Last year I went portaging for the first time – after camping my whole life I can’t believe I never went portaging before! The experience was amazing…but the dehydrated food we bought was, well, it was borderline edible. I don’t care where I am, bad food is unacceptable! So this year I took matters into my own hands and got a dehydrator (well actually I added to my registry heh heh), and thus my Dehydration Project was born! I have 10 days until the trip, 4 main courses to dehydrate and test for 4 people.
Our full menu is the following with the meals to be dehydrated in red:
Breakfast: Boost and oatmeal
Lunch: Clam chowder, Irish Beef Stew, Ramen w/Beef Jerky
Dinner: Turkey Chili and Bannock Bread, Swiss Chalet dinner (chicken w/chalet dipping sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy & stuffing)
Drinks/Snacks: Dried apples & bananas, beef jerky, Fruit-To-Go, trail mix, Gatorade, Vodka/Tang & Kool Aid, Lara bars, energy goo, Pringles (great after a long portage – restabilize your salt content!), hot chocolate, Smores (marshmellows, teddy grahams and individually wrapped Lindt chocolate squares), coffee (instant coffee, creamer & sweetener packets), freeze dried ice cream, hot dogs (will keep for one day)
ESSENTIAL TOOLS FOR DEHYDRATING
Dehydrating machine, syran wrap, masher, spatula, hand blender, food processor, slow cooker, ziplock bags, collander + a lot of prep time!
On site: salt, pepper, chicken/beef/vegetable broth, small stove, pot + large spoon, purified water
DEHYDRATED TURKEY CHILI
First up – the chili. I’ve read that chili is pretty easy to dehydrate and tastes pretty good when rehydrated. I’ve also read that beans are a LOT more potent when they are rehydrated…urm…how bad can it be? Some people dehydrate all the ingredients separately, but I don’t have time for that. I’m making my favourite turkey chili recipe – from Weight Watchers I think – but I’m mincing all the ingredients in a food processor instead of chopping them up so that I can evaporate as much water as possible during the cooking process and so that I will have a nice thick, smooth layer of chili when spread out in the dehydrator.
The Recipe for Turkey Chili – modified for dehydrating
1 package ground turkey or chicken
1 medium onion – finely processed
2 zucchini – finely processed and drained
2 x green peppers – finely processed and drained
2 x carrots – finely processed
2 x 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 x 15 oz can black beans (drained and rinsed)
package of chili seasoning (ie. Club House)
a couple of large squirts of lime juice
2 x heaping spoonfuls of cocoa powder
a little bit of salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot over medium heat brown turkey and onion. Mash up turkey with a potato masher to get as small bits as possible. Add onion, zucchini, green pepper, carrot and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomotoes, beans, [broth] seasoning, lime juice, cocoa and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables (especially the carrot) are tender.
For dehydrating anything liquid, first syran wrap your food trays. IMPORTANT: do not syran wrap the whole tray. Make sure the middle hole is not covered and allow a couple of vents along the edges to be uncovered so that the heat can circulate evenly. This may seem obvious, but the first time I dehydrated my chili I covered the whole tray and the chili was still very wet after 8 hrs. After almost a full day in the dehydrator, mold started to form. Try to use as minimal syran wrap as possible so that no wrap is hanging off the sides of the trays and that some of the vents are still free – good circulation is key.
I have 5 trays in my dehydration machine, and one tray almost equals one portion, depending on how thick the food is. Try not to add any extra water to your meal while cooking, as you don’t want your food to be too thin on the dehydrator, making your portions very small. Ideally you want a controlled substance that can be spread out thin with a spatula. Over five trays, this will most likely equal 4 solid portions (2 cups each).
Sometimes, you may want to drain your food, unless it has been well blended. The chili could use a bit of draining, as with so many vegetables, a lot of water is released. Ladle 5 portions of the chili into a colander to drain a little of the excess water. Do not drain too much, you don’t want to lose all the yummy chili sauce! Carefully ladle one portion onto each tray of the dehydrator, being careful to not spill any over the syran wrap and spreading the chili as flat as possible with a spatula.
My dehydrator does not have any heat control – just an on/off switch. I dehydrated the chili for 8 hours until it was completely dry. The dehydration process should not take longer then 8-9hrs, otherwise your food is too thick. They say you should dehydrate your food until it becomes a leathery texture, which works for fruit but for meals I feel as though you run the risk of wet spots, and that will lead to mold forming on your trip. It’s better to overhydrate then to underhydrate. I’m sure you’re killing a lot of nutrients this way, but again if it’s mold vs. vitamins, I’ll just bring some Greens + powder with me! Unless you vacuum seal your food, I would dehydrate your food until it is crispy, or until there are no damp areas on your food, being sure to check the beans and turkey by mushing a little bit apart with a knife.
