After a particularly bad experience with outfitter supplied food, we decided we would try sourcing our own. We picked up a food dehydrator and vacuum sealer and figured we’d give it a try. It’s easy enough getting started: dehydrating and vacuum sealing cooked rice, canned beans, canned chicken breast and bell peppers is really easy. Trouble easy, rehydrating rice, beans, chicken and peppers doesn’t result in a trail meal.
We got to thinking, what could we make out of these if we were just in the kitchen? All we need is a sauce. Out came the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. First sauce in the chapter on Sauces is a white sauce, and first variant of that is a cheese sauce. Sounds good.
To make a white sauce, you start by making a roux. A roux is made by heating a tablespoon of oil (typically butter) in a sauce pan, then adding flour and seasoning and whisking that together. Then add a cup of milk and heat it until thickened. That’s all there is to it. To make a cheese sauce, add a quarter cup of grated cheese and melt that in the sauce.
Could we make this work in the field?
For oil, there are quite a few choices. Olive oil and vegetable oil travel very well in the field, particularly in small Nalgene bottles. We’ve also had great success cooking and baking in the field with the butter powder from Hoosier Hill Farm [link]. So the fat isn’t a problem. Flour and spices travel without a problem, just keep them dry. Spices aren’t a problem either; we travel with two or three spice missiles we get from REI, so we have a variety of flavors we can include with our meals depending on what strikes our fancy on the day. The roux is no problem.
What about milk? Milk powder is available at your local grocery store. Rehydrates very nicely, works well for cooking and baking in the field. The white sauce is no problem.
What about cheese? Grated aged cheeses travel well in the field and in our experience, a vacuum sealed grated aged cheese will last for at least two weeks. Transport it thoughtfully; don’t leave it out in the direct sun. Cheese sauce is ready.
You can rehydrate the starch, protein and veg in one pot while making the white sauce in another. The first time we made this from dehydrated was in our kitchen; we served it to the people we were going into Quetico with later that summer. They enjoyed it so much they said this would be fantastic as a weeknight meal at home after work. The first time we made this in the field, I asked one of my fellow travelers, "what seasoning should we put in the roux?" He responded by pointing out that we’re in the middle of nowhere, haven’t seen anybody for days, and I want to know what we should season the roux with? "That’s fantastic."
If you want to DIY your own trail meals and you’ve never done that before, this is a simple, flavorful dinner you can make that will keep in the field for a considerable amount of time.