Dude Ranch Dining
At restaurants and posh resorts in America’s West, chefs have a rich heritage of ingredients and methods to draw on, and wine is definitely on the menu.
A plate o’ beans and a chaw of rattlesnake jerky, washed down with coffee brewed in the embers of the campfire—that’s what many an urbanite sees as a typical meal in the Old West. Watching too many cowboy movies will have that effect.
“The stereotypical stories of people sitting around the campfire were true—when people were traveling,” says Holly Arnold Kinney, owner of The Fort, a Morrison, Colorado-based restaurant that has been renowned for its loving celebration of the West since her parents opened the eatery in 1963. Kinney says that when the travelers stopped at a trading post to resupply—and even more so when they became homesteaders—dinner was a more elaborate affair, at least for those who could afford it.
“There was French Champagne, [wines of] Bordeaux and meals eaten on fine china,” says Kinney, also the executive director of the Tesoro Cultural Center, which promotes the cultural heritage of Colorado and the Southwest.
Western cuisine was a true melting pot, says Kinney. It included Native American staples known as the three sacred sisters (corn, beans and squash); Spanish delicacies like wine and spices imported from the Far East; Mexican delicacies, especially chilies; French flavors introduced by trappers and fur traders; pioneer pantry items like wheat, salt pork, lard and preserved and pickled foods; and the bounty of the land (bison, elk, deer, quail, grouse, root vegetables, berries and trout).
As a result, Kinney notes, “our modern buy-local, sustainable, heritage-seed, steward-of-the-land, back-to-our-roots movement,” is rooted in the Old West.
Today, many chefs are taking the foods of the Old West and applying the techniques of contemporary cuisine. One such example is Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, an 8,000-acre dude ranch and resort in Emigrant, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park. The 92-year-old property was purchased in 2001 by Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the N.F.L.’s Atlanta Falcons. Blank has invested generously in the property, which now can accommodate 80 guests.
“We have three different cookouts—breakfast, lunch and dinner—and two gourmet nights,” says Brian Bielen, executive chef at Mountain Sky. A gourmet night might feature grilled bison tenderloin medallions served over truffle root-vegetable hash, topped with baby green beans and fried parsnips tossed in gorgonzola-sundried tomato cream, finished with a roasted shallot whiskey sauce.
Bielen uses all the local products he can. Bison, grouse, trout and the region’s famed huckleberries appear on the menu, along with more universal restaurant fare like sea scallops or spring lamb. These ingredients are likely to be prepared with contemporary French, Italian or Chinese touches.
A thousand or so miles to the south, near Tucson, Arizona, gourmet wine and food is also a focus at Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch, operated by Chef/ Co-owner Veronica Schultz and her husband, Richard.
The Hacienda, which is the main building on the ranch, dates back to the mid-19th century. But the building occupied by Rancho De La Osa’s Cantina has older roots, spanning to the late 1600s when Spanish Jesuit priests built it as a mission trading outpost. Since 1924, the property has been used as a guest ranch, and the Schultzes took over the reins in 1996.
Schultz relies heavily on traditional, local ingredients and gives them a modern culinary spin. “Southwestern food is not really heavily into red meat, probably because of the heat,” she says. “The Southwestern food that we do is lighter. We do a lot of pork tenderloin and chicken, fish. Our food doesn’t have a lot of cream in it. It’s oriented to fruit sauces and salsas made with chilies.”
Wine can play a leading role for chefs who are serious about Western food. In fact, wine has been part of Western cuisine for several hundred years, Kinney says.
“In the 19th century, New Mexico was a big winemaking region,” she says. “The Spanish people who came here loved wine and they brought grapes. In the missions, they had wine.” Kinney also adds that Westerners “imported a lot of French wine.”
Yet, because the food of the West is so diverse, there’s no single, definitive pairing strategy.
Dominic Orsini is the winery chef at Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars, in Oakville, California, whose owners, the Duncan family, also own Diamond Tail Ranch, a buffalo and Corriente cattle ranch in Colorado. Orsini often serves buffalo and approaches it like any other pairing.
This means accounting for the acidity, salt, fat and other influences of the dish and pairing it accordingly. Orsini particularly emphasizes umami, the rich, savory flavor that comes from naturally occurring glutamates in foods. Buffalo, for example, has a meatier flavor than beef, which calls for a big red wine, like the Silver Oak Cab. It’s also Kinney’s recommended pairing at The Fort.
“The tannins are well integrated into our wine, so the fat in the herb butter coats your palate and makes it hard for you to perceive them,” says Orsini. “Hence, the wine tastes soft. The herbs provide an aroma that mingles with the wine’s finish of oak, fruit and spice.
“When it comes to pairing wine with Western cuisine,” Orsini concludes, “the rules are pretty much universal.”
So be assured, city slickers: A visit to the mountains or the desert doesn’t have to mean deprivation.
Smoked Trout Crostini with Boursin and Arugula in Orange-Almond Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy Brian Bielen, executive chef at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
For the trout crostini:
2 (8-ounce) trout fillets, preferably ruby
trout, brined and smoked (brine recipe
6 ounces Boursin cheese
1–2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh-snipped chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 small, thin baguette
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1–2 bunches arugula, washed and dried
½ cup crushed toasted almonds
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
* Note: Pre-packaged, smoked trout can be substituted, with no brining necessary.
