DEER CAMP CHILI RECIPE WITH JALAPEÑO CHEDDAR CORNBREAD MUFFINS: Texas is known for a lot of things: having BIG everything, BBQ, live music, politics, Stetson hats, honky tonks, cowboys with custom boots, CEOs, rodeo, ranches, and a certain professional football team cheer squad. But anyone who knows Texas, knows that list should include Texas chili. There’s a saying in Texas, “If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.” Grammar notwithstanding, Texas chili stands out from the crowd because there are no beans and no tomato products at all. In Texas, chili is short for chili con carne, which translates as chili peppers with meat. And that’s exactly what Texas chili is, a meaty masterpiece that is heavy on chili pepper taste with not a bean in sight!
This is not your run-of-the-mill deer chili recipe: It’s a direct descendant of the classic Texas chuck-wagon chili of yesteryear.
Once you get the hang of toasting and grinding your own chiles and developing deep, rich flavor with homemade bone broth and Mexican chocolate … well, suffice it to say, you’ll be hard-pressed to return to off-the-shelf chili powder the next time you hanker for a big ol’ bowl of red.
Hot and smokey
The three chiles in this recipe each strike different notes in building flavor. The rich and fruity guajillo, with a heat rating of mild-to-medium (2,000 to 5,000 Scoville heat units), brings a South-of-the-border sunniness. The ancho chile (dried poblano) delivers a seductive smokiness without much heat, coming in at 1,000 to 2,000 SHUs. Not to worry: the third chile, the chile de árbol, packs a powerful punch despite its diminutive size with a bright, clean heat of 15,000 to 30,000 SHUs. Experiment with different ratios of the above, or try additions of other dried chile peppers such as cascabels, native chiltepins, chipotles (dried jalapeños), pasillas, or even habaneros to devise your own unique blend.
When making chili powder for this deer chili recipe, I often double or triple the amounts, as it stores well in an airtight container (I use canning jars with lids and bands, as the chiles will stain plastic containers). The same goes for making bone broth—whether from venison, antelope, or beef bones—which I store in one-quart containers in the freezer until needed for a recipe or simply a restorative mug of bone broth.
Deer Camp Chili recipe
Cook’s Tip: Make both the chili powder and the bone broth days, or even weeks, ahead to cut down on same-day prep. As this is a low-fat chili, accompany it with a low-tannin wine such as a Spanish Tempranillo.
For the chili powder:
5 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, split, and seeded
5 dried guajillos, stemmed, split, and seeded
5 dried chiles de árbol (rat tail chiles), stemmed,
split, and seeded
2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
For the bone broth:
4 lbs. venison, antelope, elk, or beef bones (I like to use neck bones)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
2 carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, top sliced off to expose the cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. peppercorns, crushed
For the deer chili:
4 lbs. venison, antelope, elk, or beef chuck, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup homemade chili powder (add more, to taste)
2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-oz.) can fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cups homemade bone broth
1 disk (2.75 oz.) dark stone-ground Mexican chocolate (I like Taza organic Chipotle Chili or Guajillo Chili), broken into pieces
1 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled (for garnish)
1/2 red onion, diced (for garnish)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves (for garnish)
How to prepare
Make the chili powder: Place the chiles in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook, turning occasionally and pressing down on them with a wooden spoon, until they become fragrant and start to brown. Remove the chiles and set aside. Add the cumin seeds to the skillet; toast until fragrant. Combine the chiles and cumin seeds with the remaining chili powder ingredients in a spice grinder or repurposed coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Let the contents settle before removing the top.
Make the bone broth: Preheat oven to 300° F. Place the bones in a large roaster, drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast uncovered for 1 hour, then transfer bones to a large stockpot, add 12 cups water and the remainder of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, over low heat for 4 to 6 hours, skimming fat and foam with a ladle as needed. Remove the bones and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Make the deer chili: Prepare the meat by trimming as much fat, silverskin, and connective tissue as you can as you cube the meat. Render the chopped bacon in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon, and save for another purpose, such as topping a salad. Brown the venison cubes in the bacon fat, then add the onion and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. When the onion becomes translucent, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Stir in the homemade chili powder, sweet paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper, then add the tomatoes and bone broth. Bring the chili to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding bone broth as needed.
Add the chocolate and adjust the seasonings to taste. For more heat, add a few stemmed and seeded chiles de árbol (fish them out prior to serving). Continue to simmer, partially covered, for an additional hour, or until the meat is tender.
Garnish with Cotija cheese, red onion, and cilantro leaves and serve hot with Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Muffins.
Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Muffins
Yields 12 muffins
Stone-ground cornmeal is made from whole corn kernels milled between heavy stones, while regular cornmeal, which has both the hull and nutritious germ removed, is ground between metal rollers. Although the two can be used interchangeably in recipes, stone-ground meal not only is more nutritious, but adds an interesting texture and a more pronounced corn flavor. I love to bake these in my antique cast-iron muffin pan that I inherited from my Mamaw.
1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 cup stone-ground corn meal (Bob’s Red Mill, readily found in grocery stores, produces white, yellow, and blue stone-ground cornmeals.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 12-cup cast-iron muffin pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the milk, egg, and melted butter. Fold in cheese and the minced jalapeño.
Divide batter among the 12 muffin cups. Top the muffins with a sliver or two of jalapeño. Bake the muffins until golden brown, 20 to 24 minutes. A tester should come out clean from one of the center muffins.
Let the muffins cool briefly before removing; serve hot, with butter.