Right now, men and women all across the state of Maine, and most likely all of New England, are obsessed with (and a little stressed out about) their chest freezers. We’re frantically sorting through bags of frozen strawberries, squash and green beans from the past two years to determine what needs to be used first. Families are eating random meals composed of everything the neighborhood Schwan’s man has to offer.
Why the mad dash to clear as much as possible from the deep freeze, even if it means eating a dinner of chicken pot pie, soft pretzels and questionable creamed chipped beef? It’s hunting season. People are getting up before the crack of dawn, putting on seven layers of thermal and flannel, and heading out into the woods to “bag a big one.” In the event that a hunter manages to successfully get a deer without freezing to their tree stand, they are then looking at enough meat to last their family and friends a year or more. Hence the scramble to empty the chest freezers of anything taking up precious space.
On Sunday, my husband left for a week of freezing his butt off in the woods and tracking the elusive white tail deer. This left me with solo diaper duty for an entire week, but also with the task of making sure our chest freezer was ready, should he return home with a ten-point buck. We still had some venison left over from last year: ground venison. Since the temperature in Maine has dropped to an ungodly 25 degrees, making chili seemed like the obvious choice.
Full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of venison. It has a very unique flavor that some people love, and some people find too gamey. I fall into the second category, but even I found this chili to be quite yummy. I think the secret lies in the fact that this is a sweet chili, as opposed to knock-your-socks-off spicy chili. Sweetness pairs well with venison, taking the edge off the gamey taste, and making it a great option for potlucks where you need to tailor to a variety of palettes. If you aren’t a huge fan of sweeter chilis, you can experiment with the beer you use in the recipe. I used blueberry ale, which paired amazingly well with the maple bacon, but a nice stout would add some depth to the recipe and help to cut the sweetness a bit. This recipe makes a large batch of chili and can be halved, if necessary.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 10 slices maple bacon
- 3 pounds ground venison
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
- 2 cherry peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
- 3 6 ounce cans tomato paste
- 1 16 ounce bottle beer
- 2 15 ounces cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
- Cook bacon with olive oil in 8 quart saucepan until crisp. Remove bacon, crumble and set aside. Keep bacon drippings in pan.
- Add venison, onion, bell peppers, jalapenos cherry peppers and garlic to pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until meat is browned and vegetables are tender.
- Stir in crumbled bacon and remaining ingredients, except for beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer covered, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Add beans and let simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese and chives.
Photos: Kasey Ahlquist