Ground Unbound: Spicy Gooking with Ground Meats

Fiery Foods Manager In the Kitchen with Chile Peppers Leave a Comment

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Ground Unbound, Part One

Ground Beef

Southwestern Stuffed Red Bell Peppers With An Attitude

Ground Pork

Chorizo Criollo

Ground Lamb


Ground Game

Venison Chili

Ground Poultry

Chicken and Poblano Chile Terrine

Ground Seafood

Louisiana Crab Cakes with Fresh Tomato and Chile Tartar Sauce

My sisters and I were brought up on the most basic ground meat dishes: hamburgers, meatloaves, and sloppy joes, which were, for the most part, boring convenience foods that were fast and cheap to prepare. I always thought that such dishes could be more creative, so during my cookbook writing career, I have collected and experimented with releasing ground meats from their pedestrian background and sending them into the culinary stratosphere. By using a wide variety of spices, I have tried to take these recipes to this new dimension. I have also liberally used chiles and chile powder regardless of whether of not they are traditional.

In the past, it was mostly chefs who added fresh herbs to the dishes because they always had access to them. Today, however, fresh herbs are available in grocery and specialty stores all year round, and home chefs are discovering the taste dimensions they have. I always have an abundant fresh supply because I grow them in whiskey barrels, close to my kitchen door. During the winter, I grow them in pots in my greenhouse.

Home cooks are more adventurous with the use of sauces and accompaniments than ever before. This is probably the result of the barrage of great cookbooks and cooking shows on television, as all the chefs are telling us how to create restaurant-quality dishes in our own kitchens. In the past, sauces were something we made for special occasions, but now many of us whip them up for the family dinner. The bottom line is that the home cooks are better educated about cooking and are definitely more adventurous than our mothers were.

We are constantly bombarded by the media telling us to cut down on our consumption of meat. Part of the beauty of using ground meats is that less meat is required per serving because, in most recipes, there are so many other ingredients added. They increase the nutritional value of the recipe to create a high protein dish without an excessive amount of meat. And, less meat means less fat, providing that you are careful about draining off the fat.

Besides the health benefits, using less meat also translates into saving money. By using ground fresh or cooked meats, you have the basis for numerous tasty casseroles, loaves, and skillet dishes, costing much less than basing a meal around a single, large hunk of meat.

There are other advantages to using ground meat. One reason is convenience; a ground meat meal can usually be prepared fairly quickly even if it requires lengthy baking because you can be doing other things while it cooks. Easy storage is another added attraction. When freezer space is at a premium, ground meat takes up very little room. If there are some leftover cooked chicken breasts, grind the cooked meat in a food grinder or processor and freeze it for a ravioli filling.

When you are freezing ground meat, always make sure that it is securely wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap before placing it in a labeled plastic freezer bag. Place the package next to the side of the freezer, so it will freeze faster. Try to avoid freezing vast quantities all at once; it takes longer to chill them down to the freezing point.

When you are working with ground meats, it is important to have the work area as clean as possible to avoid contamination, starting with the thawing process. I use a sprayer mixed with half bleach and half water for the counters and the cutting board, and I always use paper towels which can be thrown away. Always remove the meat from its wrapping and the freezer bag before defrosting.. The fastest way to thaw the meat is to place it on a clean plate and thaw it in the microwave. Another method is to place the unwrapped meat on a clean plate, cover it loosely with foil and thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. After handling the meat, always wash your hands with hot water and soap to avoid cross-contamination of the other ingredients.

Along this same line, always scrub the cutting board after the meat has been on it, and before you use it to cut up other ingredients. If you are grilling the meat, use a clean plate or platter for the meat when it is cooked; don’t ever use the same plate because it could have bacteria on it.

Enough warnings! Now it’s time to explore the world of Ground Unbound!

Ground Beef

Southwestern Stuffed Red Bell Peppers With An Attitude

The attitude comes from the green chiles–they definitely add the spice and heat for this otherwise ordinary dish. I like to stuff a small wedge of jalapeño Monterey jack cheese into the center of the pepper just before it’s finished cooking. That adds even more “attitude”!

