Big Red Barn Chili and The Rut

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite time of year.  I love the cooler, cozy temperatures.  The nudge toward slowing the pace from summer.  The earthy warmth of the food. 

One of my favorite annual activities in the fall is going to Rocky Mountain National Park to watch ‘The Rut’.  Beginning in mid September the elk, who have been living at higher, cooler altitudes, come down to the mountain meadows to ‘score chicks’ basically.  The big bull elk spar with each other and gather their harems of female elk. 

The entire ritual (referred to as ‘rutting’) is a spectacle to behold.  The highlight by far is their ‘bugling’, the unearthly call made by the bull elk.  It’s indescribable with words.  It sounds like a cross between a high pitched whistle, a shriek and a sound you’d expect a mermaid to make, or maybe like a broken clarinet.  The meadows are still, the air heavy and crisp, making their munching of grasses, clattering of battling antlers and bugling as pronounced as someone yelling in a hushed library.

I’m including this short You Tube video as a chance for you to hear the bugling personally:



The best time to watch The Rut is at dusk. Having watched in the rain and snow, I always pack warm food and chili seems perfect.  Not too fussy, always soul-warming and easy to manage.  I came up with a recipe for the occasion based on all the vegetables available right now and with the type of heat I like; slow and simmering (not blowing smoke out your ears).
BIG RED BARN CHILI
I’m a firm believer in cooking chili the day prior to allow the flavors to blend well.  In this case the heat calmed some by day 2 and the flavor had more depth.  If you prefer more heat when eating, a dash of Tabasco or Pico-Pica sauce will brighten everything up.
 Ingredients:
·         2 tablespoon olive oil
·         1 ½ pounds sirloin, cut into bit sized pieces
·         1 large yellow onion, chopped
·         2 large carrots, diced or shredded
·         1 quart tomatoes with liquid, diced
·         1-15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
·         1-15 ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
·         2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen/thawed
·         1 EACH (3 total) yellow, red and orange bell pepper
·         2 Anaheim chiles
·         1 tablespoon adobo sauce
·         1 tablespoon chili powder (choose the heat level you prefer)
·         2-3 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
·         1 teaspoon ground cumin
·         1 teaspoon granulated sugar
·         1 teaspoon paprika
·         1 teaspoon garlic powder
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         Suggested garnishes: sour cream, shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, sliced scallions.
Note:  always be cautious when handling chiles.  Anaheim chiles are mild though if you substitute spicier chiles wearing gloves while coring or chopping can save accidental contact with eyes, nose or mouth which can be painful!
1.       Roast the three bell peppers and Anaheim chiles (see below for roasting methods).  Allow to cool and chop.
2.      In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the sirloin and brown on all sides (do not cook through).  Remove from pan.
3.      Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil, heat and add the onions and sauté for three minutes or until onions begin to become translucent.
4.      Add remaining ingredients, including the browned sirloin (except salt and pepper).  Turn heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Roasted Peppers or Chiles:
There are several simple ways to roast peppers and chiles which completely changes their flavor.
1.       Over a gas burner, gas grill or charcoal flame:  with long heat-proof tongs, hold the pepper or chile low over the flame, rotating it  until it completely blackens on all sides.  Place in a bowl and cover with cling wrap OR in a Ziploc bag and seal.  Allow to sweat for at least 10 minutes.  *When cool enough to handle, rub the skin off by hand or with a cloth kitchen towel, or under running water (there is debate about the latter costing some flavor but I think it’s marginal).  Core, seed and chop.
2.      In the oven:  place peppers/chiles on a baking sheet under a heated broiler.  As peppers blister and blacken, turn with tongs until the entire pepper/chile is charred.  Remove and follow directions above at the asterisk.
Wrapping squares of cornbread minimizes mess, makes it very portable and adds some fun to the meal.  (No ‘Martha’ comments, please).
This is a typical scene.  A young, rogue bull elk catches the scent of a harem. He hightails his testosterone-filled self over to the scene only to realize the bull elk at the helm is much bigger and older (you can count the ‘points’ on his antlers to see his age).  The younger bull elk then averts his vision, and walks right past the harem as though he does not notice they are there.  Often the established bull at the head of the harem saunters after him at a lazy pace to ensure he moves completely out of the territory.

Comments

  1. says

    Hey you stole my post! I'm in Estes as we speak and I swear I took a hundred photos of that same herd yesterday up in the park. :) Only difference is I brought Posole and tortillas instead of chili and cornbread. Hubby just saw your photo of the chili in the ladle and commented on a great photo.

  2. says

    Hi Lea Ann! A classic case of 'great minds think alike'! The Rut really is a signature of fall for me and I'd guess for you too. Can't wait to read about your trip and your delicious sounding food! It sounds like you are actually staying up there which would be grand at this time of year (we zipped up for the evening and back). Thanks for commenting!

  3. says

    Beautiful post Toni – really lovely photos. Good tip on the handling of the chiles – I picked a flat at my CSA harvest festival this weekend and stemmed and seeded them without gloves – BIG mistake. My hands were on fire for a full 24 hours, despite multiple washings and every tip I could find online to remove the pain. Never again without gloves!

  4. says

    Toni
    those pictures are incredible! I kept hitting my head on the screen trying to get to the chili!
    (just so you don't think you have the only impressive wildlife, we have a very big chipmunk rut just outside of camden!)
    Thanks for taking us along with you!
    Dennis

  5. says

    Oh my goodness! I have heard all about this but haven't gone up yet. What a crazy sound. Makes me uneasy haha, but I love it. I've already made chili twice in the last few weeks, so comforting. Beautiful pictures :)

  6. says

    What delicious sounding chili.
    I love the mountains. My mom took me once when I was a child, and I never grew out of it! I can't wait to see the Rockys someday.

  7. says

    Okay this is truly amazing. I grew up doing massive roads trips across Canada and the States and my Dad was adamant we see and experience nature at it's finest. I find this kind of thing so fascinating and it immediately makes me think of my childhood. So I got to see beautiful photos, be reminded of my childhood and see an amazing recipe. Doesn't get any better than that! Thanks for this one! xx

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