When I think of chili I think of a bunch of cowboy boot and hat wearing tough guys standing around some frontier town with their guns ready to draw. Very intimidating picture, but seriously, I think of the 400 yearly cook-offs that take place throughout the country, each cook claiming the most authentic, the most balanced and correct version of a poor man’s stew. Also very intimidating. If I were to join one (even the one held yearly in Brooklyn!) would I be laughed out of the park? What can a girl with the Jewish-Russian background know of proper chili, but I actually think, I got this one in the bag. It did take quite a few experimental rounds but well worth it. So maybe next year, I will put away the intimidation and join the fight for the best chili in town, guns blazing and all.
Contrary to a popular belief chili did not originate in Mexico. If it did, it would still be there today, but it is not, aside from few touristy places. Chili was the poor man’s stew, the first colonist around South west in 1600 and 1700 hundreds would cook something known as “Spanish stew”, which was no more than a clay pot filled with scraps of meat, minced very fine, beans, bread and lots of local peppers. The meat was so expensive and hard to come by that it had to be stretched out by adding lots of other things. Also the meat was basically scraps, which were tough and required a long stewing process to make them palatable.
Chili is not a name of the dish, as there are thousands of ways to make it, but is named after the tremendous variety of chili peppers that grow in the South West region of US. The chili became more mainstream with the invention of the chili powder, which no one can claim as their own invention. It is believed that whoever invented the chili powder deserves a slot in history close to Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
I prefer to make Texas style chili, which is all meat and no beans. I played around quite a bit with meats and spices and finally settled on bison meat as I find it the leanest. I also find that it adds a bit of ‘gaminess’ to my chili, which I think it traditionally had.
Now comes the spicy questions, how hot can you take it? In the recipe below I give suggestions for adjusting the spice. Ultimately, everyone will come up with their comfortable level of heat. Just to clear things up, my family likes the chili very spicy, but since I normally cook for a bit of an extended audience, I try to tune things down just to please the majority.
Now another question is how to serve the chili. Some serve it over rice or pasta (shocked? This is how it down in Cincinnati). I totally think it should stay on its own with just a few condiments.
My best Chili
Note: the recipe below is for 4 lbs of meat. It can be easily adjusted up or down.
4 lbs of ground bison. You can substitute by using beef, but stay with a very lean ground meat.
2 med Spanish onions minced
5 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup of bacon finely sliced (Optional)
1 pint of beer (I like ale)
½ cup of olive oil
36 oz of crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup of beef stock
1 tbs of toasted ground cumin
1 tbs of smoked paprika
1 tbs of chili powder
1 tbs of Mexican style chili powder
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
½ tsp of ground nutmeg
1 tsp of ground ginger
1 tsp of cayenne pepper (optional - omit or half if trying to keep the heat down)
1 tbs of ancho chili powder
2 chilies in adobo minced (optional - omit or half if trying to keep the heat down)
2 tbs of adobo sauce
2 tbs of honey
2 tbs of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all dry spices and mix them together.
In a heavy bottom pot such as a Dutch oven, heat a bit of olive oil and brown all the meat in batches. Set aside. If using bacon, brown it until crispy and set aside.
Using the bacon fat, or olive oil sauté the onions on low heat until tender. Add the garlic and sauté a few minutes. Add all the dry spices and the canned chilies in adobo with the adobo sauce. Let cook a few minutes on low heat, stirring often.
Add the honey, soy sauce and beer and scrape all the brown bits of the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture cook for 3 – 5 minutes. Add back the meat and the bacon (if using), tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. The liquid should cover all the meat, if not add the reserved beef stock.
Cover and simmer for 2.5 – 3 hours. Stir once in a while to make sure the bottom is not burning. Half way through check for seasoning and add salt as needed.
The chili is best the next day after it had time to mull over in the fridge. I like to reheat and squeeze 1 lime into it just before digging in.
Serve with few corn chips, shredded cheese and scallions on the side. Avocado and sour cream also make popular condiments for chili, especially for those who need to cut the spice factor.
Of course a nice glass of beer doesn’t hurt either! Enjoy!