Backcountry Chef

Campstove Elk Chili
& Cheesy Polenta

Food always tastes better in the backcountry. While that may not be a scientific fact, anyone who has summited a peak after a grueling uphill grind or spent a day skiing fresh powder in the backcountry can attest: a PB&J tastes infinitely better at 10,000 feet. And a prepared meal in the backcountry—now that has some kind of secret spice.
Cooking meals in the backcountry, whether it be at a yurt or at a campsite, is an art. It takes a refined ability to pack a minimal amount of perishables in addition to lightweight dehydrated foods. What’s more, oftentimes, you can’t rely on cooking tools being available (e.g. a quickly carved stick makes a great improvised spatula). Recipes need to be versatile and adaptable, as we all know an unsatisfying meal can ruin a trip.
On a recent yurt trip to ski in Montana’s Tobacco Root Mountains, we came up with this recipe loaded with fiber and protein to feed six hungry skiers:


Before heading out skiing for the day, soak the beans in two separate containers of water, which helps them cook faster later.
Put beans on wood stove, which is likely fired up to warm the yurt or hut. Monitor and add water as necessary until beans reach proper firmness.
Boil water in the largest and thickest stock pot available. Follow package directions on instant polenta. Stir continuously, about 20-25 minutes, so the mix doesn’t stick to the bottom.
Using a fork or butter knife, crumble the cheese and add to the polenta when the water has almost entirely been absorbed. Stir to combine, cover and remove from heat.

Switch the beans from the wood stove to a stovetop burner and bring to a final boil. Add the package of dried chili mix and stir well.
In a separate frying pan, sauté the elk meat. Keep the meat separate from the beans in the event there are vegetarians in the group.
Serve by placing polenta on each plate and adding beans to a “well” in the middle. Add meat if desired.
Serve immediately.
Should there be any leftovers, beans can be added to eggs in the morning, and polenta can be pressed flat and cut into squares to be fried in a pan as an appetizer the next day.
Campstove Elk Chili & Cheesy Polenta
Serves six hungry skiers
1 pound ground elk (optional)
1 pound dried beans, a mix of pinto and black
1 package Bob’s Red Mill Polenta
1/2 cup butter
Wedge of bleu cheese or Gorgonzola
1 envelope dried chili mix
Hot sauce to taste
Salt & pepper to taste

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