In the 1920’s in Osage County, Oklahoma, the richest people were being murdered. They were Osage Indians, wealthy due to shrewd negotiation with the Federal government over mineral rights: oil that was beneath the surface of their land. While they had power in the form of great wealth, there were unscrupulous people, mainly white men, who ruthlessly plotted to get control of that money, stopping at nothing, not even murder, to achieve their goal. This was also J. Edgar Hoover’s opportunity to make a name for himself as director of the fledgling FBI, and dignify the work of the orgnization by solving these murderers. This put a lot of pressure on the man whom Hoover assigned to solve the case, Tom White, in a time when systematic investigation of crimes was just beginning. Prior to this, ordinary citizens assumed the burden of investigating crimes and maintaining order. When a crime was discovered, a coroner’s inquest, led by a justice of the peace, convened at the scene of the crime. In the case of the Osage murders, the people who came to investigate were largely white men. The justice of the peace selected the jurors from those gathered at the scene. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century, after the growth of industrial cities and urban riots, that police departments emerged in the U.S. The book details all of the players involved in those early inquests, Tom White’s later FBI investigation, and the author’s own research, creating a narrative of criminality that is both infuriating in its racism, and shocking in its portrayal of the length to which people will go to satisfy their greed.
Since this was nonfiction the author didn’t wax poetic on the beauty of the landscape, so I took the liberty of looking up places of interest in Osage, Oklahoma, and found the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Images of bison like the one below appeared. My husband was fortunate enough to have seen them up close and personal on a cross country trip in his youth. He has talked about their size and power so enthusiastically that I hope one day to see them myself. Currently their stable population renders their conservation status as “near threatened.” I hope that it stays that way or improves so that I, too, can be impressed by these truly American behemoths.
There was no food in Killers of the Flower Moon, so I googled Osage Indian recipes, and found my way to an article about a restaurant called Tocabe in Denver, Colorado. It is owned and operated by a member of the Osage tribe and his partner. The restaurant was featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Using the information from that video, other Osage recipes, and a little experimentation, I came up with the following recipe. It looks more intimidating than it is.
CHICKEN INDIAN TACOS
Osage Fry Bread
Makes 8 breads
2 C all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 T honey
1 C milk
Canola oil for frying
Heat milk and honey in a small saucepan or in the microwave until lukewarm.
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into mixing bowl. Stir in the milk-honey mixture and stir until dough is formed. Do not overwork the dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board. Cut into 8 equal pieces and form into a round ball. Let set for 15 minutes on counter.
Roll each piece into a flat round and cut a small slit in the center.
Heat the oil in a fry pan to 370º. Fry 2 to 3 pieces at a time until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
2 C hominy, drained and rinsed ¼ C lemon or lime juice
½ red onion, finely diced 1 T canola oil
2 tsp cumin 1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp mild chili powder ¼ C finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp sugar ½ C dried cranberries
1 serrano chili, seeds removed salt
and finely minced pepper
Add all ingredients and stir well to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Achiote Marinated Grilled Chicken
*2 oz. achiote paste (ground annatto) ½ tsp ground cloves
seed paste) 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T vinegar, white or red 1 tsp kosher salt to taste
2 T canola oil 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 T honey
mayonnaise, 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, water
Put all ingredients in except salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix to combine. Then add salt and pepper. Add mayo and water and stir to mix. Put thighs in marinade and refrigerate for 24 hours.
* I couldn’t find commercially produced achiote paste, so I used the recipe below.
Achiote Paste Recipe
¼ C annatto seeds* (found in the Goya section of my supermarket)
1 T coriander seeds
1 T dried oregano
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 tsp salt
5 cloves garlic (peeled)
½ C bitter orange juice (or 1/4 cup regular orange juice plus 1/4 cup Mexican lime juice or ⅓ cup white vinegar)
Grind the annatto, coriander seeds, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and cloves in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. (You also can use a coffee grinder to do this, but as it will leave the seasoning flavor behind, make sure you do not plan to use the grinder for coffee again.)
Place the ground spices and the salt, the garlic, and the bitter orange juice in a blender and process until it is smooth.
Store your achiote paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Grill chicken on medium high heat to sear, and finish in a 350º oven for 15 minutes.
ASSEMBLE CHICKEN INDIAN TACOS
fry bread hominy salsa
black beans green chilis (canned)
grilled chicken chopped red onions
chopped lettuce chopped tomatoes
grated cheddar cheese diluted sour cream to garnish
Assemble ingredients in the order above. Put a half cup of sour cream in a small bowl and mix with a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it. Put in a squeeze bottle and drizzle thin lines of sour cream over the filled taco.
Yes. This was a lot of work, but fun in exploring new tastes and cooking techniques. And it was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.