When the snows recede and the forests open we like to venture out: reveling in the woods, fishing in lakes and streams and cooking over the campfire in rustic simplicity. And while it’s too cold to camp comfortably in our area for another month, we spent the last three weeks traveling from Colorado to the California countryside, finishing our trip with a visit to Yosemite National Park where I dusted off my campfire cooking skills and set to work making a meal at our camp site. For when you’re tired by car travel, weary from hiking and raw from shivering in sleeping bags before waking at dawn, regular camp fare of hot dogs, trail mix and toasted marshmallows neither sates hunger nor nourishes a fatigued body. You’re left wanting. So a thoughtful and nourishing meal prepared in the coals of a tenderly watched fire provides a lovely satisfaction, one that blends the comforts of home with the rough pleasures of the outdoors.
Among the best dishes to prepare is chicken, larded with nourishing fat, wrapped with fresh herbs and stuffed with aromatic lemons and alliums. Campfire roast chicken, it’s a simple dish and easy to prepare, and after a long day of splashing through rivers, climbing to waterfalls and tending camp, it provides relief in its nourishment.
Ever the real food lovers we are, when we travel we make the effort to shop at farmers markets so as we made our way from San Francisco to Yosemite on the antepenultimate leg of our three-week road trip, we stopped by the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to pick up supplies for dinner at the campsite. Stonefruit, something that won’t appear in Colorado for another two months, was plentiful though early in its season while greens, fresh herbs, young garlic and onion and sweet peas were abundant. I picked up a pasture-raised bird for roasting over the campfire, intending to season it with two short-seasoned herbs: flowering onion and flowering dill as well as young alliums and fresh lemon. Together with shelled peas, carrots, apricots, peaches and raspberries, our meal was in the making.
So we spent the morning hiking to the falls, listening to the songbirds and gazing at the patterns of moss on rock, and, once exhausted, we returned to camp to prepare for the evening: lighting a fire, seasoning our pasture-raised bird, roasting it and settling in for another treat of the evening: fire-roasted stonefruit with crushed raspberry sauce. Once roasted in coals for hours, we removed the chicken to find it fragrant with dill, garlic, lemon and onion and its meat extraordinarily tender and falling off the bone as we unwrapped it. In the end, our experience was one of primal luxury.
Campfire Roast Chicken
- Prepare a campfire using wood or coal, and allow them to burn white hot while you prepare other ingredients.
- Place chicken on a sheet of parchment paper lined with foil and season inside and out with unrefined sea salt and ground black pepper. Mince half of the flowering dill and half of the flowering onion with a sharp knife.
- Spoon clarified butter/ghee into a small mixing bowl and fold in the minced flowering dill, minced flowering onion and half the chopped garlic. Gently loosen the skin of the chicken from its breast and spread the seasoned fat alongside the breast meat, beneath the skin, spreading any remaining butter along the chicken’s skin. Then season the chicken by squeezing quartered lemon over its breast and thighs until the lemons are spent.
- Stuff the chicken’s cavity with the remaining garlic, dill, flowering onion, young red onions and spent lemons.
- Wrap the chicken thoroughly in parchment paper and three to four layers of foil, taking care that none of the chicken’s skin touches the foil or shows after wrapping. Then place the foil-wrapped chicken in the campfire among the hot coals, layering them over the chicken. Roast the chicken in the campfire, rotating it and re-covering it with hot coals every thirty minutes to ensure even cooking for at least two hours.
- Carefully remove the roasted chicken from the fire and allow it to rest for about fifteen minutes before removing its wrapping and serving.