Did you ever wonder what might have been served at a chuck wagon dinner? Just like dinner around a campfire, food at the chuck wagon was often simple but loaded with flavor and texture. Chuck wagon cooks prided themselves in using creative ingredients for their recipes and treating their diners to a satisfying meal. I’ve taken a few traditional recipes and recreated them with some modern twists while keeping the essence of the chuck wagon meal true to its rich flavors and simple ingredients.
SKILLET GREEN BEANS WITH CRISPY SHALLOTS
Green beans and shallots are a traditional fall harvest dish. But when cooked in a skillet they taste more like summer. This simple recipe will encourage your whole family to eat their greens.
- 1 pound fresh green beans, washed and ends trimmed
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or ghee, divided
- 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ lemon, squeezed
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating to a boil, prepare a large bowl of ice water. This will help stop the green beans from cooking after they’ve been blanched in the hot water.
Once the water is boiling, gently add the green beans and then let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then gently transfer them to the ice water with a slotted spoon or mesh spoon. Once the beans have cooled, transfer them to a paper towel–lined plate. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the shallots and sauté until brown and slightly crispy. Season with a little salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate or bowl.
In the same pan, add 2 more tablespoons of oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the blanched green beans and let the beans cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the beans are slightly browned or seared.
CAMPFIRE BEEF CHILI
This chili is filled with hearty pieces of beef and flavorful aromatic ingredients that play perfectly together. It’s a delicious dish that will make everyone in your family come running when they hear the dinner bell ring.
- 4 ounces bacon, diced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, if needed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup finely ground Masa
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cups canned or jarred crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup cubed butternut squash or sweet potato
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
- 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
- Dash Tabasco
- Pickled jalapeno, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream, for garnish
In a large pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until the fat has been rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside.
Season the stew meat with a little salt and pepper and then brown the beef in the bacon fat, adding additional oil if needed. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and reserve.
Next, add the onions to the pot and sauté until wilted. Then stir in the garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. In a small bowl stir together the masa, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, and oregano. Add this to the onions and garlic and stir.
Then stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, bay leaf, the browned stew meat, and cooked bacon. Bring it to a boil and then cover with a heavy lid and turn down to a simmer.
Simmer for 1½ hours or until the stew meat is almost tender. Add the squash or sweet potato and beans to the pot and continue to cook the stew for 1 hour longer. If the chili liquid is too thin, leave the cover off the pot the last hour of cooking.
When the stew meat is tender, the chili is done. Let the chili cool for at least 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
Serve warm with garnishes. This chili can be made a day or two in advance and held in the refrigerator. Just reheat on the stove top before serving. Like most stews and chilis, this dish will taste even better the second day.
Sourdough biscuits were considered a special treat when dining at the chuck wagon. The cook would make a sourdough starter and keep it on the wagon in a dark ceramic crock and use it for biscuits, breads, and sweets. You can find several recipes online to make your own sourdough starter, which takes about three to four weeks. Or, you can order them online and then keep them going in your kitchen for these tasty biscuits and more.
Makes 8 biscuits
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 6 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
- 1 cup unfed sourdough starter
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Whisk together the all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and then using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles little crumbles.
Stir in the sourdough starter and mix until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough into a small disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. This isn’t absolutely necessary; however, I find that cooling the dough keeps
the butter from getting too soft and yields a flakier biscuit.
To make the biscuits, add a little flour to the top of the disc and then roll out the dough to about ¾-inch thick. Cut biscuits with a 2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter and then place them in a buttered cast iron skillet, round cake pan, or pie plate.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or when the biscuits are golden on top. Remove the biscuits from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes. Serve with jam, honey and butter, or slices of ham and cheese.