For the brine:
½ gallon cold water
8 ounces brown sugar
5 ounces kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seed
Juice from 1 orange or lemon
1 clove allspice
2 bay leaves
For the orange-almond vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons honey
1 minced shallot
Juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon minced orange zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
¾ cup olive oil or grapeseed oil
To smoke the trout:
To prepare the trout for smoking, create a brine by pouring the water into a large sauce pan, then stir in all the brine seasonings and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cool completely and strain. Place the trout into the brine and submerge it completely, cover and refrigerate for 3–4 hours.
Heat a smoker to high. Remove the trout from the brine and pat dry with paper towel. Gently place it on the smoker rack, close the lid and smoke the fish for 15–20 minutes or until firm and cooked through. Remove from the smoker and let cool.
To prepare the crostini:
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Mix the cheese, cream, chives and lemon juice until thoroughly combined. Slice the baguette on the bias, creating 12 oval pieces and toast lightly in the preheated oven for 7–8 minutes. Then rub the halved garlic clove on each piece.
Make the vinaigrette by combining the honey, shallot, orange juice and zest, thyme, vinegar and oil. Toss the arugula with the vinaigrette and the almonds.
To serve: Remove the skin from the trout. Halve the filets lengthwise; then cut each half on the bias into 3 pieces. Spread the cheese mixture on the toasted baguette rounds, top with 2–3 arugula leaves on each, followed by a piece of trout. Place 3 crostini on each plate and garnish the plates with the remaining arugula. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serves 4 as an appetizer.
Chappellet’s Napa Valley Chardonnay is a well-rounded crowdpleaser, says Mountain Sky General Manager Yancey Arterburn. It’s neither too oaky nor too Old World in style. The combination of fruit and slight creaminess nicely complements the smoked trout, garlicky spread and citrus-bathed greens.
William Bent’s Buffalo Tenderloin Filet Mignon
Recipe courtesy Holly Arnold Kinney, from her book, Shinin’ Times at The Fort: Stories, Recipes and Celebrations from the Landmark Colorado Restaurant (Fur Trade Press, LLC, 2010).
For the herb butter:
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons each chopped fresh
parsley, basil leaves, chives and cilantro leaves
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried leaf thyme
1½ teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1–2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
For the filet mignon:
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
½ teaspoon lemon crystals (citric acid or sour salt)
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 (8-ounce) buffalo (bison) or beef tenderloin steaks
Canola oil, for coating steaks
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon minced Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
To prepare the herb butter:
Place the shallot, garlic and all of the herbs into a food processor. Pulse on and off until puréed. Add the lemon juice and salt. In an electric mixer, combine the herb purée and butter and beat with the paddle attachment. Add the wine and Worcestershire and continue to beat until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Wrap the butter in plastic wrap, forming it into 2 logs about 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm. The herb butter may be stored in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
To prepare the tenderloin:
Preheat the broiler or grill to high. Combine the salt, lemon crystals and pepper in a small bowl. Dust each steak with the mixture, coating liberally on both sides, then brush lightly with the oil. (Be sure to oil after seasoning.) Place the steaks about 6 inches from the heat. Depending on the meat’s thickness, cook for 11–18 minutes, turning every 4 minutes, or until an instantread thermometer reads 135°F for medium rare. Because buffalo is so lean, it tends to be tough when cooked beyond medium rare, so be careful not to overcook it.
Sprinkle the tenderloins with parsley, if using. With a sharp knife, cut 4 (½-inch thick) slices of the herb butter, place one on each steak, allowing the butter to melt. Serves 4.
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is ideal with buffalo, says Chef Dominic Orsini. It has “the full-bodied structure, strength and depth of flavor to stand up to umami-rich foods like bison.”
Piñon-Crusted Chicken with Cherry-Chipotle Sauce
Recipe courtesy Chef/Co-owner Veronica Schultz, Rancho De La Osa. The recipe was selected by the Arizona Centennial Commission as the entrée for the official Arizona Centennial Menu.
For the piñon-crusted chicken:
1½ cups lightly toasted piñon (pine) nuts, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup bread crumbs
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup flour
8 chicken breasts, lightly pounded with a meat mallet
½ cup olive oil
For the cherry-chipotle sauce:
1 cup canned Bing (dark) cherries, drained and rinsed or frozen Bing cherries, thawed
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup ruby Port
1 whole chipotle chili in adobo, rinsed
To prepare the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the piñon nuts, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, basil, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl and mix. Pour the flour into another shallow bowl. Beat the eggs in a third shallow bowl. Dip the chicken breasts first into the flour, then the beaten eggs and then the piñon mixture, making sure to coat each breast evenly. Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Carefully place the breaded chicken breasts into it in a single layer and cook for 4–5 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown and just done. Transfer to an oven-safe container, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven.
To prepare the cherry-chipotle sauce:
Combine the cherries, sugar, Port and chili in a small pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Blend with an immersion blender until puréed and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.
Drizzle the warm sauce over the chicken. Serves 8.
For more dude ranches with excellent wine and food programs, click here.