By Kate Hull
Life in the mountains conjures up a certain aesthetic. And when it comes to the feeling of a home, we gravitate toward rustic décor with modern touches and other staples that say without question, that your dwelling is meant for life out West. While a beautiful home invites a cozy, welcoming mountain experience, be sure you’re not leaving out possibly the most lived-in room in your space—the kitchen!
From Bozeman-made products and regionally sourced pantry favorites, to tools and gadgets aplenty, Scott Mechura, executive chef at Lone Mountain Ranch’s Horn & Cantle, said a mountain-style kitchen is as much about the tools and ingredients you’re using as the style of food you’re cooking. Mechura’s deep-seated knowledge of mountain cuisine spans more than two decades of time in the Gallatin Valley, with a stint in Texas thrown in the mix. He was the opening chef at the Timbers in Island Park, Idaho, and executive sous chef at the Yellowstone Club.
Suffice to say, he knows a thing or two about mountain cuisine, how to best prepare it and what he wants to see in the kitchen when he’s at the helm.
Stock up on local cuts
For Mechura’s must-haves, he starts in the freezer and pantry. “Some of the [Mountain West] staples are wild game, freshwater fish like salmon and trout, and a plethora of berries and fruit trees,” he said. “We love smoking and curing and using a lot of grain. When you incorporate all these things together, that’s Northern Rocky Mountain cuisine.”
In southwest Montana, the home cook has access to amazing, hearty game like elk and bison. Grocers stock Montana-based game, and the availability of online markets provides access to a plethora of mail-ordered high-quality meats. While Mechura loves elk, he tends to stock his freezer with bison. “I recommend bison because it is higher in Omega-3,” he said. “If you are stocking your kitchen, load up your freezer for lean times ahead.” Stop by the Big Sky or Bozeman farmers markets in the summer, the Bozeman Co-op and check out online marketplaces such as RegenMarket for more local meats.
Fruits, sauces and glazes
While meat and potatoes reign supreme in the mountain valleys, no true Northern Rocky Mountain cuisine is complete without a bit of fruit, from glazes and sauces to desserts and marinades. “Huckleberries are something that is really fun to have in stock in your fridge or freezer,” Mechura said. “They are very popular to harvest in the summer and then use fresh or freeze for the winters. They are great in everything from syrups to jams to drying and using in your granolas.”
Mechura loves to make a tart and delicious huckleberry sauce with red wine and bison stock. Add a hefty supply of Fathead Lake cherries or farm-fresh plums to round out your fruit supply.
Adding sophisticated full-flavor to any dish, Bozeman-based Black Boar Truffle is a crowd pleaser that’s delicious and versatile. Jazz up any dish with a hint of the earthy and mushroom-like umami from each truffle variation. While this savory spice is known as a delicacy, Black Boar Truffle makes the celebrated taste a bit more approachable and affordable with its Black Perigord truffle powders and truffle-infused soy sauce.
“Black Boar Truffle imports French truffles, but they make all the products locally in their facility from soy sauce to seasoned salt,” Mechura said. Mechura uses truffle salt on Horn & Cantle’s steak and fries, among other recipes. For the perfect wow-factor addition to a night at home, sprinkle truffle salt onto fries or meat, or jazz up a charcuterie board with a surprising local fruit or jam.
Add a little heat
“We love our smoked fish,” Mechura said. And smoked meats, or even vegetables! Whether it’s enjoying a warm spring day or soaking in the late summer evening, time spent on the porch smoking and grilling up a meal is an extension of the kitchen, and a mountain must. “In a perfect world, a gas grill is perfect and convenient in the winter,” Mechura said. But when you have to take it outdoors, options like the Big Green Egg grill or a Traeger smoker allow for perfectly cooked, smoky, charred meats grilled to perfection.
“A charcoal or wood grill allows you to apply some smoke and direct fire to wonderful cuts of great bison and fish,” Mechura said. “Smoke salmon or a large Steelhead Trout for a delicious smoked fish.”
Used in the oven, on the campfire or on the stovetop, never underestimate the versatility of a cast-iron Dutch oven with a little added heat. Place it on your stove for an added pop of color to your kitchen décor as well as leaning into its usability as a go-to tool at mealtime.
Tools of the Trade
In the kitchen Mechura says, you don’t have gadgets, you have tools. And for whipping up delicious game and perfectly slicing accompanying vegetables, the right tools are essential.
“You can’t ever go wrong with a good quality set of sharp knives,” Mechura said. “It really is such an underrated tool.” Named “the Cadillac of its kind,” and celebrated by renowned chefs across the country, Victor, Idaho-based New West KnifeWorks is crafting stunning, American-made chef knives that are as impressively versatile and precise as they are gorgeous. And while adding a set of expert knives is a must, keeping them sharp is arguably just as important.
“It’s not a twice a year thing to sharpen your knives or spend an entire afternoon [occasionally] sharpening them,” he said. “You need to sharpen your tools 10 or 15 seconds every time you use it.”
No chopping or dicing could be complete without a tried-and-true food processor. While this tool might not be as sexy as a set of stunning knives, Mechura explains that it is just as important for whipping up a hearty dish post-mountain adventure. His go-to dish in the processor? A savory chimichurri that comes together in five minutes flat thanks to a food processor. Add heaping dollops atop local beef or protein of choice.
Stocked and prepped for an evening at home, get ready to cook up mountain cuisine to delight and surprise the palate. And when you need a night off, there are always the pros like Mechura in your local kitchens ready to show you how it’s done—sharpened knives and all.