  • 1 pound lean ground beef

  • 1 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce

  • ½ cup chopped green chiles

  • 1 cup cooked rice

  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin powder

  • ½ teaspoon ground thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground savory

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 5 large red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, roasted over flames, skins removed

  • 5 small wedges of jalapeño Monterey jack cheese

Brown the beef in a large skillet. Add the onion and the garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Drain or blot off excess grease. Add one can of the tomato sauce, green chiles, rice, cumin, thyme, savory, salt, and pepper to the sauteed meat mixture and mix well.

Stuff the meat mixture into the bell peppers. Place the stuffed peppers in a shallow glass baking pan, so they are all stacked against each other and won’t fall over. Pour the second can of tomato sauce into the pan. Add enough water to bring the liquid depth up to ½ inch. Tent the peppers with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, basting the tops of the peppers with the tomato sauce base.

Add a wedge of the cheese into the center of each pepper when they are almost finished baking.

Yield: 5 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Ground Pork

Chorizo Criollo

Even though this dish requires marinating overnight, the rest of the preparation is easy. It makes a spicy, fast meal, and you can fry it up and serve it at breakfast with eggs. Or, scramble some eggs, mix in the cooked chorizo, add shredded pepper jack cheese, and wrap in a tortilla for the best breakfast burrito you have ever tasted. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 2 pounds boneless pork

  • 1 pound round steak

  • ½ pound fresh bacon (available at natural food markets)

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin

  • 6 peppercorns, crushed

  • 2 tablespoons hot red chile powder, such as cayenne or New Mexican Chimayo

  • 3/4 cup dry white wine

Coarsely grind the pork, round steak, bacon, salt, and garlic together in a meat grinder or food processor. If you use a food processor, take care not to grind the meat too finely, as you want the meat to have some texture.

Place the ground meats in a large ceramic bowl, add the remaining ingredients, mix thoroughly, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Fry the meat in a skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the meat is browned and no longer pink.

Yield: 10 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Ground Lamb


The lemon juice, the fruit, and the spiciness of the chile adds a real flavor dimension to this South African ground meat dish. I have no idea where the recipe title came from. Serve this dish with the rice and a fruit salad.

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 pound lean ground lamb

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • 1 ½ tablespoons curry powder

  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced

  • ½ cup raisins

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained

  • 1 tablespoon apricot preserves

  • 3/4 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeño chile

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 2/3 cup half and half cream

  • ½ cup fine dry white breadcrumbs (about 1 slice)

  • 1 cup milk

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • Freshly cooked rice

Heat the oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add the ground meats and cook until no longer pink, breaking up with a fork, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and stir until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Drain off all fat. Add the curry and garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Add the raisins, lemon juice, preserves, apricots, chile, and salt and stir until the mixture thickens and most of the lemon juice evaporates, about 5 minutes. Mix in the half and half and breadcrumbs. Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Transfer the mixture to a 7 by12 inch ovenproof glass baking dish. Whisk the milk with the eggs in a small bowl until thick and add the salt. Pour this over the meat mixture. Bake until custard topping is set, 35 to 45 minutes.

Serve immediately with the rice.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Ground Game

Venison Chili

This is the universally favorite way to prepare venison. Venison is quite lean yet very flavorful. It makes a wonderful chili that doesn’t have a fatty flavor. The slow cooking, chiles, and seasonings tremove any wild taste the meat might have. It freezes beautifully, so double the recipe and freeze a batch for another evening meal. Substitute elk if you wish.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 ½ pounds coarsely ground venison

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onions

  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

  • ½ cup cooked, coarsely chopped bacon

  • 3 small jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons ground New Mexican red chile

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 12-ounce can beer, dark preferred

  • 1 12-ounce can tomato paste

  • 1 16-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and brown the venison. Add the onions, garlic, and cooked bacon. Stir in the peppers, chili powder, cumin, oregano and salt.

