Boiling Point: Cowboy up with authentic stew
All good Westerns offer damsels in distress, stagecoach chases (rear wheel falls off), at least one cute but dumb kid, a lanky harmonica player, three gunfights and Colt six-shooters that never need reloading.
My favorite part is unwinding at the campfire after a day of murder and mayhem. They’re always eating something from a pot, smacking their lips and sopping every drop of it with thick pieces of bread. Makes my popcorn seem so, I don’t know ...
Enjoy this scene. It’s probably the only one portraying cowboys as they really were.
Cowboys were the tumbleweeds of the West, roaming around and making do with what they found. It could be range rabbits one night and beefsteaks the next.
Most of the time, they made fresh food into stews. It was easy, and you’d make a lot for leftovers. Their obligatory bread, too, was easy and big and kept for weeks without molding.
If there’s a modern equivalent of these repasts, it’s camp cookery. Campfire stew always tastes good after a day of fishing or hiking. A lot of that comes from the wood smoke.
Out West, there are thousands of recipes claiming to be “cowboy.” Most are great pretenders, containing ingredients not available until modern times.
I’ve created one that at least seems authentic (yes, cowboys had canned goods). If you could find buffalo meat, or venison, it would be very close.
Tenderness probably was unimportant to cowboys; they were used to chewing. We demand it, so this dish is simmered for two hours.
You can duplicate the campfire smoking with your charcoal grill. Simmer your stew for two hours covered on the stove.
Get the grill coals going and add soaked wood chips (I like hickory). Put your pot on the grill uncovered and cook for a half hour. Taste, and cook until the smoke is as you like it. Take care to keep it subtle.
You can get maximum smoking by covering your grill.
Note that this comes at the end of the cooking. That keeps the smoke flavor bright but not overwhelming.
Another option is your house fireplace. The best tool here is an adjustable swing arm that holds your cast-iron stupor above the glowing coals.
No fire? Try a few dashes of Liquid Smoke.
Have fun with this meal. Tell the kids they’ll need their cowboy garb at the table. Hats will be allowed only this time.
2 pounds chuck roast, fat trimmed
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 small can pinto beans
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen green beans
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup potatoes, cubed
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sweet chili powder, more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Slice beef into bite-size pieces. Heat oil in stewpot. Place flour into plastic bag and toss beef to coat. Brown beef on all sides, about 5 minutes. Drain and remove.
Mix remaining ingredients in the pot and bring to a boil, add meat. Stir to make gravy, simmer covered for two hours, stirring every 30 minutes to prevent sticking, adding more beef broth if needed.
Finish by cooking for 30 minutes on a charcoal grill or fireplace with wood if you want smoky flavor.
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