Have you ever eaten Indian food around a campfire? Camping foods usually consist of hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, sandwiches, or a hobo foil packet. If you adore Indian food I implore you to try Campfire Butter Chicken.
I’m on a mission to eat amazing food, with minimal effort, while camping. I turned my sites to Indian cuisine for our latest camping trip at Nottingham Campground, located on the southeast side of Mt. Hood. My go-to camping food is tacos. Tacos are great for camping- they’re easy to make and the leftover ingredients can be used the next morning for breakfast tacos. However, I wanted to up the ante for this particular trip and make something more impressive.
The flavor of Campfire Butter Chicken was not only impressive but also easy to prepare. If you follow my steps prepping ingredients at home, cooking then clean up after dinner will be a breeze! I’m telling you, if you love Indian food you must make Campfire Butter Chicken the next time you go camping. It’s so satisfyingly delicious!
Our camping trip started on Friday after work. We left home at 4 pm and arrived at Nottingham Campground around 6:30 pm. I love the fact we live in close proximity to stellar campsites. Rain started to fall about 45 minutes into our drive. We were a little concerned being that we forgot to pack our rain gear, but the rain let up the instant we pulled into the campground, the timing was perfect. It didn’t rain for the rest of our trip, and actually, the rain kept the Friday night campers at bay! We couldn’t believe our fortune, the best campsites were still up for grabs!
We found a spacious site nestled next to the East Fork Hood River. It was perfect, the sound of rushing water soothed our spirits while muffling noise from the surrounding campsites. Shit, the river even drowned out the noise from within our campsite too! We blasted music at our picnic table but could barely hear it by the campfire, only 5 feet away! When it was time to turn in the river acted like a calming white noise generator, I’ve never slept so good at camp.
Homie woke us up around 6 am the next morning because she was too excited to sleep in. Too many noises to be barked at, too many smells to be sniffed, she wasn’t about to miss any part of it. Kieran took Homie for her walk while I made coffee and eggs for breakfast. Afterwards, I stuffed our daypacks with lunch, snacks, and water so we could set off for a hiking adventure.
Another awesome feature of Nottingham Campground is its proximity to hiking trails. We drove about 15 minutes to the Elk Meadows Trailhead which links up with the Umbrella Falls trail. We turned left at the juncture to see what Umbrella Falls was all about. The more elevation we gained up the trail, the more snow we encountered along the way. At first, we saw a few isolated patches of snow but the higher we climbed the more prominent the snow became. Soon the snow blanketed so much of the landscape we lost track of the trail altogether! I’m all in favor of being adventurous but I refuse to become a statistic out of stupidity. We turned back without seeing the falls, there’s always next time!
The trick to this recipe is to prep the ingredients at home before you leave:
- Red pepper, onion, and jalapeño – chop then store in an airtight container (or plastic baggie) in the fridge
- Garlic and ginger – grate then store in an airtight container (or plastic baggie) in the fridge
- Chicken – marinade the chicken for 24 hours (the marination really makes this recipe spectacular). Pre-cook the chicken on the grill, in a skillet, or in your broiler for a couple minutes each side. The chicken does not have to be fully cooked at this point. The key is cooking the chicken somewhat so you spend less time cooking it at camp.
Prepping the vegetables and cooking the chicken can be done a couple days in advance. I marinaded the chicken on Thursday morning and cooked it Friday morning. I stored the chicken (once completely cooled) in a freezer bag and popped it in the freezer. We left for our trip at 4 pm on Friday afternoon. The last task I handled was packing the cooler. I packed the veggies, garlic, and ginger on the bottom of the cooler, place the frozen chicken on top. The frozen chicken acts like extra ice, keeping the other ingredients in the cooler, cold. I cooked Campfire Butter Chicken on Saturday night.
Our fire pit came equipped with a grill grate so I didn’t have to use mine. I cooked dinner in a cast iron skillet over a roaring fire rather than a layer of hot coals, since the grill grate was a few feet from the ground. If you don’t have access to a grill grate, you can place your skillet directly on top of a layer of hot coals. Just remember to stir and keep those ingredients moving in the skillet so they don’t burn!
Start off by adding 1-2 tablespoons of ghee to your preheated cast iron skillet. Once the ghee is melted, add the pre-chopped red pepper, onion, and jalapeño with a pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften.
When the vegetables are soft, add in the pre-grated ginger and garlic. Stir the ingredients for roughly 30 seconds, then add the chicken, followed by the diced tomatoes. Simmer the ingredients until the chicken is cooked through which will take maybe 10-20 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is. If the mixture becomes too thick you can thin it out with a splash of water.
The final step is to add a glob, or three, of coconut cream. After each glob taste the dish until you reach the sweetness you desire. During this time Kieran toasted the Naan.
