Showing posts with label Absolute Wilderness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Absolute Wilderness. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Tramping Food: Pimp that meal- adding extra taste to your freeze dried experience

More flavour in your freeze dried meal...

I'm sure most of us have tasted a freeze dried meal before, they are light weight and easy to prepare but often the taste is less than ideal. There is no reason why eating a freeze dried must be a chore, with a few choice additions you can make it into food worth savouring.

Jon at Mid Robinson Hut, 2015, with freeze dried meal in hand

Tramping food: freezer bag or freeze dried?

I have previously covered suggestions for tramping food in another post, what I am concentrating on here is how you can improve the flavour of Freeze Dried (FD) meals.

When I am out for a overnight trip I generally carry two types of main meal. The first is the home-made "freezer bag" type which I make from store brought ingredients. These consist of a carb (rice/noodles/pasta/instant potato/pearl barley/cous cous/instant stuffing) with the addition of vegetables, protein (meat/chicken/fish/TVP) and some herbs and spices.  

A selection of home-made dehydrated freezer bag meals

Generally these require some "in pot" cooking time although it is possible to make meals that simply require hot water. I eat them from the bag or straight from the pot.

 The second type is the ubiquitous freeze dried (FD) meal to which you add hot water and wait for it to re hydrate. My typical breakdown would be two home-made to one freeze dried meal per trip. If the trip was 5 days or more, when food weight becomes more of a factor, FD meals will dominate.

Enjoying some freeze dried Spaghetti Bolognaise at Hawdon Hut, 2014

The advantage of freeze dry meals is their low relative weight (less than 200gms) and the ease of preparation which negates a whole lot of mess and bother at the end of a long day.

Some notes regarding freeze dried tramping meals

In New Zealand the three main freeze dried ranges are supplied by Backcountry Cuisine Absolute Wilderness and the Outdoor Gourmet Company. These are available at outdoor stores and some supermarkets. There will be a company in your locale which produce these type of meals, check your local camping/outdoor stores.

A Backcountry Cuisine freeze dried meal

Both companies produce a range of 1 and 2 serve meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner items. People will often tell you these rival products are different, i.e. one is better than the other, but in reality the differences are minimal.

Absolute Wilderness Bacon Mash

Outdoor Gourmet just pips Backcountry as their meals look more like real food. 

One of the  Outdoor Gourmet Company meals

Obviously, anything you add to this type of meal needs to be pre cooked, dried and or freeze dried as well. The idea is to add items that will increase the flavor of your meal while still minimising weight and size. 

Freeze dried Butter Chicken Curry and a big mug of Maggi soup...yum!

A note on serving size

Some people are happy to use the single serve freeze dried meals, personally I find this is too small a portion for me. I always buy the two person serves as I find them more filling especially after a long hard tramping day. You will need to decide which is best for you. A two serve will add an extra 50-75 gms to the weight. 

Backcountry Cuisine size comparison: a 2 serve, accessory pack and 1 serve

Alternately you can "bulk up" your single serve with some extra FD rice, cous-cous, par cooked grain or 2-3 dessert spoons of dehydrated potato flakes. Make sure you add water to allow these to hydrate fully.

Dried potato powder: great by itself, as a thickener or to bulk up meals...

Adding extra taste to your freeze dried meal

Below are some additions I have used to make my freeze dried meals more palatable.

Salt, pepper, herbs and spices

Freeze dried meals have a high salt content but given the amount of sweat you expend tramping adding a touch of salt to improve taste is acceptable. Taste your freeze dried  first as some are much saltier than others.

 Pepper is a great addition to any meal and adds a complex depth of flavour. I generally carry the small sachets of salt and pepper from take out restaurants, one of each per day used sparingly.

Salt n' Pepper alright!

A touch of dried curry powder, oregano, mint,coriander, chilli or your herb or spice of choice can add a blast of flavour to any meal.  Adding a good Tex-Mex mixture will maximise the taste of chilli and re fried bean meals.

Spice rack at the local supermarket...go mad!

I carry some small resealable bags with a selection of herbs and spices to add at meal time or you can staple your chosen mix in a small bag to the outside of the freeze dried bag.

Why not make a "spice tin" like the one in the photo below...I'm making one myself.

Small spice tin of a US hiker- from

Remember weight is important and a little goes a long way with spices; don't go overboard.

Sauce it!

There are a bewildering array of sauces on the market that you can utilise, here are a few I have used:

 Tomato ketchup/sauce/HP is probably the most obvious type, a small takeaway sachet added to dehydrated tomato dishes will maximise the tomato flavour. I use the McDonald's packets because you always get a fist full of them with your McD's meal and never use them.  

Tomato paste sachets can also be used but the flavour is a lot stronger.

Good old Mickey D's ketchup!

Tabasco hot sauce will give your meal a hefty kick,  it is especially good in stews and casseroles adding complexity to the taste as well as heat. I have a supply of miniature Tabasco bottles brought from an Asian food market but you can decant your hot sauce of choice into a lightweight plastic container.

Miniature Tabasco bottle

Soya Sauce is great with any Asian, rice or fish dish, I use the small "fish" shaped serves you get with sushi, again I found a supply of these in a local Asian food market.