Just to be safe, I left a tester chili in a ziplock bag out in my house for a couple of days, and then rehydrated it and consumed it. No mold, rehydrated beautifully, tasty with no side effects. Looking good!
HOW TO REHYDRATE:
As soon as you arrive on site, dump your dehydrate food into a pot and add enough water so that it just skims the surface of the food. Allow the food to soak for a good 20-30 minutes, depending on the ingredients (chili is a good 30 minutes because of the beans and turkey). Soaking will improve the flavor and save on fuel. Add a bit of water here and there so that the food is always absorbing water.
On medium heat, stirring occasionally, heat up your soaked food and add water until it reaches a desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring powdered chicken and beef broth with you – add for extra flavour if needed. Be patient, add a little water at a time and your meal will come back to life beautifully!
The chili was really good, though the portions were a bit small because I used the fifth tray as the tester. But now that I know it works – 5 trays of chili would fill 4 people perfectly. And there were no adverse reactions to the black beans.
DEHYDRATED CLAM CHOWDER
This is a recipe from The Girl Can’t Cook – it is so creamy and tasty with lots of clams! Instead of food processing the ingredients, I just hand blended the chowder after it had been simmering, before I added the clams.
The Recipe for Killer Clam Chowder – modified for dehydrating
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
10 cups (2.5 L) fish stock or bottled clam juice (I did a combination)
1/2 cups finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 x cloves finely chopped garlic
2 cups peeled and finely diced potato
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and white pepper to taste
2 cups (500 ml) half and half cream
2 cups (500 ml) canned baby clams, use reserved juice as stock
1. In a saucepan melt 1/2 cup of the butter with the flour and cook, stirring, over medium heat to make a smooth roux. You’ll need to stir and cook it together for about 5 minutes.
2. Slowly add the stock to the roux. Whisk the mixture as you gradually add the stock and you won’t get any lumps. The resulting thick smooth base is called a fish velonte.
3. In a separate soup pot, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter over medium-low heat and saute the carrots, onions, celery and garlic, stirring until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Add the potatoes and the thyme, ginger, cayenne, salt and white pepper, and saute for 5 minutes.
4. Slowly add the veloute into the pot of sauteed vegetables. Place the chowder over low heat and simmer for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn it.
5. Add the cream and heat through. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and white pepper. Hand blend until fairly smooth, but still thick.
6. Stir in the drained clams and heat through. Take care that it doesn’t boil – the clams will get tough if you boil them.
Dehydrate same as above (but no need to drain). It is advisable to make 10 trays worth of the chowder, see below.
This dehydrated and rehydrated beautifully, however I made 10 trays (2 rounds) of dehydrated chowder because it spreads thin, meaning small portions, and you can’t really remove any stock from the recipe to make it thicker because it would ruin the chowder base. Good thing I went with my instinct, the chowder was exactly a cup each when rehydrated! However, it was very filling nonetheless, and the perfect comfort food on a misty, chilly day. Bring some individually wrapped soda crackers as the final touch.
DEHYDRATED SWISS CHALET CHICKEN + FESTIVE SPECIAL
Dehydrating chicken is super easy – some people cook their chicken and then grate it, but I had a better idea – I used my slow cooker. I took 5 chicken breasts, marinated it in the Swiss Chalet chicken marinade overnight, then slow cooked it for 8 hrs. I syran-wrapped the dehydrator trays and spread out the shredded chicken in a flat layer. In five hours the chicken was dry – like crackers! – be careful you don’t dehydrate the chicken too much or it will burn.
I rehydrated the chicken same as above, and made the Swiss Chalet sauce separately. You can either add the sauce to the chicken for a sort of pulled Swiss chalet chicken, or keep them separate.
I also had the Swiss Chalet gravy, Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (didn’t require butter or milk) and Stove Top stuffing (I brought 2 x whipped butter). We also had some Lindt chocolate squares for the smores, and some small packs of raspberry jam (like cranberry sauce), so voila! Festive Special in Algonquin Park!
DEHYDRATED IRISH STEW
The following recipe was from the March 2001 Bon Appetit magazine, and I added peas for some more protein.
I slow cooked the stew with less water so that the beef would shred and so that the stew would be nice and thick. The stew was actually a little too thick and was taking longer than 8 hrs to dehydrate. It was the day of the portage and I had to leave for work, so I had to throw out a lot of wet areas. In general, you want your food to be thick, but not pasty.
