Recipe: A dish fit for a chili evening
The conversation started off civil enough. I was enjoying a cold one at the neighborhood watering hole when the subject of chili came up.
I listened with interest as a few of my male pals spoke of their recipes, and how they concoct this favorite dish. And then I noted a subtle change in demeanors. Friendly jabs suddenly turned tersely heated, and the easy flowing camaraderie switched to a more competitive mode. In the blink of an eye, I found myself elected to the position of chili judge.
Inwardly I groaned. It’s not that I don’t like chili-but when someone throws down the gauntlet and proposes a cook off, and you are the deciding factor of determining the chili champion of the neighborhood-well, that’s a lot of responsibility. However, this is not the first time I have been a food judge. Why people think my taste buds are more discerning than anyone else’s I have no clue, but I figured if these chili cookers consider me qualified to judge their contest, so be it. I’ll give it my best shot.
And just so I can appear somewhat knowledgeable about this food competition, I decided maybe a little chili research was in order. Come to find out, chili comes from some pretty humble beginnings and surprisingly, it did not originate in Mexico. No, it got its start in Texas. In fact, “chili con carne” is the official dish of the state of Texas, and was designated as such by the Texas legislature during its regular session in 1977. In Texas they call it “a bowl of red”, which consists mostly of ground up meat, heavily spiced with pepper, and naturally, chilies. That’s pretty much it. No beans, no vegetables, no tomatoes.
It makes sense that this concoction would start out with such modest beginnings. Early documentation states that this simple dish was put together to feed many people cheaply. It was a staple during the depression, and served from “chili shacks,” where a bowl was a nickel and the crackers were free. Inexpensive meat was usually used, along with peppers and spices, and together it was cooked for long periods of time. This rendered a soul-satisfying “soup” that could feed a crowd.
However, such an uncomplicated mixture screams for a personal touch, and throughout the years cooks have been doing just that, although chili purists insist that “if you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.” I find this statement surprising, because for my entire life I have been eating chili with beans. In fact, my mom’s chili recipe could suitably called “Ground Up Hamburger and Lima Bean Soup.” I have to admit, as a kid I wasn’t a big fan of this version.
However, as time went on, chili became more popular throughout the country. In fact, many famous restaurants were renowned for their chili versions. Take for instance Chasen’s Restaurant in Hollywood. Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor all loved to dine at Chasen’s back in the day, and especially savored the chili there. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor was once filming a movie in Italy and ordered a case of Chasen’s chili to be shipped to her on location. Sadly, Chasen’s closed in 2000, but I did a little more research and found a recipe for their chili, which I included for this week.
I doubt Chasen’s chili will be on the menu, though, when it comes time for me to judge the neighborhood chili cook-off in a couple of weeks. I know one entrant in particular chefs up a very hot version, and his cooking mantra is “I use a LOT of jalapenos,” and another pal told me he buys a concoction called Black Mamba Extreme Venomous Hot Sauce, which I don’t think he dashes on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
So along with all this research, I’m also preparing my gastrointestinal tract for the big day and I’m wondering, does anyone have any Pepto-Bismol they could spare?
Chasen’s Famous Chili
1/2 pound dry pinto beans
28 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large green bell pepper chopped
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 cups coarsely-chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup butter
2 pounds beef chuck, coarsely chopped
1 pound pork shoulder, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chili powder
1 Tbs. salt
11/2 tsps. pepper
11/2 tsps. ground cumin
Rinse the beans, picking out debris. Place beans in a Dutch oven with water to cover. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand one hour. Drain off liquid. Rinse beans again. Add enough fresh water to cover beans. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, for one hour or until tender. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Simmer five minutes. In a large skillet, sautè bell pepper in oil for five minutes. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the garlic and parsley. Add mixture to bean mixture. Using the same skillet, melt the butter and sautè beef and pork chuck until browned. Drain. Add to bean mixture along with the chili powder, salt, pepper and cumin. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for one hour. Uncover and cook 30 minutes more or to desired consistency. Chili shouldn’t be too thick – it should be somewhat liquid but not runny like soup. Skim off excess fat if necessary, and serve.