Friday, March 29, 2013

Bunny chow de chivo, Tejano-style.

Quarter chivo. Texas-style bunny chow. © Ryan Schierling
I was at the fancy grocery store a while back, and there was a little girl in the bread aisle throwing an unfettered hissy fit. "I don't want to eat the ends of the bread!" she cried at her mother. Mom looked confused. "What?" 

"I DON'T WANT TO EAT THE ENDS OF THE BREAD!!!!" the girl shrieked again. Her mother shook her head, grabbed her daughter's hand and, still somewhat puzzled, explained earnestly "You don't have to eat the ends of the bread."

The little girl crossed her arms indignantly and scowled. "Good. Because only poor people eat the ends of the bread."

I wanted to grab a $40 jar of Bar-Le-Duc red currant jam, hand-seeded with a solitary goose quill, and throw it at her precious little head. Not only do poor people eat the ends of the bread, sometimes they repurpose the empty plastic bread bags to put over their kids' shoes when they're out playing in the snow. I might have some deep-seated childhood issues about that one, but I will still make a sandwich out of the heels of the bread if that's what's left. Waste not, want not. 

As for what poor people do and do not eat, some of those back-of-the-pantry, scraped-together, day-before-payday, simple meals are the best things you will ever put in your mouth. However fancified by restaurants in the last few years, soul food and comfort food all come from the deep roots of poverty, part and parcel. 

From what I've read, bunny chow comes from some dark days in South Africa. During apartheid, take-away curry dishes were served to ostracized sugar-cane-plantation-working Durban Indians out of the back doors or windows of cafes and restaurants. Traditional roti would fall apart, so loaf bread was cut into quarters or halves, hollowed out and filled with their favorite curry. The portion of the bread pulled out from the loaf, called the "virgin," was put back onto the loaf as a lid. No utensils were used, patrons traditionally just picked and plucked bits of bread to sop up the curries. Wrapped in newspaper, the Banias – an Indian caste – ate this staple enough that it was their "chow." Bania chow became bunny chow.

The spicy curries were originally vegetarian, with broad beans or sugar beans – but mutton, prawns, beef and chicken eventually made their way into the rotation. I really thought about making proper curry, but there are a million recipes for authentic (and inauthentic) bunnies, so I kept this one close to home and went Texas-style chili, which might as well be Texas-style curry. The chili is chivo, with two pounds of Windy Hill Farm goat meat, and plenty of peppers. Don't question the black beans, I said Texas-style, not Texas red.

I commissioned the bread, specifically looking for a cheap, squishy, sandwich, white-bread-style crumb but with more of a maize flavor. Thankfully, there's a wonderful baker in-house, and Julie brought some solid science to my corny serving vessel. It has a fantastic, soft, fine texture – with bits of corn meal – to soak up flavors, and the crust is nice and sturdy to hold all of your chili bits in without disintegrating. What I ended up with was chili and "cornbread" in the best possible way. This is... the chivo bunny. 

(Note: Poor or not, you're going to want to eat the ends of the bread on this one.)

Chivo Bunny Chow 

For the goat marinade:
8 dried guajillo chiles, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, then covered with boiling water for 20 minutes
5 garlic cloves
1/4 cup cider vinegar
5 whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 of a white onion, diced
6 sprigs fresh thyme

Remove guajillo chiles from water and remove stems, seeds and membranes. Put chiles and all other marinade ingredients except diced onion and fresh thyme into a food processor or blender, add 1/2 cup water, and puree until thick and smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Stir in diced white onion and thyme. Mix well with the goat meat and marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight if possible. 

For the ancho chile paste:
4 dried ancho chiles, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, then covered with boiling water for 20 minutes
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water

Remove ancho chiles from water… same treatment as above. Put chiles and all other ingredients into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Using a spatula, scrape into a bowl and set aside. Makes 1-1/2 cups.

For the chivo chili:
2 pounds goat meat, for stew (1" to 1-1/2" cubes)
1 large white onion, diced
4 jalapeño peppers, seeds and membranes intact, diced
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 14.5-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups ancho chile paste (above)
1 12-ounce Negro Modelo (or other dark Mexican beer)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon kosher salt
juice of 2 limes

After the goat has marinated for a bit, brown it in batches in a large Dutch oven (or stock pot) at medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove the meat to a large bowl and set aside. Add the onion and jalapeño to the goat juices and fond left in the Dutch oven, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the goat, tomatoes (with juice), ancho chile paste, black beans and beer to the pot. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Add the paprika, cumin and woozy, stir well. Simmer for 3 hours, then test the goat meat for tenderness. The smaller pieces should fall apart, and the larger ones should have a nice tooth, but not be tough. Taste the body of the chili and adjust salt – it took me a good four more pinches of kosher salt to get where I needed to be. At this point, the chili might taste a bit… what's the word… dirty? Highly spiced, perhaps overly so. Add your lime juice. At the end of the cook, this fresh acidity reigns everything in and provides the balance necessary for the dish to work. Stir well, taste, and add a little more salt if you need to. If it's not spicy enough for your palate, God bless you. Add a good shakin' of crushed red pepper, stir again and call it good.

