Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Elk sirloin chili with Beans

Any more, whenever I cook or even eat beans, I think of my buddy Ken Albala over at Ken Albala's Food Rant. He doesn't get as much traffic as all the Foodbuzz and Foodie Blogroll folks, which is a fucking shame, because he's actually a real writer. Of actual books.

One of such books is Beans: A History.

You ever find yourself reading some Pollan and thinking to yourself, "sure, this is entertaining, but I really wish he didn't dumb everything down for the lay audience"? Yeah, me too.

If Michael Pollan is coffee, Ken Albala is espresso. Ken is an award-winning food historian and author of such effervescent reading as Eating Right in the Renaissance; Food in Early Modern Europe; and Cooking in Europe 1250-1650. More recently though, he dabbles in what he deems to be "pop" food writing, but is, in my opinion, a meticulous examination of individual foodstuffs.

Beans is one such exploration, in which Ken chronicles the cultural and culinary significance of one of our most basic forms of sustenance, the humble legume. From the crippling classism faced by Medieval bean-eaters, to the role of toxic vetch seeds in combating famine in the 12th-century, to the bacterium that distinguishes natto from hamanatto, Beans delves into depths rivaling a thesis for its attention to detail, and for leaving no stone unturned. Beans is, in a word, thorough.

It's also pretty fucking entertaining, although I'll admit that the thing I like most about this book is its unflinching nerdiness. This is an entire book about the seeds of a single plant family. It's not just for scholars and botanists, though - Ken's enthusiasm is contagious.

Some of you are still doing your holiday shopping, and I scold you for your procrastination. However, you can satisfy the academic foodie on your list (or yourself) by picking up a copy of Beans or Ken's latest tome, Pancake: A Global History.


Oh, hey, and speaking of beans, I made it to the store yesterday. It really wasn't that terrible - without that nasty sumbitch Old Man East Wind, it was actually kind of pleasant, bordering on magical.

Since I knew I had to carry everything I purchased, I made very edited choices. Milk, eggs and flour are already heavy, so everything else really had to count. A couple containers of frozen juice concentrate to drink with our vodka. A bag of pink beans.

We had everything else at home, so this wouldn't be too difficult. Catherine sent me a huge elk sirloin roast a few weeks ago (have I mentioned that I love that woman?), from which we'd eaten a couple of steaks and then refroze. I'd normally never refreeze a meat, but I was going out of town and figured it'd be better to risk freezer burn than for the whole thing to rot in my absence. Rubbed and double-bagged with the air smooshed out, it was absolutely fine rethawed, without a single indication of freezer burn.

I finely diced the elk and browned it with an onion and a few spoonfuls of homemade ancho chile powder, half spoonfuls of pimentón and garlic powder, and a good few pinches of homemade Berbere spice. I dumped in a can of tomatoes and the leftover tomato-roasted pepper soup from last week. Then I added a dribble of soy, a spoonful of gochujang and a few good pinches of MSG. Oh, don't look at me like that - it is pure, crystalline umami. It makes everything taste really good and I'm not sensitive to it.

I let everything simmer and stew while the (presoaked) pink beans cooked in unsalted water. Never cook beans with the tomatoes or in salted water, or they'll go tough. When the beans were tender, I drained them and added them to the pot, then added more salt and pepper to taste. While the beans were soaking up some of the good chili flave, I whipped up some cornbread.

Top with cheese, sour cream and minced shallot for best effect. I'm heading to the kitchen for some leftovers right now. Not too shabby, this "working from home" business.


lisaiscooking said...

Beans sounds like a great book. Thanks for the recommendation.

peter said...

There's just nothing about this post I don't like. If everybody put gochujang and soy in their chili (and walked to the market) the world would be a better place.

Peter M said...

I perk up at the mention of any wild game/meat and beans...love'em. In fact, I just cut one!

PS, I'm going to take a look at Ken's site.

We Are Never Full said...

see, this is why i love your blog - you totally get it. i fucking hate the dumbing down sometimes. thank you for introducing me to this blog! also, i know exactly what i'm going to buy jonny for a last minute xmas present...

my fucking lame-ass spice sachets look stupid compared to catherines elk. WHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????

Happy Kwaanza, Merry Christmas and i hope it the snow melts!

Brittany said...

What a coincidence. The bean book was sitting in the chef's office @ work the other day. I flipped through it briefly and thought it looked interesting. Thanks for the tip- I'll make a point of stealing it tommorow.

Merry christmas Heather! Keep your fingers crossed for some warmer weather so we can get into our glorious cars and load them with all kinds of heavy groceries. Like wine.

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

I've yet to try elk but next time hubby goes hunting he should go the way of the elk! Can't wait to read that book!

Nate-n-Annie said...

That's a great looking chili. I like that you use gochujang - nice touch!

Manggy said...

Oh, yay, cornbread! And chili! I must have a little Southerner in me (uh.. heh), because those two combined never fail to make me drool. Never mind that I have no idea what elk tastes like, it looks awesome. Or maybe it's the beans. I loove beans. I also don't know what berbere spice is-- trying not to think of vit B1 deficiency.
Thanks for the author recommendation too! I am expecting your first review over at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf soon ;)

Peter G said...

I will def head on over and check out Ken's stuff...ou've done better than Grizzly Adams with that elk! All the best for the festive season Heather...look forward to more of your creations in the future!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Still to ill to feel much like posting, let alone weighing up the pros and cons of elk meat...

So - I'll let you and others get on with it.

And in the meantime, have a great Christmas and New Year. Elk or no elk.

Heather said...

Lisa - You are welcome. I'm looking forward to reading Pancake, too.

Jube - Ain't that the truth? I also helped a dude with a cane across the street so he could get a beer at the pub. 'Tis the season and whatnot.

Peter the Greek - Did you just tell me that you farted? :D

Amy - Free venison is pretty hard to beat - don't feel bad. Your spice sachets are going to be lovely!

Brittany - I haven't been in a bookstore in so long, that I haven't seen it anywhere yet. That's cool that it's getting around. Read it!

Judy - I didn't know they had elk in Florida! Venison chili is delicious.

Nate & Annie - Thanks! I love gochujang - it's like Korean ketchup. :P

Marky - Elk tastes like really lean beef, with a slightly grassy taste to it. It's delicious.

Petah - As soon as the snow clears and I can go get some real groceries, thing's will pick up a bit.

Sketti - Don't comment! You should save your strength. Enjoy a nice hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps, and get well soon!

Lo said...

If that's not fantastic winter food, I don't know what is...

Thanks for the nod to Ken - I'll definitely be checking out his writing.

And as for you -- well, I hope you're celebrating with wild abandon and enjoying a phenomenal holiday. Here's to less snow in 2009!!

Jude said...

I'm gonna check out this guy's blog now. Sounds like my kind of writer.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

It takes one heckuva writer to be able to write an entire book on one simple subject. I'll have to check him out.

Great looking chili. I've never eaten elk before.

Kevin said...

That looks really tasty! Great call adding the gochujang!