dehydrating your own tramping meals, easy-peasy

If going for a week or more between supply points, you need to think about the weight factor of your food. This is where dehydrated meals become important to keep the weight and bulk down.

While there are excellent freeze-dried meals made in my hometown by Real Foods, they can be very expensive if you are away for a number of weeks. I don’t want to pay $100+/week for just my dinners when, with minor effort, I can create something for about a quarter of that cost.

Pro hint: I take a few for emergency use, having divided them into two meals and bulked them out with rice.

Dehydrating meals at home is surprisingly easy if you have the right equipment. Like a fan-forced oven with some low-sided baking trays.

A dehydrator can come in useful if you spend a lot of time in the hills. It does exactly the same thing, except being a dedicated appliance and better suited to sliced veges and fruit than sloppy meals.

There are a few tricks for success, however.

Just cook up a batch of standard meals like you would normally eat at home. Curries are a good choice because flavour is appreciated in the hills.

If using meat, there are two issues.

Fat-free meat is required as fat does not dehydrate and can go rancid during hot days.

And you also need to chop the meat up into small chunks to ensure they dehydrate in the middle. That helps with rehydration as well.

I’ve started using chicken or venison mince for that reason. Low in fat and already in small chunks. Readily available in New Zealand.

If you are a vegetarian, it is best to crush the chickpeas or similar beans to allow for easier de- or rehydration. Otherwise, you take excessive time to dehydrate, and they can be like bullets rather than easily munchable out in the field.

You can use a fan-forced oven set no higher than 50° C, around 120º F. You do not want to further cook the food, just evaporate moisture.

Spread your pre-cooked food across a flat dish about 8 mm, 1/3 inch, maximum thickness.

There are no problems with using a few trays on separate racks due to air movement created by the fan. It’s, therefore, easy enough to dehydrate two weeks of dinners in one hit.

The idea with such a low heat is that you dry it out rather than overcook it.

It takes a number of hours of heat, with the fan going to remove most of the moisture. You need to leave the oven door slightly open to let the moisture escape.

Once the mix starts to dry out on the top, it assists dehydration by stirring it up and exposing the damper parts. Keep stirring at intervals until it is entirely desiccated and you are exhausted.

Weigh out each portion into daily ration Ziploc bags and store in a large freezer bag in the freezer until required. If you have each meal divided out before you leave, it’s way easier to work out how many days of food you have left.

That sounds pretty easy. It is.

I’ve tried various recipes. Pumpkin and cashew coconut curry worked well, although it tended to become mushy by the end of the final meal preparation.

Still tastes the same.

It’s easy to concoct a venison stew with tomato paste, mushrooms, and green beans cooked in beer. Yumm!!

I use the sushi concept with my menu.

60% is rice. The dehydrated stew is just flavouring, and you don’t need all that much. So if you want flavour, pack it into your original recipe. Curry, spices, etc.

When cooking, throw the pre-portioned rice and dehydrated contents of a Ziplock bag into a pot, bring it to a boil, and keep it bubbling for a minute to let the heat get right through. Then turn off the heat and pop on the lid for ten minutes to allow the food to keep cooking while saving fuel.

It may not be perfect, but this method has little preparation time at the end of an energetic day. Most of the preparation has been done in bulk before leaving home.

I save my appreciation for fine dining for when I get home.

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