Thursday, August 11, 2011

Backpacking tacos

I am picky about food when we're backpacking.

Not picky as in I will only eat healthy things or anything like that, but just picky. Choices are somewhat limited when you have to carry everything for your meals on your back for days and cook it on a stove that literally fits in your pocket.

Some people use those just-add-water meal-in-a-bag things. Well, for one thing, they're expensive. For another, they're NASTY. I've only tried a couple, and have never found one I liked.

Other people cook noodle dinners. Lipton ones or just mac n' cheese, etc. This would be the category my husband falls under when he's without me. But just noodles doesn't cut it for me. I want something yummy and filling after a long day of hauling a heavy pack over trails (or non-trails)!

I am not sure how I discovered that I could make legitimate tacos out in the backcountry. Maybe I was experimenting with my dehydrator. Maybe I read something about drying ground beef in one of my backcountry cookbooks (I've never really found much in those books that works for me either. Like I said, Picky).

Anyway, a few years ago, I tried dehydrating some ground beef and making tacos, and ever since then, we've had tacos on every single backpacking trip we've taken.

People are often surprised to learn that you can actually take hamburger hiking, but if you do it right, you can make tacos that almost taste as good as the ones you have at home. Sometimes, they even taste better, because there's just something about having tacos in a wilderness setting after you've been hiking all day. It's neat.

So, just in case anyone who reads this wants to go backpacking and enjoy some super yummy tacos, I thought I'd share my recipe.

The majority of the work is done at home, prepping the meat.

First, you get some lean ground beef. I say lean because you want to try to eliminate as much of the fat as possible, since that would make the meat go bad faster.

Brown it WELL in a pan. Seriously, make sure it's completely cooked. Last thing you want is food poisoning in the backcountry!

After it's browned, put it in a colander and rinse it very well with very hot water. This gets more of the fat off it. Then let it drain in the sink for a bit. You want to get as much water as possible out of it.

After it's drained, lay out some paper towels and spread the meat on it, then put more paper towels on top and pat it so it's even drier.

Then, put it in your dehydrator. I went to the fabric store and bought a remnant of tulle, and cut it into a circle with a hole in the middle so it fits on my dehydrator tray. That keeps the little bits of meat from falling through the holes as it dries.

It only takes a couple hours on the meat setting for the burger to dry completely. After it's dry, let it cool completely, then put it in a bag. You would probably be fine with just a zip-lock style bag, but I take it another step and use my Foodsaver to vacuum seal it, just to keep it fresher. I also add my dry taco seasoning to the meat before I seal it up, just so I don't have an additional packet to take hiking.

Once it's sealed, keep it in the fridge until you go on your trip. It should be good up to a week.

I usually also vacuum seal a chunk of cheddar cheese. Did you know you can keep hard cheese un-refrigerated for a few days and it will be just fine, as long as it's sealed up? It's true! This time, I found a cute little 3-ounce block of pepper jack at the store, so I just took that.

Soft tortillas pack better. If you take hard shells, chances are you'll be eating crumbs. I generally buy one of those taco "kits" that has a pack of tortillas, a pack of seasoning and a pack of salsa.

At camp, an hour or so before dinner, (we do this after we set up camp) put the meat in your pan with a little water to start the re-hydrating process. Don't add too much water! You can always add more later. Otherwise you might end up with taco soup.

before soaking

after soaking

If you're going to be away from camp as the meat soaks, take precautions against critters. We used straps to keep them out and also put things on top of and around the pan while we went to the lake to filter more water.

A photo I took right after we filtered water out of Lake Michigan. It was refreshing! So was the swimming!

When you're ready to cook, you just add a little more water if necessary and heat the meat until it's hot all the way through and no longer crunchy. As the meat's cooking, chop the cheese into pieces.

I make thin slices and then we put them on the tortilla before the meat, then add the meat, and finally, we top it with the salsa.

Voila! Camp tacos!

If you're lucky enough to be hiking where wild leeks (ramps) can be found and you know what to look for, some chopped leeks in your taco meat are delicious.

I picked three, but it was the day AFTER we had tacos.

Instead, we used them in the salmon & pasta salad I made for dinner the next night.

You can also dehydrate chopped bell peppers or onions and mix them in with your ground beef at home. Mmmm...

Be careful to figure out before your trip how much meat you're going to need to feed the hikers in your party, because there are no places to store leftovers at camp. SOMEONE is going to have to finish it, because you don't want to be packing around cooked taco meat for your whole trip. You DO pack out your trash, right? You better!

When you pack your tortillas for the trip, it's a good idea to put them in a gallon-size zip-lock bag. That way, you can keep any leftover shells fresh and have them with peanut butter for breakfast or lunch the next day. I try to make sure we get the 10-pack of tortillas so we can do just that. It's a welcome break from oatmeal for breakfast.

So there you have it, my favorite camping meal!


Irene said...

This is ingenious--I am inspired to buy a dehydrator and copy! Thanks for the idea.