THE main secrets of good meals in camp are to have a proper fire, good materials, and then to imprison in each dish, at the outset, its natural juice and characteristic flavor. To season fresh camp dishes as a French chef would is a blunder of the first magnitude. The raw materials used in city cuisine are often of inferior quality, from keeping in cold storage or with chemical preservatives; so their insipidity must be corrected by spices, herbs, and sauces to make them eatable. In cheap restaurants and boarding houses, where the chef's skill is lacking, "all things taste alike" from having been penned up together in a refrigerator and cooked in a fetid atmosphere.
In my chapter on Provisions I advised that a few condiments be taken along, but these are mostly for seasoning left-overs or for desserts— not for fresh meat, unless we have but one kind, to the surfeiting point. In the woods our fish is freshly caught, our game has hung out of doors, and the water and air used in cooking (most important factors) are sweet and pure. Such viands need no masking. The only seasoning required is with pepper and salt, to be used sparingly, and not added (except in soups and stews) until the dish is nearly or quite done. Remember this: salt draws the juices.
The juices of meats and fish are their most palatable and nutritious ingredients. We extract them purposely in making soups, stews, and gravies, but in so doing we ruin the meat itself. Any fish, flesh, or fowl that is fit to be eaten for the good meat's sake should be cooked succulent, by first coagulating the outside (searing in a bright flame or in a very hot pan, or plunging into smoking hot grease or furiously boiling water) and then removing farther from the fire to cook gradually till done. The first process, which is quickly performed, is "the surprise." It sets the juices, and, in the case of frying, seals the fish or meat in a grease-proof envelope so that it will not become sodden but will dry crisp when drained. The horrors of the frying-pan that has been unskill-fully wielded are too well known. Let us campers, to whom the frying-pan is an almost indispensable utensil, set a good example to our grease-afflicted country by using it according to the code of health and epicurean taste.
Meat, game, and fish may be fried, broiled, roasted, baked, boiled, stewed, or steamed. Frying and broiling are the quickest processes; roasting, baking, and boiling take an hour or two; a stew of meat and vegetables, to be good, takes half a day, and so does soup prepared from the raw materials. Tough meat should be boiled or braised in a pot.