The World's Second Greatest Chili Recipe [Note 1]


INTRO

I'm assuming that you don't know any more about cooking than I do, which as anyone who's ever tried anything I've ever made (excepting, obviously, chili) will tell you is as close to nothing as one guy can get. So the following is written in very basic instructions. It's not that I'm trying to patronize you, I just don't know how to explain most of this stuff any other way.

In any case, if you stick through to the end, pay attention, and don't get impatient, you'll not be disappointed with the results.

Now one of the first things you'll probably notice is what's not included below. There are no beans and there is no pasta (e.g. macaroni, spaghetti, or whatnot) in this chili --or for that matter in any other real chili. Recipes that include such abominations are more properly classified under the rubric "Hamburger Soup".

At the other extreme there are those who insist that Real Chili[tm] contains only two ingredients; meat --the older and tougher the better-- and chilis[Note 2]. Now I'm a purist but I'm not a fanatic. Tomatoes and onions have their place. Finally I'm not one for overly hot food. Don't worry this chili is plenty of spicy. On the other hand I've never understood the point of food that hurt. But we'll talk more about this later.

OK, so first let's talk about the stuff you'll need...


THE BASIC INGREDIENTS:

Meat:
4 lbs lean beef (2 lbs. ground beef --the more coarsely ground the better-- and 2lbs stew beef)

Vegetable matter:
4 large onions
2 large cans whole tomatoes (the ones about 3in in diameter)
2 medium cans tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato paste
3 large stalks celery
2 large green bell peppers

Spices:
1 3oz jar Gebhardt's Eagle Brand Chili powder [Note 3]
2 or 3 large cloves of garlic
salt, coarse-ground pepper, oregano
1oz Salsa [Note 4]

Miscellany:
Cooking oil, water.


IMPORTANT NOTE:

The above ingredients are for a HALF BATCH. Note that this is still a lot of chili. If you're adventurous (and have sufficient resources --see the discussion about the Pot below) and wish to try for a full batch double the amount of meat and increase the other ingredients to about 1 1/2 to 2 times the amounts listed above. The real trick here is cooking that much chili at once. Which leads me to a very important topic...


THE POT

The chili pot is typically the most underrated player in the whole routine. Most of these points should seem obvious, but it's amazing what some people will try (and having been through most of these diasters myself... well, just trust me on this one).

First the pot has to be big. My pot --which, again, I use for the half batch recipe-- holds about 5 to 6 quarts filled to the brim. This allows for a comfortable fit with the half-batch, but not a lot of room to spare. Save yourself a lot of grief and check you pot now to make sure it's big enough. You can try splitting the batch up into a couple of smaller pots, but I've never had much luck with this. Chili seems to require a certain "critical cooking mass" to taste right.

Second the pot has to be heavy. Cast iron or some such. The chili is going to be cooking and simmering for a long time and needs a uniform, constant heat. Using your Mom's big old canning kettle is the surest road to disaster I know. Likewise avoid aluminum like the plague. Don't try to rationalize this away by telling yourself you'll keep stirring the chili so it won't burn. This won't work. I know, believe me, I know.

One final note: If you can get yourself one of those old wooden spatulas or pancake turners, you find it real handy.


PREPARATION

So first (obviously) we got to get our stuff read to cook.

1] Chop up the vegetables (onions, green peppers, celery).

The bigger the cutting board and the knife, the better.

I like to chop these up pretty small. I mean, don't get carried away, 1/4in chunks should be fine. The idea here is that once they're cooked down they'll just dissolve into the matrix of the chili, all very zen- like.

The real problem here is the onions. They don't seem to bother some people (e.g. my wife) but they near to kill my eyes. I have an old pair of motorcycle goggles that I use for woodworking that I wear when chopping onions and that seems to help. My aunt used to swear by holding a burned match between her teeth. Folk remedies abound here. Try what works for you. The best I can suggest to space them out. Chop an onion, then chop the green pepper; then an onion then the meat... etc.

Wash the green peppers, cut out the stems and dice them. Finally be sure to get rid of the celery leaves (they can be really bitter).

Put all this stuff in one big bowl.

2] Chop up the stew meat.

This should be left pretty chunky. The ground beef, once it has cooked down work great for the "paste-y" portion so the stew meat will by the "meaty" part.

Cut this into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes (remember that it's going to cook for quite a while so it will be pretty tender by the time you eat it). Get as much of the grissle and fat out as you can --there'll plenty there without it.

3] This is good time to open your cans.

This will save time later while you're throwing stuff in the pot.

4] Finally split the chili pepper in half, lengthwise.


TIME TO START COOKING

1] First take one of your cloves of garlic [Note 5] , peal it and dice it up as finely as you can. Once you are done, lay the flat of your knife on the chopped peices and "crush" the garlic.

2] Put a couple of tablespoons of the cooking oil (I just use regular old vegetable oil) and coat the bottom and --this is important-- sides of your pot. (I usually just take a paper towel and wipe it around the inside). The bottom should have a nice layer of oil.

3] Put the pot on a low heat and add the garlic and half of the chili pepper.

