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Kim Sunee: Got game? Fire up caribou chili and everyone's a winner

  • Author: Kim Sunée
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 22, 2015

Is there anything better than a big bowl of chili for winter gatherings, whether it's casual weekend dinners or the many game days that involve other kinds of bowls? I usually make chili with whole boneless chuck roast that I cut into pieces for Texas-style chili, or a vegetarian version chock-full of chickpeas, black beans and a load of fresh vegetables. Here in Alaska, with friends offering up their hunts, I've started making this one-pot wonder with a combination of beef and ground moose or caribou.

The depth of flavor comes from lightly toasting dried chilies before soaking and pureeing them with garlic and spices to make the base of the sauce. The addition of brown sugar and vinegar, I find, balances out any potential gaminess. The garnishes can be as simple as a dollop of sour cream or a host of additional toppings, including fresh limes, sliced jalapenos, radishes and cabbage. It's good as is, but somehow, a serving of freshly baked warm cornbread ups the ante; any way you serve it, everyone's a winner.

Caribou chili

2 ounces (about 4 to 6) whole dried chilies, such as New Mexico, Pasilla or guajillo (or a combination of several)

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 tablespoon salt, preferably kosher

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

3½ to 4 pounds ground caribou or beef or combination of both

1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, diced

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican

2 cups beef broth (or chicken or vegetable)

1 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar

For serving: sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onion, radish, thinly sliced cabbage and crumbles of queso fresco

1. Place chilies in a hot skillet and toast, turning once or twice, until chilies are fragrant and toasted but not burnt (to avoid bitterness). Remove chilies from skillet and place in a bowl of very hot water; soak, turning once or twice, for about 20 to 30 minutes or until soft. Remove stems and seeds (you can also place quickly under running water to help remove the seeds, but be careful not to wash away the flesh from the inside); discard. Place seeded and stemmed chilies into bowl of a blender along with ½ cup of the soaking liquid. Add orange juice, garlic, salt, cumin, sesame, black pepper, cinnamon and cayenne. Add 1/3 cup water and blend until a smooth mixture forms; set chili mixture aside; you should have about 2 cups.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet over high heat. Add onion, carrot and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally until golden; about 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Add meat and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add chili mixture and broth. Bring to a boil and skim froth from the surface. Reduce heat to a low simmer and let cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes. Add brown sugar and vinegar and stir. Let simmer another 10 minutes.

4. Taste and add more salt, sugar, or vinegar. Reheat on low. Serve warm with garnishes and extra hot sauce.

Kim Sunée ate and lived in Europe for 10 years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American and Asian American Poetry and Writing. She is currently based in Anchorage. Her most recent cookbook is "A Mouthful of Stars." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com.

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