Sunday, July 22, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: South Dakota I - Chislic-in' Good!

Just as I saw with North Dakota a few months back, South Dakota is a state whose foods are based in Germany, Eastern Europe and the Sioux and other Upper Great Plains peoples.  The next few recipes will bear that out.  And in a nice contrast to South Carolina's very complex recipes for Lady Baltimore cake and shrimp and grits, one of the most popular state-specific foods of South Dakota is chunks of fried beef on toothpicks.

Wow, that's hard to make.

Official Name: State of South Dakota
State Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State
Admission to the US: November 2, 1889 (#40)
Capital: Pierre (8th largest)
Other Important Cities: Sioux Falls (largest), Rapid City (2nd largest), Aberdeen (3rd largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Plains; West North Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsBisonPinyon Nut
Bordered by: North Dakota (north), Minnesota (east), Nebraska (south), Wyoming & Montana (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: fry bread (bread), honey bee (insect, for the honey), kuchen (dessert), milk (drink), ring-necked pheasant (bird), walleye (fish), Western wheat grass (grass, though I imagine few people drink the wheat grass concoctions popular with health nuts elsewhere in the country),
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Native American foods, especially those of the Great Plains (wojapi, fry bread, Bannock bread, and so on, as well as traditional foods such as pemmican and wahuwapa wasna); German and Eastern European foods, including kuchen & chislic 

The cuisine of South Dakota - as opposed to its northern neighbor - is quite unknown to the rest of us.  It's even conspicuously absent from Roadfoodies Jane & Michael Stern's 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late, that otherwise comprehensive compendium of anything to eat in the lower 48.   Had they ventured anywhere in the state they might have found such delicacies as these (see South Dakota Magazine's blog post "What We Eat. How We Eat. Who We Are." for more):

* German, Danish and Eastern European foods, like Danish pancake balls known as æbleskiver (again: South Dakota Magazine has a feature on them - these intrigue me, but I would need to shell out the big euros for a special pan just to make them, so no æbleskiver).
* The most notable of the German dishes is the state dessert kuchen, that German cake recipe for which there are many variations: apple, peach, blackberry, cream cheese, custard and so forth.
* traditional and modern foods of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Sioux, and other Native American peoples of the state.  Note for example the delicious wojapi, that berry pudding that I tried to make back when I examined Nebraska, or bannock bread, basically an oven-baked (and therefore somewhat healthier) version of fry bread.
* walleye, the state fish
* milk - because South Dakota, like so many other states, wanted something exciting for its state beverage (to be fair, many states - including my own - don't even have a state beverage.  No, hons, it ain't Natty Boh.)
* steak, because South Dakota is a beef state.
* corn, because South Dakota is also a corn state
* chislic, because South Dakota Okay I'll bite, what the hell is that?

Simply put, chislic is cubed beef or mutton, sometimes breaded, sometimes seasoned, always fried and skishkebab'd or served on toothpicks.  It looks like a pretty simple dish to make.  According to Rich Preheim writing for - once more! - South Dakota Magazine, chislic was introduced by Russian immigrant John Hoellwarth.  A century later, it is an extremely popular and even important part of life in the southeastern corner of the state.

However it’s prepared, chislic sells. Papa’s Restaurant in Freeman serves up to 3,000 chislic sticks a week. Rachel Svartoein, whose grandfather sold chislic at a corner store south of Freeman for many years, provided 1,200 sticks for her high school graduation reception. At Marion’s 125th anniversary, the Jaycees sold 4,000 sticks on the first night. The chislic stand at the Turner County Fair in Parker sold 40,000 in 2004.
Chislic is simply an unquestioned thread in certain community fabrics; yet it remains a mystery meal, its origins unsure. Even theories and myths are difficult to find. “I know there are sheep in other places, so why chislic is popular here and not there, I don’t know,” said Papa’s co-owner Susan Letcher. [Preheim 2005]
That's right: chislic is almost as unheard of in the rest of South Dakota as it is in the rest of the country.  But it's a pretty simple dish to make, and shouldn't it be better known in the US?  I mean, what's more American than fried meat on a stick?