4] Once the oil starts to sizzle a bit, stir the the garlic and pepper around for a minute or so, then pour in the onions, bell peppers and celery.

Turn the heat up a bit and keep stirring. You'll know you've cooked them long enough when the onions become sort of limp and glossy looking ("transparent" is the technical term).

5] Now it's time to start adding the meat. Turn up the heat to high and put in a quarter of the meat and keep stir and turning the meat until all the pinkness is gone from the meat. Repeat, until all the meat is cooked.

6] With the heat still high, stir in the chili powder and the tomato paste and tomato sauce.

(I find that the easiest way to get all of the paste out is to first open one end of the can. Then, while holding the can over the pot, opened-end down, use the can-opener to start opening the top end. When you've finished making the circle all the way around the can, push on the now-free top lid and the paste should start sliding out of the can, more or less in one "tube". This is usually a lot easier --and a lot more efficient-- than digging the paste out the can. Lastly don't forget to take the can's lid out of the chili.)

7] Now add the salsa (1 tsp), salt and coarse-ground pepper.

The salt and pepper are art of personal taste. I like a lot of salt -- usually about 1 1/2 heaping teaspoons (actually I use a small scoop in the palm of my hand). The amount of pepper is a good way to control the "hotness" of the end result. As I say above, I tend toward the milder end of the spectrum; I usually go with 3 or 4 good dashes. In short it's always easier to add more later if needed than to take it out if you put in too much.

8] Finally add the cans of tomatoes.

(Some folks recommend adding an extra canful of water at that is point. I usually skip this. On the other hand, remember that the chili is going to boil down quite a bit.)

Also notice that putting the tomatoes (with all that water) in last helps keep down the mess caused by splashing.

9] Stir the chili up well (breaking up the tomatoes if they need it).

10] Chop up the remaining garlic (1 or 2 large cloves) and sprinkle it on top. Give a good, healthy dusting of chopped parsely. Finally stick the remaining chili pepper half into the chili and turn the temperature down to a good simmer.

(Here's another decision point based on personal taste. I prefer to let my chili simmer uncovered. The problem is that if the chili is too near the top of the pot and there's a lot of bubbling and splashing this can get pretty messy around the stove. On the other hand, if you put a lid on the pot it can heat up on you pretty fast. So play it by ear.)

11] Let the chili simmer for a few hours (3-4 is probably a good minimum). Keep it at a nice slow simmer (one or two small bubbling points is good sign) and stir it every 15 minutes or so.

CRITICAL ==> Be careful it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

12] This is the secret ingredient (and the hardest part): Refridgerate overnight. This seems a waste now, but this does wonders for the flavor.


SERVING THE CHILI

Reheat the chili over a moderately low heat and serve in big, hefty bowls.

Keep the coarse-ground pepper handy in case some folks want to fine tune. (I like to eat my chili using salteen crackers as/instead of a spoon, but this probably just a personal quirk.) Coleslaw is usually a good side dish. Another personal favorite around our house is grilled cheese sandwhiches. Something sweet also goes well with the chili --a good excuse for making big cakey chocolate brownies.

Needless to say you'll need lots of something cool to drink. Long necks are traditional, but my personal favorite is Dr Pepper.


VARIATIONS

Stangely enough, meat is probably the biggest variable here. I don't think, for example, pork would work very well, but some folks have claimed to have had a lot of success with various game meats. I haven't had much experience with that, but I have made some nice chili with turkey (particularly useful for when fixing a batch for friends who can't --or prefer not to-- eat beef).

Another thing some people swear by is to add something sweet to the chili. A proffessor I once had used to dump in canned peaches. Another guy I know suggested chocolate. I've never tried any of this, but I have to admit that the idea does sound interesting.

Well, that should do it for now. Enjoy. Let me know how it goes.


NOTES:

[Note 1: The designation "World's Second Greatest" should not be taken to imply that better chili can be found anywhere else or under any circumstances. However, the Chili Gods look askance on (unmerited) hubris and one must always take care not to draw down their wrath.]

[Note 2: And can only be truly enjoyed when eaten in bar with a pickled armadillo --I'm not making this up-- on the shelf behind the bar.]

[Note 3: Gebhardt' Eagles Brand Chili Powder is the best chili powder I know. It really is special and the powder is one of the most important ingedients in the chili. Unfortunately Gebhardt's seems to be only available in Texas; I don't know if you can get it else where. If you can't get Gebhardt's you'll just have to experiment. I don't know what else to tell you. Sorry.]

[Note 4 : Salsa, if you don't know --which I didn't when I started-- is a spicy tomatoe sauce. As Texmex/Mexican food makes its way increasingly into mainstream culture this becomes easier to find, so check your grocery store. On the other hand lots of people like to make their own (like Albert) so check your friends, too.]

[Note 5 : Garlic. This sounds like an old joke, but just in case... A clove of garlic is the small piece, about the size of the last segment of your little finger. The whole thing --the cluster about the size of an egg-- is called a head. Don't get the two confused. More than one person has made that mistake.]


29JUNE96
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