Sept, 2017: Growing up in rural Australia, some of my fondest childhood memories were going camping on the banks of the isolated rivers which snake through far western Queensland. Several families from nearby sheep stations would pitch camp for a few days, exploring the countryside, fishing in the rivers and of course, EATING. Big fry ups, barbecued mutton chops with garlic salt, damper (camp fire bread) lathered with butter and golden syrup, and fresh golden perch baked in foil (when we caught them). Arguably my favourite camp meal though was mum’s perfect camp fire pot roast, usually a leg of mutton, done with all the trimmings. Fast forward to 2017 and Fi and I have been on a mission to nail the perfect pot roast as we overland our way through Africa.
Critical to cooking the perfect camp fire pot roast is a long burning fire with hard wood and a large, camp oven (heavy duty, cast iron pot) with lid. Like with any camp oven cooking, you need to develop a good bed of coals and potentially keep your fire burning to one side in case you need to refresh your coals. Then you need either a tripod, bricks or rocks to raise your pot around 10cm above the level of your coals so you don’t burn the bottom of your roast. You want a large camp oven big enough to fit your roast of choice along with your roasting vegetables. And finally, you need a lid so that you can pile coals on top (two to three times as much as you have under the pot).
Like with cooking at home cooking time depends on a range of factors including how you like your meat cooked, the weight and cut of your meat and the heat of your coals. Giving your meat a good sear over high heat at the start (particularly for red meat) and then leaving it for a 15-20 minute rest in a warm place after it’s finished roasting adds additional time to the overall process (the rest is more important than the sear). Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsal’s outstanding Meat Book gives a really good breakdown of cooking times but as a rough guide we go for 13-15 minutes (roasting time) / 500g for medium rare (plus the sear and rest).*
And to finish? While obviously you can keep things simple and just go for roast meat and vegetables, we kind of think gravy is a must. You could do gravy over the open fire as well but it really is much easier to use a gas burner. To finish you perfect camp fire pot roast you could always whip up some banana bread or maybe a bread and butter pudding. Either way, hopefully this will help you nail the perfect camp fire pot roast. This focuses on our favourite roast, lamb, but we’ve also done roast pork and chicken using the same method and both were delicious. Now to the recipe.
Oh, before we get started with your perfect camp fire pot roast…hopefully you will get this right on your first go but if you’re like us it will take a little trial and error. Getting the coals right and getting your timing down while trying not to have too many vinos takes practice. Rest assured though, it’s worth the effort to get the perfect camp fire pot roast.
The perfect camp fire roast: Ingredients (serves 4)
For the roast
2kg lamb leg (you could use something smaller but we like to use the leftovers to make shepherds pie)
1 tsp dried rosemary**
4-5 fist sized potatoes, washed and cut in quarters
2 large carrots, washed, peeled and cut in half
2 medium onions, cut in half***
5-6 whole, large cloves of garlic with the skin still on
Cracked pepper and salt
Olive oil for greasing the pan
For the gravy
2 beef stock cubes (or lamb/mutton ones if possible)
2 cups water
1 cup white wine
2 tsp flour
1 heaped tsp butter
For the greens
1 small head of broccoli or your greens of choice
Knob of butter
Cracked pepper and salt
The perfect camp fire roast: Method
- Get your fire started and allow to burn to a nice bed of coals. Depending on the wood and your fire building skills this could take anything from 45 minutes to two hours.
- While your fire is burning down prep your meat and vegetables and grease your camp oven.
- When you have enough coals, position your tripod, bricks or rocks a little to the side of your fire. Lay down a small shovel of coals underneath and then put your greased (and empty) camp oven on top with the lid on (it will heat up faster).
- Allow the camp oven to heat up until the oil starts to smoke and then sear your lamb on all sides until it’s nicely browned (~10 minutes). Take the lamb out and put to one side while you cool the camp oven (with lid off) away from the heat for 5-10 minutes.
- Return the lamb to the camp oven with a little more olive oil, add the vegetables around the outside and put the lid back on.
- Put the whole thing back on the heat and put 2-3 times the amount of coals that you have underneath your oven on top of the lid. After around 10-15 minutes you should hear a gentle sizzle coming from your camp oven. If not, add some more coals. If it sounds too loud or if there is smoke coming from within, remove some coals. You can also try and raise your camp oven a little higher above the coals.
- While roasting, keep a nose and eye out for your camp oven. About half way through the cooking time, you may want to life the lid and turn your vegetables (if required) and check your meat. Again, add or remove coals as required..
- 10-15 minutes out from when you think your meat will be cooked you can get your gravy started. Bring a pot with the water, wine and stock cubes to boil, reduce to a simmer and then allow to cook down over a low heat for 30-40 minutes (or until the liquid is reduced by half).
- Back to the roast…Once your meat is cooked, remove it from your camp oven and put it on a plate covered with aluminium foil somewhere warm to rest. Do the same with your vegetables if they are done or leave in the pot if they need more time.
- While your meat is resting, deglaze your camp oven with a splash of wine or water and then scrape off all the crispy meat, fat and any left over vegetables. This can all go into the gravy pot with your wine/stock mixture.
- Once the your wine/stock mixture has reduced, put another pan on medium heat and melt the butter. When the butter is starting to bubble, reduce the heat, sprinkle in the flour and give a good stir to create a thick roux or paste. Cook for another minute or 2 stirring constantly. Now you start adding the warm stock/wine mixture to your roux, little by little and stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Pour in the remaining stock/wine, ensure all the roux is mixed in and then leave on a low heat to thicken up.
- After your meat has been resting for 15-20 minutes, pour all the juices into your gravy and give a good stir.
- The final piece of the puzzle is to blanch your greens in a pot of boiling salty water. Cook for 2 minutes, drain and season with the butter (or olive oil) and salt and pepper.
- Now you can carve, plate up, pour a large glass of vino and enjoy the fruits of your labour!
*NOTE: We reckon that too often people over cook pork and especially chicken leaving it dry and frankly, wasted. Obviously we are NOT advocating eating raw pork or chicken but don’t be afraid to experiment with roasting on the SLIGHTLY rarer side. As a rule of thumb if you stick a skewer or knife into the centre of the thickest part of the cut, the juices should run clear.
**NOTE: For the perfect camp fire pot roast use whatever seasoning you have from either just salt and pepper to some dried thyme or rosemary. Obviously fresh herbs are preferable but when you’re camping dried herbs will do just fine. Something rather luxurious is making small incisions in the meat and stuffing them with fresh rosemary, anchovies and garlic and then rubbing the whole leg with anchovy oil and cracked pepper. Sounds weird but is seriously good.
***NOTE: For the best roast onions, don’t slice the ends off. Just peel the outer skin off and then slice in half. This way the onion will hold together better when roasting.