The Recipe: Chislic

Since it's such a simple dish to make, there is much room for variation.  Cheri McSpaden [2008] of the Holland Sentinel seeks out various chislic recipes that include anything from a garlic and soy sauce marinade to a Worcestershire sauce marinade, each of which sounds awesome.  But this even simpler recipe from Tasty Kitchen user "globetrotter" [2011] just fries up meat - "lamb, beef, venison, goose—any game meat, really" as he or she says - and sprinkles it with garlic salt or Lawry's seasoning.  I decided to mix and match these various ideas for the chislic recipe below.

* beef chunks (in this case, Angus top sirloin "fondue style" beef chunks, $8 per lb.  I got about 7/10 lb for around $5.60.  This is probably smaller than the meat chunks they would use for chislic in South Dakota, but hey it works for me)
* oil for frying (still getting lots of good use out of that big jug o' rice bran oil)
* garlic powder (since I have no garlic salt on hand; Lawry's is also used frequently)
* toothpicks (yes, my seemingly unending font of rainbow toothpicks that I stick into the little flags is coming in handy for actual eating - these will be your utensils).

I zhuzh'd it up, as I was inspired to do from the Holland Sentinel piece, with some soy and Worcestershire sauces for an impromptu marinade

If your beef is not already conveniently pre-chunked, go ahead and cut it into cubes now.  When ready, marinade it in the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, if you're inspired to do so (or for what I gather is the "authentic" way to do this, skip this part entirely).  Let it marinade for half an hour.

Heat your oil to deep frying temperature, and get ready to drop the beef chunks in (some preparations call for dredging the beef in flour but I figured short and simple would be nice for a change).

Fry those beef chunks up.  Bigger chunks will take about three minutes; these smaller, fondue-sized ones only took about one and a half.

Drain on a paper towel.

Sprinkle with garlic powder, garlic salt or Lawry's seasoning.

Or hell, any old thing.  That shaker of adobo seasoning is just itchin' to get used.  Maybe I should have tried it with Old Bay for that matter, which is probably unheard of in chislic country.

This is perhaps one of the easiest things I have made for this State by State project, apart from that sweet tea from one of my Florida posts.  So I am surprised that this isn't more common, since when you think about it this is - again - about as American a snack food as I can think of: chunks of meat, fried.  That's it.  And it is an addictive little snack food.  Even when just opening the fridge looking for something else I might snag one or two of these little things to eat.  Quick, fattening burst of energy.  And with all the different seasonings out there, you really can experiment with different flavors.


Globetrotter ( user).  "Chislic (South Dakota Treat)".  Posted January 21, 2011.  © Copyright 2006-2012, The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond). All rights reserved.

Guthmiller, Trevor T. "Cookin’ Kuchen: Naming a German Pastry the State Dessert Adds Spice to Life in McPherson County".  South Dakota Magazine, February 2004, 58-61.  Posted on the "Germans from Russia Heritage Collection" website (North Dakota State University Library).

Johnson, Laura. "Viborg's Pancake Balls".  South Dakota  Posted June 21, 2012.  Copyright 2012 South Dakota Magazine.  All rights reserved.

McSpaden, Cheri. "There’s not much to chislic".  The Holland (Michigan) Sentinel website ( Posted December 1, 2008.  Copyright 2012 The Holland Sentinel.  All rights reserved.

Preheim, Rich.  "The Chislic Circle".  South Dakota  Originally printed in the July/August 2005 issue of the print issue of the Magazine.  Copyright 2012 South Dakota Magazine.  All rights reserved.

South Dakota Magazine.  "What We Eat.  How We Eat.  Who We Are."  South Dakota (posted on the magazine's blog).  Posted August 26, 2010.  Copyright 2012 South Dakota Magazine.  All rights reserved.

State of South Dakota. "Chapter 1" of the 2007 South Dakota Legislative Manual.  Copyright 2007, State of South Dakota.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "South Dakota" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "South Dakota".


Laura Johnson said...

Wow! I've never been a source before. This could be the happiest day of my life.

Around here (Yankton, SD), chislic is usually mutton and is served on skewers with garlic or onion salt and saltine crackers. The bowl of chislic with the flag toothpick is quite appealing, though.

Let me know if you decide to explore lutefisk after all. My father knows the secrets of the fisk.

-Laura Johnson

John said...


I'm glad to have used you as a source :) I should have used mutton, but I went cheap. I played with the idea of lutefisk when I examined Minnesota a few months ago, but it looked too difficult. I may have to hit you up for some tips if I tread those waters!