Once the Campfire Butter Chicken is finished cooking, yank the skillet from the grill grate and place it on the table, on top of a pot holder. Top the Campfire Butter Chicken with cilantro and you’re ready to eat!
I’ll never forget Kieran’s face after he took his first bite of dinner. His eyes fluttered while his mouth dropped open allowing a faint mmmmmmm to escape. I quickly dunked my naan into the sauce and jammed it in my mouth. I met Kieran’s memorized gaze with my own look of bewilderment mixed with joy. Kieran and I exchanged an array of looks and silly sounds as we took bite after bite. I hit the fucking jackpot with this recipe, it’s to die for.
Speaking of clean up, let’s talk about clean up for this recipe and how easy it is. The worst part about eating is doing the dishes afterward on a full stomach. Whether I’m at home or at camp it’s often difficult to find the motivation to wash dishes once I’ve stuffed my face full of food. My two goals for this recipe are to deliver an amazing campfire meal with minimal work or clean up. I’m happy to report I’ve accomplished my goals!
We had dinner cleaned up in about 5 minutes. First, I threw out the cans which housed the diced tomatoes and coconut cream. Kieran scraped the leftover Campfire Butter Chicken into the Tupperware I used to store the vegetables and returned the container to the cooler. I rinsed off the plates, camping sporks, wooden spoon, and cast iron skillet with water then dried them with a towel. I rubbed a splash of olive oil in the cast iron skillet with a paper towel. Lastly, I put the plates and eating utensils away in my camping tote while Kieran wiped down the table. Done! Kieran and I finished clean up and started drinking around the fire in no time!
In the past, I used to wash my camping dishes with soap and water, but I don’t think it’s necessary anymore. I feel like a good rinse of water is all your dishes really need, especially if no raw ingredients touched them. Plus, the soapy water isn’t great for the environment. I thoroughly wash my dishes with soap and hot water once we get home.
I strongly recommend Campfire Butter Chicken if you love Indian food as much as I do. Neither Kieran or I could believe our tastebuds as we gobbled down this dish. Hot dogs and hamburgers are fun camping foods, but it was exciting to expand our parameters and try something out of the ordinary. The campers next to us ask what we were making for dinner, and once we told them they said, No way, that’s awesome!
This meal will impress your face and your friends. Go buy (or make) some naan, hit the nearest campground, and dunk that shit in one of the most memorial camping meals of your life!
Thanks for stopping by,
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1½ tablespoons turmeric
- 2 5.3oz full fat plain greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- ½-1 teaspoon chili powder
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 tablespoon Ghee
- ½ - 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 6 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 15 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- ½ white onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- 1-3 globs of coconut cream
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the marinade ingredients into a bowl with the chicken and mix until everything is well combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. I marinaded my chicken for 24 hours, you can get away with 4 hours but longer is better!
- Grate the garlic and ginger and store them in an airtight (or plastic baggie) in the fridge.
- Chop the red pepper, onion, and jalapeño and store them in an airtight container (or plastic baggie) in the fridge.
- The next day I precooked the chicken by searing both sides on a piping hot grill. Don't worry about cooking the chicken all the way through because the chicken will finish cooking at camp.
- Allow the chicken to completely cool before storing it in a freezer bag, in the freezer.
- Start off by building a fire.
- Preheat a cast iron skillet on a grill grate over the fire then add 1-2 tablespoons of ghee. Once the ghee is melted, add the pre-chopped red pepper, onion, jalapeño and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables, stirring frequently until they begin to soften.
- When the vegetables are soft, add in the pre-grated ginger and garlic. Stir the ingredients for roughly 30 seconds, then add the pre-cooked chicken, followed by the can of diced tomatoes. Simmer the ingredients until the chicken is cooked through which will take maybe 10-20 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is.
- The final step is to add a glob, or three, of coconut cream. After each glob taste the dish until you reach the sweetness you desire. During this time toast the Naan over the grill grate.
- Once the Campfire Butter Chicken is finished cooking, yank the skillet from the grill grate and place it on the table, on top of a pot holder. Top the Campfire Butter Chicken with cilantro and you're ready to eat!
Thursday - I marinaded the chicken
Friday morning - pre-cooked the chicken, grated the ginger and garlic, and chopped the veggies. After the chicken was precooked I allowed it to completely cool then packed them in freezer bags and stuck them in the freezer.
Friday afternoon - right before we left I packed the frozen chicken and refrigerated veggies in the cooler.
Take the time to find and purchase ghee. Ghee is a class of clarified butter which has a high smoking point. The butter flavor is actually more intensified in ghee yet it's better for you. Ghee's commonly used in Indian food and perfect for camp cooking since the smoking point is so high. Refrain from using regular butter to start off this dish because it could burn. If you can't find ghee anywhere, you can probably get away with using grapeseed or coconut oil.