Introduction: Geothermal Cuisine: Camping Food From Hot Springs & Steam Vents
Two Buddies, 400 miles, two flat tires, one ghost town, one sandstorm and some of the most delicious eggs and chicken kebabs ever cooked using 100% geothermal heat.
Step 1: Find a Hot-spring With Geothermal Steam Vents
If you live on the west coast of the United States, or better yet- the Pacific Northwest, you may be surprised to learn that you have geothermal steam vents nearer to you than the ones available in the country of Iceland. The particular hot spring that my friend/sous chef and I visited is called Mickey Hot Springs in the very far south-eastern corner of Oregon near Steen's Mountain. Key factors to keep in mind:
1. Personal Safety- Seriously, Mama Nature is wonderful but can deal out some serious natural consequences. At this particular hot springs, you cannot enter the main pool as the water is far to hot. A somewhat standard occurrence at geothermal hot spring pools can also be an undercut edge, where the water is inches below your feet in a concentric circle expanding a few feet out from the pool. Be very careful walking and putting your full weight on ground that may not be solid and could crumble- landing you in the natural pot you were going to cook your food in. When going to remote areas, bring your essentials emergency kits, spare tires etc.
2. Food Safety- Be sure to keep your food supplies cold, especially if you happen to be an omnivore. On this trip we brought chicken meat and eggs in addition to vegetables and grains that packed in easily without much risk or inconvenience. The luxury of meat and eggs does make for a more difficult "Geourmet" (geothermal+gourmet) meal in that you need to keep it cold prior to cooking and cook it to a safe temperature for an appropriate amount of time. It turns out that there is a LOT of science behind the temperature that water boils, becomes steam and how hot that steam can be- which is also contingent on your elevation. I will only go into part of the overall science by giving some general tips on what to look for for food safety and temperature- please know that just like everything else you cook and eat yourself, you are ultimately responsible for the consequences. I am not an expert physicist or culinary scientist. I simply like food and being outside. IF there are any expert physicists or culinary scientists that would like to add helpful information in an appropriate way- please do so in the comments with my great appreciation!
2a. Always cook chicken until the juices run clear.
2b. When cooking with a new method- overcooking has less illness related consequences than under-cooking. Be patient.
Chances are that someone else has tested the range of temperatures of most any hot spring or place of geothermal activity that you can find near you. We happened to hit Mickey Hot springs on a day that was actually above the normal temperature range so our food did cook faster. Here is some fun info on Mickey Hot Springs if you're ever in SE Oregon- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mickey_Hot_Springs
Step 2: Steamed Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs
In preparedness for this trip, we made our kebabs in the reasonably clean environment of a home kitchen so that raw chicken was sliced on cutting boards and with knives that were immediately washed.
We then wrapped the skewered chicken, bell pepper, pineapple and onions individually into a baguette shaped/sized roll of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Bringing along a nice Teriyaki sauce is highly recommended!
Again- please use clean, food safe practices when handling, processing and transporting meat. We did so in a cooler filled with fresh ice twice and then used within 15 hours of the beginning of the trip.
Step 3: Hard Boiled Eggs
Substep 1: Open egg carton
Substep 2: place eggs in safe, easy to reach place in hot spring (for our second batch we used a mesh bag made of foodsafe textile to boil them in and easily retrieve. This second method is highly preferable.)
Substep 3: Wait slightly longer than you believe necessary (15 minutes is a good conservative estimate)
Substep 4: Carefully, so as not to get burned, remove one egg and test it's stage of readiness by cracking it open.
We recommend only eating fully cooked eggs where the yolk has turned completely opaque and is not runny. However if you live life on the wild side, as we did, the soft boiled eggs in the hot spring were fantastic!
Step 4: Eggs Are Ready
Since we had so many eggs cooking at once, and we were starting to get rather hungry, we decided to go with the "Guess & Check" method for determining if the eggs were fully cooked and ready to eat. To our surprise, the eggs had finished to a firm "soft boil" in about ten minutes of boiling in the spring. I love soft-boiled eggs and had nowhere to be for the next few days so I took the risk of eating slightly undercooked eggs (still cooked firmer than your average eggs benedict) and have never regretted the decision.
Step 5: Still Waiting on the Chicken
The simplest way to know with reasonable safety that chicken is fully cooked is to wait until the juices run clear. We opted to wait even longer as we were gorging ourselves on our hard boiled eggs and were quite enjoying the view around us. A big benefit of cooking with steam is that you would have to work very hard to ever burn or char your food into an inedible state. So just be patient and overshoot your cooking timing so as to account for altitude, ambient temperature and your personal risk-tolerance for food-borne illness.
Step 6: Enjoy the View
These photos were taken in the area surrounding the hot springs during that same day. We had blazing desert sun clocking in at 90 degrees, a desert rainstorm that turned into a giant, playa-wide (30 miles) sandstorm that fully engulfed us, then pelting snow and freezing rain sliding off of the mountain range nearby and finishing up with a perfectly pleasant evening with a fantastic dinner.
Step 7: Eat Your Chicken Kebabs
Once the juice runs clear from chicken, or you have steamed your food to the point that it is fully cooked and delicious- gently & carefully remove your foil-wrapped culinary treasures from the top of the steam vents with a long stick and allow to cool to safe handling temperature. Season with your favorite finishing salt, native herbs or teryaki sauce and enjoy!