(L-R) Guajillo goat marinade. Homemade corn sandwich loaf. Chivo bunny. © Ryan Schierling
This next step is what takes things over the top. If you like to make bread, or even if you don't like to make bread but have baked bread in the past, this is the proper sandwich loaf for chivo chili bunny chow. If you're not feeling adventurous, find an uncut loaf of sandwich bread (honey wheat would be nice) and use that for your bunny. 

For the Wonderfully Corny sandwich loaf:
12 grams (3 teaspoons) active-dry yeast 
15 grams (1 tablespoon) sugar
118 grams (1/2 cup) warm water - 110º F to 115º F

600 grams (5 cups) bread flour
120 grams (1 cup) yellow corn meal
30 grams (3 tablespoons) instant corn masa flour
30 grams (1/4 cup) potato starch

30 grams (1/4 cup) non-fat powdered milk
90 grams (1/4 cup) agave nectar
59 grams (1/4 cup) water
40 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter 
12 grams (2 teaspoons) kosher salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature, gently whisked with fork
160 grams (1 cup) frozen sweet corn kernels, minced in food processor

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with sugar, stirring together in the stainless bowl of a stand mixer. Allow to sit for 15 minutes until foamy.

Using a kitchen scale, weigh the flour, corn meal, masa and potato starch and whisk together gently in a separate bowl. (Although all of the ingredients are listed in grams, these four dry items are the most critical to be weighed for accuracy.)

In a small saucepan, mix together the powdered milk, agave, water, butter and salt. Warm to lukewarm on a very low burner, stirring frequently, until the butter has melted. Remove from heat.

Add the lukewarm milk mixture, eggs and half of the dry mixture to the dissolved yeast. Mix together using dough hook (on speed 2 of a KitchenAid) until the flour starts to become incorporated. Add the minced corn to the remaining dry mixture and toss together. Continue adding the remainder of the dry mixture, about a cup at a time, until all is added.

Continue mixing (on speed 2) until the dough clings to the hook and cleans sides of bowl, then continue to knead on speed to for another 2 minutes.

Turn dough out onto very lightly flour dusted cutting board surface and give a quick knead two or three times. Then, using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out into a rectangular shape and roll up like a jelly roll from the short end. Repeat this process of flattening two more times - you should notice the dough stiffening up on the last pass. Form the dough into a ball and return to the stainless mixing bowl greased generously with olive oil, turning to grease top. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place, free from draft, for about one hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Gently "punch" dough down with your fingers, starting around the edges, and then turn dough out onto your cutting board surface and shape. For two regular loaves, split dough in half with a knife or dough scraper. Avoiding using any flour to dust the board, shape the loaf by rolling dough gently into a rectangular shape with a rolling pin and then tightly rolling "jelly roll-style" (lift gently and pull if necessary) the dough to form the loaf. Tuck the ends in and pinch closed the seams and bottom edge.  

Place each shaped loaf in a greased pan. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place, free from draft, for about an hour. Bake in 400º F oven for 30-35 minutes (for dark pans, reduce heat to 375º F). Loaves are done when they reach an internal temperature of 200º F and are golden brown on top. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

Yield: 2 loaves.

Cut the loaf into quarters (or thirds, depending on your bread pan size). Pluck out the interior of the loaf so you can fill it up with chili. Save the bread from the innards of the loaf (the virgin) and serve it alongside your bunny chow. 


  1. While I'd prefer the veggie curry, I think this is such a brilliant idea! Poor people are smart.

    I think I would have shared your desire to chuck some fancy jam at that little princess. I hope her mama took the time to have a serious talk with her about WHY poor people have to eat the ends of the bread, and how she's fortunate not to have to if her pretty little heart doesn't desire it.

    Sometimes raising children with privilege is a hard gig! Well, it's hard if you don't want them to grow up to be douches, I mean. My little is only 2, but I can bet we'll have our share of these conversations...

    1. I started out researching the original veggie curries used for bunny chow, Lauren, and was going to go that route with a traditional Durban recipe. But then I saw there were tons of posts already out there and wanted to do it a little different... a little Texas-style. It would definitely be delicious with a veggie chili as well, especially with that corny bread.

      We have cats that are privileged, and rather spoiled. At least one of them is a douche. They don't want to eat the ends of the bread either, but they will lick the hell out of a stick of butter if left on the counter....


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