Family visits are over - we're going hunting Saturday!
My boyfriend's finally taking me to one of his favorite places: The Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Butte County (pronounced byoot). Gray Lodge is where he cut his teeth on waterfowl hunting in California all by his lonesome, back before I'd picked up a shotgun.
We have a long list for our day: rabbits, pheasants, ducks and maybe even some geese. That means a good bit of walking, and probably a location change in the middle of the afternoon. And that means we'll be hungry.
While I'm fine with fast food in a pinch, I'd much rather bring something I know isn't tainted with e coli. My favorite so far this season is a spicy meat-and-potato burrito. It's really flavorful, filling and easy to eat (read: no napkins). You can make the filling the night before with just one pan, slap the burritos together before you leave for the hunt, and either pack them in something that holds heat well or just eat them cold - they're really fine either way.
If you hate following recipes, all you need to know is that this is hash browns with your favorite meat and spice wrapped in a flour tortilla. Hell, you could use tater tots.
If you like following recipes and cooking from scratch, here's how I did it tonight:
- 5 red potatoes - quartered
- 1 big sweet onion - chopped
- 4 cloves garlic - minced
- 3 poblano chilis (big, mild, green) - chopped
- 6 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce - an ultra spicy barbecue sauce - chopped. If you don't like things too spicy, stick to two chipotle chilis. You'll have leftover chipotles in the can.
- a two-fisted hunk of leftover Thanksgiving ham - chopped
- as much dang canola oil as I felt like pouring
- some beer I didn't feel like finishing - lager, nothing too strong.
- salt and pepper
- a dozen large flour tortillas
- queso seco, crumbled (a dry white Mexican cheese, but you'd be just fine with shredded Monterey jack)
- Clean and quarter the potatoes and steam them until they're only a bit sticky on a fork or a small skewer. If you don't have a steamer, go ahead and boil them.
- Chop the onions and saute in oil with a bit of salt (a lot, if you're me) until they look and smell wonderful - a bit brown, possibly crispy in places, fairly soft and glisteny in general. While that's cooking, mince your garlic, and when the onions are almost done, put the garlic in, stir it up and continue cooking briefly. Why the last-minute add? Keeps the delicate garlic from burning and tasting nasty. When the garlic's a bit cooked and the onions are done, set the mixture aside in a bowl and cover.
- Chop the green peppers and saute them in oil until they soften and smell wonderful. Now, many people will tell you that the skin of the poblano pepper, which I used tonight, is too tough to eat. Most people roast them and peel them. I usually do, but I didn't feel like doing that tonight, and it came out fine. When this is done, toss the peppers in the bowl with the onions.
- How are those potatoes? They should be done by now. If they are, pull them out and let them cool. When they're cool enough to handle, dice them and set them aside. If you didn't overcook them, they'll hold their shape as you cut. If you did overcook them, who cares? They'll be mushy. So what.
- Chop and very briefly saute your meat product. Usually, I use Mexican chorizo - a soft sausage loaded with yummy porky goodness. But because we have some leftover ham today, I used that. Any fatty meat would be fine. And if you're a vegetarian ... wait, if you're a vegetarian, why are you going hunting? Anyway, when cooking the meat, you're looking for a bit of brownness, but you don't want to dry it out. When it looks good, toss this in the bowl too, and cover it up.
- Remove the number of chipotles you want from the can and chop them. Discard or save the extra chilis, but keep all the sauce remaining in the can.
- Now for the potatoes. Heat some more oil in the pan, toss in your diced potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, stir to coat the potatoes with oil, then cook over medium heat for a good while. If you're like me, you'll soon be tempted to stir. DON'T! Let them brown. Add oil as needed. If you feel like this is getting waaaaay too greasy, lubricate them with beer. Go ahead and laugh - but it's good! Check the underside of this mass once in a while to see if the potatoes are browning. When you've got a good crisp going, flip 'em and repeat the process, though it'll take less time on this side.
- When the potatoes seem just about done, drop in the chopped chipotle chilis and all the adobo sauce you can spare. Stir until the potatoes are coated with the sauce and the chilis are distributed evently. If you don't have chipotles, toss a bunch of chili powder on your taters instead. Cook a bit longer.
- Add back the onions, garlic, green chili and meat. Stir and cook a bit to mingle flavors. Taste it to see if you're happy. If you're not happy, open another beer. For yourself, not for the potatoes.
That's it! Now you've got your filling.
The day of the hunt, all you have to do is reheat the filling, then heat the flour tortillas one at a time in a dry pan over medium heat until they soften, spoon the filling into them, add some cheese and roll it up tight, tucking in the ends to make a tight bundle. You're ready to go!
Q: This sounds really fattening. Do I need all that oil?
A: You tell me. Use as much or as little as you like - it's really a matter of taste. Me personally, I'm done with Hollywood telling me I should eat lifeless food so I can have a disgusting anorexic figure. The key thing is to avoid burning your food. If you want less oil, use more beer. It really adds a lot of flavor.
Q: Do I need the cheese?
A: It's totally optional, but if you're sensitive to chili, use it - dairy products are the only substance known to counteract the heat of chilis.
Q: What size should I chop the ingredients?
A: Any size you like, but I think it works best when most of the ingredients are cut to a similar size. For me, tonight, that was in half-inch-by-half-inch squares (or cubes). You can go bigger, but if you make them a lot bigger, it'll make it hard to wrap the burrito neatly.
Q: Do I need fresh green chilis?
A: Probably not, but I feel guilty if I don't eat a green thing every day. Plus, chilis are good for you - they've got vitamin C, and they clear your lungs and sinuses. Can't hurt out in the field, right? I also like cilantro, but that's best served fresh - I don't think it holds up well after being crammed into a warm burrito all day.
Q: I refuse to use canned fruits and vegetables. Where can I get fresh chipotles?
A: You can't. A chipotle is a smoked and dried jalapeno - by definition not fresh. You can buy dried ones, but then you miss out on the adobo sauce.Q: How could I make this even more insanely good?
A: Add scrambled eggs to the mix before you make the burritos - but if you do this, don't wait too long to eat them. You know, that whole thing about not letting egg products sit out so long that they become a big bacteria farm.
Q: What next?
A: Go do some hunting! You've got plenty of fuel to keep you going.
© Holly A. Heyser 2007