Single use Soya "fish"

Worcestershire: I have taken to decanting Worcestershire sauce into a small plastic bottle as I find it adds great taste depth to any venison, beef or lamb meal. Worcestershire is a piquant fish based sauce with a hint of spice and a warm mouth fill, beautiful with all meat dishes (and on a meat pie...).

Worcestershire Sauce
Muoc Nam or fish sauce is a salty additive which is vital in any South Asian recipe. Again it is best with Asian inspired meals but can be used in a wide range of situations for example to give Bolgnaise an unusual fusion taste, or to add another flavour level to stews and casseroles. 

Muoc Nam or fish sauce I use
Dont spill this in your pack, my gawd it stinks, and it will stay there for years! 

Nuts & dried fruit

 Adding a handful of your nut of choice can add a nice crunch to any Asian or rice dish, including Risotto, the nut flavour also brings out the inherent taste of the rice. I personally favour peanuts, cashews and almonds but any nut can be used.

A selection of nuts for hiker meals

A handful of dried fruit is a traditional essential in any North African inspired meal including tagines, lamb cassolets and any cous cous based meal. Think raisins, sultanas, dates, dried apricots....

My home-made Moorish style cous-cous salad with feta, raisins, nuts
  Craisins (dried cranberries) will go well with any venison or chicken meal, they add an interesting sweet-sour note.

Ocean Spray craisins...

Adding vegetables to your tramping fare

 There is no reason you can not add vegetables to your freeze dried meal including your choice of fresh ones. There are also a variety of dried and freeze dried vegetables commercially available which can be added to any meal. 

BCC make a freeze dried vegetable mix (as well as rice/potato/beef mince/cheese and egg) which can be added straight to any freeze dried meal. I know that Backpackers Pantry and Mountain House make similar products in the US.

A quick search of your local supermarket will yield dried onion/shallots, mushrooms, garlic, capsicum, peas, beans, olives and sun dried tomatoes. All of these, properly re hydrated, can be added to freeze dried meals.  Better yet, buy a dehydrator and make your own home made dried vegetables to order.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Don't forget fresh vegetables; a diced clove of garlic, some sliced ginger,  diced onion or capsicum, freshly sliced mushrooms, carrots and celery can all add a touch of class to your meal.

Preparing vegetables for the dehydrator

Onions and garlic will last a long time in your pack. Do not go overboard with the vege's as the fresh varieties are heavy to carry.

Extra protein for long term energy

 If you want to add extra protein to a freeze dried meal then go ahead. The downside is that adding any form of protein that is not dried will add considerably to the weight of that that meal. Personally I do not do this as I usually find FD meals have more than enough protein already.

Jack Links Jerky is a good source of protein

Good sources include cheese, tuna (or other oily fish), smoked meats (salami/jerky/bacon) and canned chicken and shredded ham. If you are going to use cheese a hard one such as Parmesan, Pecorino, Romano or aged Chedder is best (they last longer) or some form of shelf stable processed cheese.

Olive oil

Long distance "through hikers" in the US and Europe swear by olive oil: they add it too everything. Olive oil is a rich source of fats and anti oxidants as well as tasting delicious.

A local brand of Olive Oil

 A tablespoon of oil added to a freeze dry can make that meal more unctuous as fat is one of the elements the freeze drying process removes.Carry it in a well secured small plastic bottle stored in an outside pocket as it will make a real mess if spilled inside your pack.

Milk powder

Milk powder will add to the creamy  nature of many FD meals, anything with a cheese or cream based sauce will benefit.

A coconut milk powder available in New Zealand

Coconut cream powder is especially good for those who are Lactose intolerant as well as going well with Asian style meals. Make sure you add enough water to reconstitute the powder correctly.

What about crackers?

If you are the kind of tramper who eats crackers for lunch and you have a couple spare, break them up and add them to your freeze dried meal.

Leave some crackers for that tramping dinner...

 Most if not all of these meals are soupy or stew like so anything that adds a crunchy texture is appreciated.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, you should visit your local supermarket or Asian food market and see what they have available.

What about some practical tramping meal examples?

Here a couple of practical examples of how this works using meals from both Backcountry Cuisine and the Outdoor Gourmet Company product lines. I have made all of these additions in the past.

BCC Chicken Tomato Alfredo: add olives, olive oil, diced sundried tomatoes, salt and pepper

BCC Chicken Tomato Alfredo with added olives and tomatoes
BCC Morrocan Lamb: add pine and or peanuts, raisins, olive oil, dried mint/nutmeg, freshly diced garlic clove, salt and pepper (this is my current favourite BCC meal)

BCC Spaghetti Bolognaise: add diced garlic, tomato ketchup, olive oil, olives, freshly shaved Parmesan

BCC Creamy Carbonara: add sliced sautéed mushrooms, garlic, diced salami, olive oil, milk powder, salt and pepper

One of the Outdoor Gourmet Company meals

OGC Lamb and Black Olives: add nuts, raisins, olive oil, mint, garlic salt and pepper

OGC Venison Casarecce with White Wine Sauce: Craisins, garlic, sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper

Absolute Wilderness Bacon Mash: Salami, cheese, oil, chilli sauce, onions

As you can see you could really go crazy with your additions the only limit is your taste buds and imagination. Just remember to keep the weight factor in mind as you could easily negate any initial savings by adding too much to your meals.