By Tim H. Martin
Whenever the author smells white chicken chili cooking, he recalls a special day in October of 2001. That’s the day he arrowed this unusual Alabama buck and won the Buckmasters staff chili cook-off.
They say the sense of smell is the most powerful for recalling memories. That certainly seems to be the case whenever I make white chicken chili.
Each step of the cooking process brings back fond memories of a happy day in October of 2001. That’s the day I won the coveted Buckmasters Chili Cook-off AND arrowed one of the craziest-looking bucks of my hunting career — a happy day indeed!
As the chicken begins to simmer, the first flashback comes creeping back. It involves a pre-competition email sent to the entire Buckmasters staff by another cook-off competitor. He suggested that my entry contained laxatives, Spanish moss and undercooked dog meat. As with Buckmasters staff tradition, merciless taunting and degrading of one another’s chili is to be expected — almost a requirement. And since competitive ribbing is part of this charity event, my nemesis knew he’d met his match when I re-mailed the voters to warn them that the water in his chili had been collected downstream from a local hog farm. He may have lost a couple more votes when I informed them that he'd dropped his onions on the men's room floor and that the company cat was missing.
The next memory rises soothingly, like the steamy aroma of beans, peppers and onions percolating in the pot. I recall jumping in my truck and driving to my hunting club immediately after winning the cook-off, hurrying to field test a few new hunting products before dark. With the radio blasting, I giddily sang a Sammy Kershaw tune at the top of my lungs. It’s probably a good thing I was alone, because I don’t think the American Idol judges would’ve been overly impressed with my rendition of “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer.” But who cares about being pitchy when you’ve just been crowned the new cook-off king?
While adding ground cumin, white pepper and spices, my favorite chili-induced memory comes floating back — the sound of leaves crunching underneath approaching hooves and the sight of a gnarly-horned Alabama buck poking its head between two pine saplings directly behind me. I did a doubletake at an unusual three-pronged tine that resembled a turkey claw and its velvet-tipped left main beam which angled sharply downward. Initially, I mistook it for a droptine.
I recall twisting awkwardly to get into position for a shot. I also remember the ensuing back spasm, the leg cramp and holding my breath for six minutes as the buck sniffed the base of my tree — all this while a canary-sized mosquito drilled my temple for blood. With the curious buck attempting to stare a hole in me, I couldn’t swat, so the bird-skeeter got a free fill-up of O positive.
When the time comes to give the chili its final stir, I can close my eyes and still see the deer’s head turning away briefly, the flight of my arrow, brown fur absorbing orange fletching and the buck’s wild bronco-kick reaction to the heart-shot. I can almost hear the snapping of tree limbs leading to a loud crash in the pines, a low bellow … then total silence. I also recall wishing I hadn’t eaten quite so much chili when the time came to drag out the 220-pound beast.
As I ladle steaming white chili over a bowl of tortilla chips and then smother it with Mozzarella cheese, jalapeños and a scoop of sour cream, I can’t forget the final hours of a near-perfect day — the State Trooper incident.
I was speeding home, anxious to show off my trophies when he pulled me over. The gruff-looking officer approached cautiously and clicked his pen. Then he peered at the big buck lying in my truck bed, smiled and nearly forgot why he pulled me over in the first place. I realized that this truely was my lucky day when he asked what smelled so good in my truck, gushed about the advantages of Easton's latest arrow technology and asked which model Yamaha ATV would best pull his seed spreader. Then he told me to slow down a little bit, let me off with a warning and got back in his car.
I'm sure his being a longtime Buckmasters member didn't hurt my cause. But, as you'll see, even the faintest aroma of white chicken chili scraps is enough to put anyone in a more pleasant and merciful mood!
White Chicken Chili Recipe Winner of the 2001 Buckmasters Chili Cook-off
• In my household, this recipe is considered family. White chicken chili is tailor-made for a frosty autumn evening or when you come home from a cold day of hunting. I hope you and your loved ones will cherish its aroma and flavors as much as mine have.
• 1 whole chicken, 2 cans Great Northern or other white beans undrained, 3 or 4 minced pickled jalapeño pepper slices, Sprinkle of marjoram, 2 1/2 Tbls. ground cumin, 1 Tbls. oregano, 2 4-oz. cans of chopped green chilis undrained, 6-8 cups chicken stock, 1 Tbls. kosher salt, 2 Tbls. white pepper, 3-4 cloves garlic minced, 1 medium onion chopped (about 2 cups), 3 bay leaves, Pearl onions (optional).
• In 1 gallon of water, simmer the chicken for about an hour or until meat falls off the bone. Skim occasionally. Remove the chicken and allow to cool. Pull meat from bones and tear into small pieces, reserve. Strain 6 to 8 cups of chicken stock and place in stock pot. Bring it back to a simmer, add the chicken and all remaining ingredients except garlic, oregano and marjoram. Add them with 15 minutes remaining in cooking process. To thicken, mash a half can of Great Northern beans with a fork before adding. Simmer slowly 40 minutes, partially covered. Ladle chili over a bowl of tortilla corn chips, sprinkle with white cheese (we prefer Mozzarella) and add a dollop of sour cream, topped with a few slices of jalapeño.
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