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Go Fish! What Do Chefs Cook When Camping?

Go Fish! What Do Chefs Cook When Camping?


One of the best parts of living in Colorado is the expansive wilderness in our backyard. As the sun begins to warm the mountains and ski season winds down, other outdoor activities become addictively irresistible. Whether we’re hitting up hiking trails, setting up camp in the mountains, or casting a line in the water, we can’t seem to get enough of the great outdoors. Chefs are no exception to the love of nature that permeates throughout the state. Their years of experience in food service have given chefs a creative and streamlined edge to outdoor eating, so you spend less time on each meal and more time enjoying the beauty of our mountain majesty.

Whole Grilled Trout: Photo by Dani Cole

As a chef, outdoorswoman, and angler, I’ve developed some of my own dishes that have become fireside favorites or tasty takes for fresh caught fish. Ideally, the fish are biting and big enough to keep. That’s not always the case, and sometimes it feels lucky to walk away with just one. Yet, a single trout grilled and served whole with campfire fingerling potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and asparagus can be a delicious and filling dinner. A simple maple bourbon butter sauce complements the dish beautifully. To make the sauce, just reduce a little bourbon and maple syrup together, and once it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, swirl in a little cold butter.

A fan cut works well with trout, and the skin will get nice and crispy in your trusty cast iron pan. A nice helping of polenta and sautéed dandelion greens create another filling entrée with just one fish, and a lemon and caper hollandaise completes the dish.

Perhaps you’ve caught a good haul of assorted pan fish, catfish, or bass. Those fish are a little less suited to a composed dish, and that’s where the fish fry comes in. I bring a box of pre-mixed batter blend and sacrifice a little beer for a classic beer-battered fish and chips. To take the fish fry up a notch, ditch the chips for tortillas, chipotle mayo, slaw, and mango salsa fresca for fabulous fish tacos. Blackened fish po’ boys are also easy to make and give a nice reprieve from the classic fish fry.

Fan Cut Trout With Hollandaise. Photo by Dani Cole

I also spoke to a couple of colleagues who are avid outdoorsmen and anglers about what they make when they’re camping or with fish they’ve caught. The consensus is to prepare as much as possible at home before leaving for camp. This saves not only time and effort when you’re making dinner but also valuable cooler space.

Chef Dave Engel of Big Red F Restaurant Group is no stranger to outdoor living. Hailing from Wisconsin, Chef Engel has been camping and fishing for a long time. He told me about his homemade dehydrated meals. With the use of an at-home dehydrator, spaghetti or other pastas, beef stew, and much more can be produced for a lightweight backpacking option. Chef Engel said, “Make a big batch of it at home, spread it out on your dehydrator trays, let it dehydrate.” Then, your work at camp is just to add water and boil it. He sent his dehydrated spaghetti recipe to share. He said, “It’s a great trick to use on inclement weather days” or if “you’re just getting skunked on fish.” Having a backup meal in case of skunking is important.

As a big backpacker, Chef Engel tries to keep his meals relatively simple and employs the use of a hand-pulled food processor to make a fish pâté out of his catch, which can then be tossed into simmering soups. To make fish pâté, “crack an egg into it, a little shallot, garlic, and ginger.”

Fish Tacos. Photo by Dani Cole

When he is catching fish on the trail, he generally keeps to a few simple preparations. “Growing up in Wisconsin, I really learned to enjoy fish breaded and battered,” he recalled. Lemon pepper and Cajun seasoning go a long way depending on your preferences and the type of fish. Chef Engel always keeps a lemon or lemon juice in his pack as well. He spoke about a server he trained years ago who told him, “If it’s been a-swimmin’, it gets a lemon.”

One preparation Chef Engel spoke about that caught my attention was fresh fish moo shu. Just bring your veg mix, the pancakes, and sauce, and you have an easily composed, full meal.

Smoking trout by fanning it out above the fire is a simple and ancient way to cook fish. Flaking the smoked fish into your scrambled eggs makes a lovely camp breakfast. Ultimately, Chef Engel recommended “having your bases covered” and to keep the backup meals handy in case of bad luck. He also said that having a field guide on mushrooms and other forageable foods is helpful.

Chef Grayson Kolar, the executive sous chef at The Greenbriar Inn and Colorado native, loves the mountains, fishing, and wilderness life. Foraging is one of his favorite methods of acquiring food. “In Telluride growing up you had a veritable feast at your fingertips. During the summer, everything around you is edible walking down a trail,” he shared. He pointed out that a foraged salad with rose hips can be not only nutritionally dense but delicious.