This was one meal where powdered beef broth came in handy – I added a couple of packets on site to give the stew more flavor.
I was worried about the portions so I brought a long a cup of dried split peas, cooked them separately on site and threw them into the stew once it was fully rehydrated. Good thing I did, we had the perfect amount!
The Recipe for Irish Beef Stew – modified for dehydrating
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 pounds stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 large garlic cloves, minced
4 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, finely diced
1 large onion, food processed
2 cups carrots, food processed
1 cup dried split peas
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh parsley
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Lightly flour the beef and sauté until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add beef stock, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to boil. Pour into crock pot.
Meanwhile, melt butter in another large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, potatoes, onion and carrots. Sauté vegetables until golden, about 20 minutes. Add vegetables & dried peas to beef stew in crock pot and mix. Place bay leaves in the middle of stew and lay the parsely on top. Cook on low for 6hrs. Remove bay leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend with hand blender to get rid of any large clumps, being careful not to thicken the stew too much.
Dehydrate as above (you should not need to drain the stew).
BEEF JERKY / RAMEN
Jerky was the easiest thing I made! I actually went to the Asian supermarket and picked up a bag of their thinly sliced beef. It was perfect! I marinated the beef overnight in 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1-2 tbsp brown sugar (I prefer not too sweet) and 2 tbsp liquid smoke. I dabbed off any extra marinade before spreading them out evenly on the trays, so I didn’t need any syran wrap. I dehydrated the beef a little too long – 8 hrs – it was still tasty, but a little crunchy. I think the jerky would have been done around 6-7hrs, so keep an eye on it.
The best thing we did with the jerky on site was to throw it in with our ramen noodles. Delicious! And don’t forget to bring disposable wooden chopsticks!
SOME HELPFUL PORTAGING TIPS
- pick your team well. Portaging is a lot of work and everyone has to work together no matter how hard the trek or how bad the weather gets.
- allow a day of rest: the whole point is you want to enjoy the outdoors! Allow a day of rest in between travel days to enjoy your beautiful campsite.
- bring lots of tarps and rope: it’s worth the weight. There’s nothing worse then trying to cook in a downpoor and on sunny days, spread out the tarp and take a nap on your mattress.
- bring firewood: this, is also worth the weight because there’s no point in trying to start a fire on site if all the surrounding wood is damp. Make a firewood sling using a climbing sling around your back and fling the loops over your shoulder. Wear a lifejacket for padding. Wrap the firewood in a heavy duty garbage bag with duct tape and pass through the loops on your back.
- try the “trip and a half” portage method to save on time:
For 4 people: one canoe and one pack walk the whole route. Two packs walk half the route and leave the packs halfway and turn back. The first two people come back and pick up the two packs at the halfway point. The last two people pick up the remaining canoe and pack and walk the whole route. You will save a quarter of your time doing this method.
- get a yolk pad
- ziplock bag everything (the sliding kind)
- bring a “personal” 5-10L dry sack. This will hold anything essential you may need while canoeing: sunscreen, camera, lip balm, kleenex, snacks, hat, sunglasses, rain jacket, purification tablets, binoculars, compass, after bite, musquito repellant – you don’t want to be rummaging through your main pack while canoeing or your canoe will look like a disaster zone
- portaging is all about organization: it will make your life so much easier when unpacking and repacking if similar items are grouped together in ziplock bags
- get a water proof compression sack for your clothes, sleeping bag – just trust me, it will compress your stuff by half at least
- use your tent dry sack as a bear bag: no need to bring a barrel for small a weekend portage trip or buy overpriced bear bags – it’s large and waterproof and much more practical
- bring an extra water bottle: so that one bottle is always purified and ready to go – also you go through a lot of water rehydrating your food
- don’t forget: toilet paper, baby wipes, purification tables, headlamp + extra batteries, map+ waterproof casing, compass, Imodium, First Aid Kit, Storm Proof matches, fire starters, DEET, sunscreen, afterbite, Camp Suds, extra ziplock bags, duct tape, heavy duty garbage bags, Swiss Army knife, clothespins, portable pot/plate set + sporks, shovel, hatchet, bathing suit, travel towel, sleeping bag + mattress, camera
- invest in good rain gear: Goretex hiking boots, waterproof pants and a waterproof rain jacket – not water resistent, waterproof – or you will be miserable.
- allow one can of fuel (for the solo stove) per day for 4 people
- pack light: bring an audio book instead of a real book, bring pants that have removable legs, bring a shell that is also a fleece jacket, all your shirts should be quick dry, bring Camp Suds (which can be used as dish soap, body/face wash, laundry soap, shampoo), bring powdered juice + a plastic bottle of alcohol