Backpacking is one of the great joys of life here in the Pacific Northwest. But cooking out of a backpack isn’t always one of them. Having resolved to eat as little food from a vacuum-sealed pouch as humanly possible, I’m constantly on the lookout for delicious one-pot recipes based on ingredients that don’t spoil after a couple days of hiking in and sleeping out. Not wanting to give up meat in the mountains, I find myself constantly drawn to Bavarian Meats for my pre-trip shopping. Besides the impressive selection of salami, the addictive spicy landjaeger, the largest selection of Ritter Sport chocolate bars I’ve ever seen, and the pillowy-soft pretzel buns, Bavarian Meats has the holy grail of camp meat: smoked brats.
Taking fresh sausage into the woods would require an impractical amount of ice, so smoked brats are the next best thing. True, fresh sausage is a far sight juicier than smoked, but a smoked brat still beats the hell out of the usual beef jerky for those of us who can’t leave our carnivorousness at the trailhead. Now, smoked brats are not indefinitely imperishable—you’ve got two days to cook ‘em up before they get iffy—but they’re perfect for overnighters, the midpoint feast of a four-day trip, or a mouthwatering kickoff to a longer one.
Also, Bavarian Meats has great housemade bacon. Bacon is a camp cook’s best friend, as good camp cooking requires good fat (it is flavor, after all!). Butter certainly ain’t making it up the trail unspoiled and olive oil is a waste of valuable space—if you’re going to carry a bottle of anything up the trail, make it beer. Besides being an extremely effective way to generate cooking oil, bacon is also delicious.
This recipe calls upon a variety of Bavarian’s offerings to create a hearty stew that will satisfy your meat tooth no matter how far from civilization you roam. A little prep in town before you depart makes it into a 15-minute meal, but the entire thing can be prepared from raw ingredients with only a Swiss Army knife and a flat rock, if circumstances demand it.
- 2 Bavarian Meats smoked brats
- 3-4oz. Bavarian Meats bacon, in one large piece
- 1/3 lb. crimini or button mushrooms (about 6 big ones)
- 1 shallot
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 medium tub of Bavarian Meats red cabbage sauerkraut
- 1 lb. fingerling potatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 tsp. Ground cumin
- Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 1 16-oz. can of Dortmunder lager, 12 oz. to drink while cooking and 4 oz. for the stew
Chop the bacon into 1/2″ lardons. Chop the garlic into thin discs. Chop the shallot into 1/4″ rounds and break apart. Chop the mushrooms into thin discs. Combine the mushrooms, shallot, and garlic in a ziplock bag. Put the bacon lardons in a separate bag.
Chop the potatoes into 1″ chunks. Bring a medium pot of water to boil over high heat and blanch the potatoes for about 7-10 minutes, or until they are just barely soft. The cooking time this saves you later, when you’re tired and hungry after a day of traipsing through the woods, is well worth the extra few ounces of water weight in the cooked potatoes. Pack into a plastic Tupperware container, sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, and red pepper flakes if desired, then seal. Shake the container to coat the potatoes with the seasoning, then reopen and combine potatoes and sauerkraut for ease of transport.
Pack up your neatly organized ingredients, along with plenty of landjaeger for the trail, some chocolate for dessert, a couple cans—not bottles!—of quaffable German lager, and a little plastic to-go cup of mustard (which the deli staff at Bavarian will happily provide you with, of course).
When you arrive at camp, ravenous from your adventures, crack a beer and a have a well-deserved gulp or two. Then, slice your smoked brats into 1/2″ discs. The ends make a great cooking snack. After this last bit of prep, you’re ready to fire up the stove. I usually make this using a tiny Esbit pellet stove, which has two settings: on fire and not on fire. Thus, this recipe is designed with a fixed cooking temperature in mind. The key to making sure all the ingredients arrive at the same tender stewy texture without devolving into mush is in the order in which you add the ingredients to the pot.
Start by sweating the bacon. When your lardons are sizzling away and you’ve got a nice shiny layer of fat forming on the bottom of your pot, drop the mushrooms and the aromatics in. Cook, stirring and tossing frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms darken and become tender, and the aromatics are browned around the edges. At this point, you should be down to about 1/3 of your beer. Take one more swig, and deglaze with the last 4oz. Scrape the edges of your pot with any available flat utensil (stray pieces of wood seem to work well in lieu of a wooden spoon), and add the potatoes, sauerkraut, and sliced brats.
Throw a lid on the pot, offset slightly to allow steam to escape, and crack your second beer. Check the stew occasionally, stirring to ensure it cooks evenly. When a utensil scraped along the bottom of the pot reveals metal, not bubbling meat juice and beer, your work is done. Divide into two bowls—for two hungry backpackers—and serve immediately!