Colorado has a wide variety of wild mushrooms that Chef Kolar recommended searching for including chanterelles and king boletes. “Hawk’s wing mushrooms are great — you can dehydrate and powder them and add them to thicken sauces.” Chef Kolar spoke about how he likes to use foraged mushrooms for beef stroganoff, Swedish meatballs, or mushroom risotto. He echoed Chef Engel’s advice to bring a field guide and added being cautious regarding mushrooms and foraged foods.

A cast iron Dutch oven can be used to elevate your meals and even dessert to your campfire experience. Chef Kolar sent along a recipe for a Dutch oven quick dinner roll that makes for some wonderful slider buns. The filling can be altered to your taste, but his teriyaki chicken and grilled pineapple sliders sounded particularly delicious.

When the fishing is good, Chef Kolar said, “I’ll bring some thyme and lemon and do a pan-fried fish filet.” For a hearty side, “I’ll do a hash cut potato in a tin foil pouch and toss it right on the fire.” Then, he’ll break the Dutch oven back out for dessert, and he passed on a recipe for a mixed berry cobbler.

Whether you’re fishing, using a dehydrator or Dutch oven , foraging,  or just cooking a meal you prepped at home, the sky’s the limit when it comes to making food out in Mother Nature. Colorado has so much wilderness to offer, it’s a disservice to oneself not to explore it. Food on the trail can be so much more than bland freeze-dried bags of space food.

If the fish are biting, then so much the better. A dinner made from fish that was caught only hours before not only tastes delicious but creates a satisfying feeling. Desserts can go beyond the traditional s’mores — though we’ll eat those too — with Dutch oven cobblers, cakes, and more.

With a little thought and planning, it’s possible to make a full, hearty camping meal without a lot of effort. The pre-prep philosophy can save a lot of time and cooler space, so you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors.


Chef Dave Engel’s Down by the River Fish Cakes (boiled or pan-fried)

  • 3/4 pound white fish filet, boneds and skinned
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cooking instructions:

  1. To make them extra special if you have the pack space, add some vegetables like carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, etc.
  2. Clean and dress your fish and cut into small pieces, so it is easier to make a paste in a food processor (See note at end of recipe for the rip cord processor I have.).
  3. Add your fish, water, ginger juice, garlic, salt, and sugar to your food processor and make a paste.
  4. Add the egg to the paste and blend well.
  5. If adding veggies, add them now with the cornstarch and process some more until incorporated.
  6. If making them pan fried, heat oil in your pan. If adding to a broth, make sure your broth is boiling.
  7. Wet your hands. Take 1/10 of the fish cake mixture and make a ball, then press to make a flat oval.
  8. If adding to a broth, drop the cakes in and cook for about 4-5 minutes before eating. If pan frying, fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden brown and delicious (GBD).

Chef David Engel’s Dehydrated Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

  • 500 grams ground beef
  • 113 grams yellow onion, diced
  • 15 grams minced garlic
  • 1 gram dried basil
  • 1 gram dried oregano
  • 1/2 gram crushed red chile flakes
  • 5 grams tomato paste
  • 500 milliliters of your favorite marinara sauce
  • 10 grams kosher salt
  • 3 grams black pepper
  • 1 box spaghetti noodles

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Brown the meat in a pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onions to the meat and cook until softened.
  3. Add your spices, tomato paste, and marinara sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. While the meat sauce is cooking, cook your noodles.
  4. Combine the cooked noodles and your meat sauce and then spread in a thin layer on dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at 160 F for about 6-8 hours or until all moisture is drawn out and mixture is dry and crumbly.
  5. Transfer to a Ziploc bag or individually portion. This will roughly double when rehydrated so 1 cup dehydrated should be about 2 cups hydrated.
  6. To rehydrate at your campsite, measure a 1:1 ratio of spaghetti and boiling water and let stand for 15-20 minutes until fully rehydrated and the meat and noodles are no longer crunchy.

Chef Grayson Kolar’s Berry Cobbler


  • 6 cups frozen mixed berries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch


  • 1/2  cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar + 3 tablespoons butter, cut to pea size
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 individual-sized packets flavored oats (such as cinnamon apple)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Prep your campfire with briquettes.
  2. Combine the filling ingredients in a 10″ Dutch oven. Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the filling. Place the Dutch oven over 10 briquettes and 20 on top. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Use caution when removing the Dutch oven from the heat.

Chef Grayson Kolar’s Dutch Oven Quick Rolls

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 packet dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a 10-inch Dutch oven, bloom the yeast in water with sugar. tir in half of the flour and mix until smooth. Add egg, oil, and the rest of the flour. Beat until smooth. Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size.
  2. Cut rolls or bake loaf in the Dutch oven for 20-25 minutes with 5 briquettes on the bottom, 10 briquettes on top. Use caution when removing the Dutch oven from the heat.

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