Clayton: Camp Fajitas 101

Luke Clayton
Special to the E-T

This past week while at camp with my friend Jeff Rice filming a segment for our weekly video titled “A Sportsman’s Life”, I spent some time preparing over the campfire a couple of dishes that have become staples over the years: fajitas and a modified method of blackened fish.

Here’s a wok full of tasty camp fajitas Luke prepared last week. Yes, they are as tasty as they look and Luke tells you how in today’s column.

Jeff mentioned that I might consider giving step-by-step instructions on how to prepare these dishes in my column this week. I must admit, I am sometimes vague when sharing some of the dishes I prepare and in past columns, I’ve touched on how to prepare them. So, here we go and I’ll do my best not to leave out a single step!

• Camp Fajitas: This dish begins with marinating the meat, (which can be anything from chicken breast to javelina backstrap) for 24 hours. I cut the meat into pieces about 5 inches long and 1 inch in diameter, sprinkle them liberally with Fiesta Brand Fajita seasoning and place them in a plastic container or freezer bag with lime juice. The number of limes depends upon the amount of meat, but I usually use the juice from about three limes.

Luke Clayton

Before leaving home, I roughly chop a big yellow onion, six or so cloves of fresh garlic and peppers and place them in a freezer bag so they are ready to go when I begin cooking. On this past outing, I chopped three Hatch chile peppers to give the fajitas a bit of heat, but bell peppers work well also. When using bell pepper, I usually dice a jalapeno for added flavor.

I like to grill or smoke the marinated meat over mesquite or pecan wood. B&B Charcoal has bags of kiln dried wood that is easy to transport and work with. It ignites quickly and adds that wood smoke flavor I like. I carry a hatchet or small ax and cut the wood into smaller pieces so that I can easily adjust the heat of the fire. I use a few briquettes to get the fire going and then add the dried wood to create flame and add flavor.

I usually do my cooking on one of the inexpensive folding camp grills at Walmart. I have one grill to cook on and another beside it to keep cooking utensils handy. I grill the marinated pieces of meat over direct coals/flame until almost done and then slice into fajita size pieces, about pencil diameter.

With wok or cast iron skillet over the flames, I use either olive oil, which is quick and easy to work with or I’ll fry a couple of pieces of diced up bacon, which adds flavor to the fajitas. I’ll sizzle the fajita meat until it’s done and then add the chopped veggies. It’s good to add a bit of the fajita seasoning at this time. The veggies will become tender in three or five minutes, depending upon how hot the fire is. As soon as they are done, remove from heat, otherwise the veggies will cook to pieces and you won’t have fajitas but rather a stir fry.

Never, ever heat your flour tortillas in a microwave but rather place them in a skillet or better yet, right over the coals on the grill. You want them to have brown charred spots and be somewhat crispy when you add the meat and veggies. Have a jar of Herdez Guacamole Salsa and some Herdez Cilantro lime salsa on hand and allow your guest to choose their preference.

Luke's Blackened Fish  

For simplicity sake, we will call this dish blackened fish but it’s actually an "adjusted" method using blackening seasoning. In keeping with the traditional method of blackening, a good seasoning is an absolute must. I’ve found the Cabela’s Backwoods Blackening seasoning to be excellent and the quantity in the jar is about three times the amount of more traditional blackening seasonings.

Using the traditional blackening method, the skillet is heated to smoking white hot and the seasoned fish fillets are added. But think about it, what do you do after the fish is cooked? You pour a little lemon butter on the fillets, right? I’m not particularly fond of the smoke created by this method and I think the fillets absorb the flavor of the butter when cooked this way. 

Up in Canada a few years ago, I began heating unsalted butter in a cast iron skillet almost to the point of smoking and cooking the seasoned fish fillets in the butter. I use only one-eighth inch of butter in the skillet, just enough to keep the fillets from sticking, but enough to add flavor. It takes only about four minutes per each side and just before removing the fillets from the skillet, I liberally squeeze on the lemon or lime juice. The trick is to allow the fillets to get a bit crunchy and the seasonings somewhat charred on the outside of the fillet.

On our outing last week, Jeff and I caught a few channel catfish from his pond for our lunch of blackened fish. Back in the spring, we caught a good number of channel catfish from the creek adjacent his property and put a fish feeder on the dock of his pond. These fish are now chunky and well fed and we discovered they make a great main course for lunch of blackened fish!

We also prepared a blackberry cobbler in the ole Dutch Cobbler from a mix I discovered at the grocery. I used to make cobblers pretty much from scratch but once I discovered this "ready to go" mix, I’m hooked. More on cobbler in another column.

To watch a video of this meal coming together, search “A Sportsman’s Life episode 120 ” on YouTube. Listen to Luke’s hunting and fishing show anytime online at www.catfishradio.org