Add the beer, tomato paste, and stir in the drained beans. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to prevent burning and to combine flavors. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer the mixture for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Heat Scale: Medium-Hot

Ground Poultry

Chicken and Poblano Chile Terrine

Jim Heywood, from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, can always create something special for the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show. He is one of the most popular chefs at the show, and there are always some of his former students in the audience cheering him on. He prepared this recipe at one of his cooking demos at the show, and the audience mobbed him for the recipe! Yes, this terrine takes some time to prepare, but it is definitely worth the effort. Serve this on slices of interesting breads and crackers. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • ½ ounce butter

  • 2 ounces shallots, chopped fine

  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine

  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeds and stem removed, minced

  • 1 pound ounces lean raw chicken meat, chopped

  • 8 ounces fresh pork fatback, no skin

  • 1 ounce sherry wine

  • 1 raw egg

  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped oregano

  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

  • 1 tablespoon mild New Mexican red chile powder

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground Tellicherry black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

  • 2 ounces heavy cream

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch chunks

  • 2 ounces lean ham, 1/4 inch dice

  • ½ ounce butter

  • 2 tablespoons stock

  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine

  • 4 poblano chiles, roasted and peeled, seeds and stems removed, cut into ½-inch pieces

In a large skillet, melt the butter and saute the shallots, garlic, and jalapeños, until they are soft. Place this mixture in the refrigerator until it is cooled. Once it has cooled, mix it with the chicken meat, pork fat, and wine. Keep refrigerated for a minimum of six hours or overnight.

Grind this mixture through a 1/4 inch grinder, mix well, grind again through 1/8″ grinder.

Add the this meat mixture the egg, oregano, cilantro, chile powder, salt, Tellicherry pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, and heavy cream.

Mix well and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch saute pan and saute the chicken and ham pieces. Brown the pieces well. Remove meat from the pan and pour off the excess fat.

Deglaze the pan with the wine and stock.

Reduce the deglazing liquid to approximately 2 tablespoons.

Pour this liquid over the browned meat and mix well. Add the poblanos and allow to cook..

Combine the cooled garnish with the refrigerated ground meat mixture until mixed well. Refrigerate this mixture.

Pack this mixture into a 2 to 3 pound loaf mold. Cover with foil.

Bake in a hot water bath in a 300 degree F. oven or until an internal temperature of 155 degrees F is reached.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before unmolding and slicing.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings as an appetizer

Heat Scale: Medium

Ground Seafood

Louisiana Crab Cakes with Fresh Tomato and Chile Tartar Sauce

These delicious crab cakes are a wonderful way to use crab meat. The sauce is unusual and adds a dash of flavor. Serve the cakes with a spinach salad, garlic mashed finger potatoes, and fresh asparagus. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • Fresh Tomato and Chile Tartar Sauce

  • 2 cups mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste

  • 1/4 cup minced onion

  • 2 tablespoons minced drained bottled capers

  • 12 cornichons (French sour gherkins), minced

  • 2 fresh jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced

  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and minced

  • Louisiana Crab Cakes

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups milk

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1 pound crab meat, picked over, ground fine

  • ½ cup minced red bell pepper

  • 2/3 cup minced green bell pepper

  • ½ cup minced yellow bell pepper

  • ½ cup minced green onion

  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne

  • 3 cups fine, fresh bread crumbs

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • Lemon wedges for garnish

To make the tartar sauce, whisk together the mayonnaise, the lemon juice, onion, capers, cornichons, chiles, tomatoes, salt, and black pepper, and cover and chill the sauce for at least one hour or preferably overnight.

In a saucepan, heat the 6 tablespoons of butter over moderately low heat until the foam subsides, add the flour, and cook the roux, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a stream, whisking vigorously, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add salt and black pepper to taste and simmer the white sauce, stirring, for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the crab meat, bell peppers, green onions, cayenne, and the white sauce and let the mixture cool. Stir in 1 cup of the bread crumbs, shape the mixture into cakes using 1/4 cup measure, and dredge the cakes in the remaining 2 cups of bread crumbs, coating them thoroughly.

In a skillet heat some of the butter and oil over a moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking; saute the crab cakes, in batches, for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until they are just golden, and transfer them to paper towels to drain. Add more of the butter and oil as you cook the remaining cakes.

Serve the crab cakes with the tartar sauce and lemon wedges.

Yield: 20 cakes; serves: 6 to 8

Heat Scale: Medium

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Illustration by Harald Zoschke


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