Highland Foodie: Recipe for Todd Conger’s Elk Green Chili
March 28, 2008
In “Island in the Rockies,” author and Grand County historian Robert Black explains that the geographic term Middle Park came from French explorers who likened this region to a park, which roughly translates as fantastic hunting grounds surrounded by mountains.
American Indians, French explorers, Grand County residents and others agree that hunting is good in Middle Park. Todd Conger usually takes enough game to feed his family with only occasional supplements from the meat market. As he said, “We usually get enough ourselves or as payment for helping friends butcher their take.”
Conger moved to the Fraser Valley from Minnesota in 1981.
Back home, Conger hunted with this dad at age 12 for grouse and by age 13 graduated to deer hunting.
Conger remembers his father’s admonition: “Don’t point the gun at something you don’t intend to kill.”
Conger now takes 13-year-old son, Cole, duck and goose hunting. Cole looks forward to his first antelope hunt. Cole is a smart young man; he has figured out that once you kill the game, you must pack it out. An elk rack alone, is incredibly heavy. Packing the meat out in addition to the horns is arduous.
“I like his creativity and independence,” Conger said of Cole.
Conger went with a friend recently on a wild boar hunt in Oklahoma.
He said, “It was exciting because they were scary and they charged us. They go by you and then circle around to come up behind you.” Who’s the hunter?
After moving here and working in restaurants like he did in Minnesota, Conger fell into a winter routine of skiing days and working at Gasthaus Eichler in the evenings. This was back when the Eichler’s owned it.
“Hans Eichler never gave away any secrets – you had to watch.” Conger learned the mushroom brandy sauce and how to cook all the German dishes – rindsroulanden being his favorite along with the venison roasted with juniper berries.
Summers, he went to Alaska and cooked for sport fishing lodges. Between 1984 and 1992, he put in seven summers cooking and guiding.
One summer, some guests killed a moose and were only able to bring part of it back to the lodge. They stored the meat above the barbecue pit and five of them loaded up with pistols and shotguns to protect themselves against bear before going back to harvest the remainder of the moose.
They never saw a bear, but upon returning to the lodge they heard a couple of shotgun blasts. They called out and learned that the bear were waiting for them to return to the lodge with the moose. The Alaskan brown bear was smart enough to let the humans do the heavy lifting and simply wait for its dinner to arrive. After a few more shotgun blasts, the mother bear and her two cubs ambled away from the lodge and their supper.
Conger said his daughter Holly, 18, plans to attend CSU to study animal psychology.
“When she was 4, she showed an interest in hunting, but she never went. Holly is artistically creative and has had a lifelong goal of becoming an animal psychologist.”
Conger’s better half, Karen, has worked for the National Sports Center for the Disabled for 20 years.
Conger loves her spontaneity and said with a smile, “She’s always ready to go on a river raft trip.”
Conger advises a long slow cooking of meat you suspect might be tough. He often cooks a roast, stew, elk spaghetti or elk green chili. If using jarred spaghetti sauce that is too acidic, Conger adds a teaspoon of instant coffee to tame the acid.
When asked about hunting in the age of vegetarians or those squeamish about killing “Bambi,” Conger pragmatically points out the advantage of being able to fend for oneself, “What happens to those who don’t hunt when the electricity goes out? I can get game and smoke it if need be.”
Does this mean Conger’s got game? Yes. His idea of a perfect day is “taking a nap in the sunshine on the grass by the river while fishing.” Sounds pretty good – doesn’t it?
The chili is delicious – make it with pork if you don’t have elk in the freezer. Karen Conger loves the heat in this chili.
Todd Conger’s Elk Green Chili
8 to 12 cloves garlic
1/4 to 1/2 cup bacon drippings
2 red onions, chopped
1 lb. baby carrots, sliced
2 to 4 lbs. elk meat
1/2 gallon chicken stock
2 Tbs. Lawry’s seasoning salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 to 3 lbs. roasted green chilies, chopped
2 lbs. cubed potatoes
Heat bacon drippings in a large stockpot. Add garlic, onion, carrots and heat until onion is caramelized. Cube and brown the elk meat. Add seasonings and green chilies. Remember, more seeds – more heat. Bring to boil and simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Serve with flour tortillas, 4-cheese Mexican mix and/or Ritz crackers. Eat.
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