you'll have to work with once you're there.
One thing you will have is plenty of extra hands. Hunters are a strange lot. Many of them never cook at home. But in camp they suddenly develop all sorts of skills. You can put those hands to work, slicing onions, and peeling spuds and rubbing a spice mix into the chicken breasts as necessary.
I have one hunting buddy who, at home, shouldn't be trusted with a salt shaker. But with five minutes instruction he was making stuffed portabella cap appetizers on the grill while I worked on the main meal.
Don't get carried away with this concept, though. It's one thing to slice onions; quite another for untrained hands to shuck oysters. And there will always be members of the group who point-blank refuse to get involved cooking supper. Don't know how you handle it, but in my camps guess who gets to do the dishes?
It's crucial, if you're going to cook fancy in camp, that you preplan all your meals. Throwing a T-bone on the grill is one thing. Grilling a stuffed, marinated flank steak is a different order of magnitude altogether. The first requires some salt and pepper is all. The second has to be planned for.
Part of the planning process should include any pre-prep steps you can take to save time. For instance, if you're planning on a dish requiring cut-up chicken breasts there's no reason not to cut them ahead of time, and freeze them. That way they're ready to go when you need them.
Also include in your planning any flavorings not likely to be found in camp. Salt, pepper, ketchup and bacon drippings go only so far. And if you're recipe calls for a spice mix beyond that, be sure and take it with you. Cumin and coriander are not found on the typical hunting-camp shelves.
Speaking of flavorings, keep in mind that many marinades can be made ahead of time and transported to camp. Or simply whipped together the evening before you intend using them while the other guys do the dishes.
Do not plan on fresh game without a fallback position. Sure, somebody may take a camp deer, or a limit of birds for the pot. But, then again, they might not. You don't want your rep as a great camp chef sullied by having to open a can of franks & beans because you didn't plan for that contingency.
Once you develop a mind-set for fine-dining in camp the possibilities are endless. Here's a typical menu that, with a little help from the others in camp, you can put together in little more than an hour:
Grilled Asparagus with Quick Louis Dressing
Tomato & Cucumber Salad
Chicken With Peaches
Grilled Shitake Mushrooms
For more hunting camp cooking tips, techniques and recipes, visit our friends at The Outdoor Sports Advisor