Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chili, Interrupted

Everyone who has tasted it wants to know how to make my chili.

Seriously. Everyone.

So here it is, almost, as you shall see.

You start the night before with a couple-three pounds of dried small red chili beans, or half and half the small red chili beans and pink beans.

Don't use kidney beans, and whatever you do, don't even try using canned beans. Dried small red chili beans, and/or pink beans. Most supermarkets have them in the section with Mexican foods if they aren't with all the other dried beans. I buy them at the East End Food Co-op or one of the stores in Pittsburgh's Strip that sell Mexican foods or bulk dry goods.

You rinse the dust off of 'em, pick out any little rocks. (How do the rocks get into the beans? Seriously, how? I never have this problem when I dry beans at home.) Then put them in a great big stockpot and soak overnight in cold water.

Before you go to bed, and before midnight, you get online, go to the Bissell MVP contest website, and vote for Cole.

Next day, pour out the soaking water, rinse the beans well, and refill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer for maybe half an hour. Pour out the boiling water, rinse well again, add fresh water, and bring the beans back to a boil, then simmer.

When the beans are just done -- just about the texture that you want in your finished chili -- discard the second pot of boil water and rinse one last time.

Seriously -- two changes of water, both discarded, you won't regret it, because these beans will taste good and will not give you gas. They will not get any softer after you add the acid ingredients (tomatoes, tomato paste, wine).

Take a break, get online, and go vote for Cole, because you can vote once every day, and really, you ought to, oughtn't you?

While the beans are cooking, get out your biggest frying pan. Chop up three or four medium storage onions, chop or press about four or five big garlic cloves, and fry them up until the onions are wilted and a little bit brown.

I usually use peanut oil for frying, but this time I used lard. Yeah, lard. Because I serve the chili at parties and to guests a lot, and a fair number of people have peanut allergies. Nobody has a lard allergy. If you are making the veggie version, duh, don't use lard. Also, skip the next bit.

While the onions are frying, cut up about three pounds of beef or venison. This time I used chuck roast. Venison is better, but not everyone will eat it, so this batch is all beef. Cube the meat about the size of a die -- much smaller than for stew. (This is easier if the meat is partly frozen.)

Remove the puppy from your shoelace. Wash your hands. Use soap!

Put the onions aside. Brown the cubed meat.

Put the browned, cubed meat aside with the onions. Brown about three pounds of ground beef or venison.

Why, you ask, do you not brown the onions and all the meat together? Good question. Because I've got some big-ass frying pans, but none big enough to cook all that stuff in one go.

Throw the meat and onions in with the the rinsed, cooked beans. At this point I divide everything in half and start a second stock pot, because leftovers are everything with this chili, and there's no point making a small batch. Two big stockpots full make enough for a couple of dinners plus about five quarts of frozen or canned chili for later.

If you don't have two big stockpots, then just use half as much of everything.

Now add a quart or two of beef stock. (Use vegetable stock or miso if you are making the veggie version.) I use either homemade beef stock or this stuff,

which is not cheap hydrolyzed fake stuff, but real concentrated beef stock. For this batch I used some of each because I used up the last of the homemade.

Step carefully around the obstruction that limits access to both sink and stove.

Put the pot with the beans and stock back on the flame (low heat) and start throwing in the rest of the stuff --

Coupla big cans of tomatoes (crushed, chopped, whole -- doesn't matter)
Coupla small cans of tomato paste

Stop and observe the adorableness.

Get those pots up to a firm simmer.

Add the mystery ingredient.

The very important secret ingredient that makes it all hang together.

The one you just don't expect.

And I'm not going to tell you.

Unless Cole makes the finals in the damned vacuum cleaner contest. If he makes the finals and advances to possibly win big bucks for National English Shepherd Rescue, then I will come back and revise this post and reveal the secret ingredient.

So if you want to know, you will not only vote for Cole yourself, you will mail-bomb everyone you know, tweet, facebook harass, and blog to get them to vote for Cole so that your chili will also have that mysterious and authentic richness and body.

Cook this for a while, maybe a half-hour, hour. Stir from time to time. Remove food critic from field of play.

Wash hands. Use soap.

Now add about half a bottle of red wine or a bottle or two of dark beer. Either is good. Use more if the chili is a bit dry. If you run out of wine or beer, add more stock as needed. And start adding the spices:

Throw in the chili powder, cayenne, black pepper, white pepper (I was out of it this time), red pepper flakes, and cumin. Amounts up to you. Each pot gets at least a tablespoon of chili powder, lesser amounts of the other spices.

If you are making the veggie version, this is the time to add a cup or two of textured vegetable protein (TVP). Yeah, it sounds godawful. It isn't. It is a passable imitation of ground beef, texture-wise. Devoted meat-eaters like my vegetarian chili, and some vegetarians think I am trying to trick them. Don't overdo the TVP -- it really blows up when it gets wet.

My chili comes out moderately hot. I don't salt until about ten minutes before serving. Hot sauce is available at the table for those who want a hotter chili.

Serve with cornbread or stoned wheat crackers and any good beer.

Let the leftovers mellow in the pot in the fridge overnight. The next morning, get up, vote for Cole, and then portion it out into quart-sized containers. This chili freezes well. I will can it in a pressure-canner to save freezer space. Freezing is easier.


  1. I think you will have very dry hands unless you use a good moisturizing soap. :-)

  2. Dear Heather,
    I like your recipe for the second best chili in the world (and yes, I voted for Cole). The best (and much easier) follows:

    Sheepdog Trial Deer Chili

    cooking time est: 2hrs. Including mincing deer meat w/ electric grinder
    3 1/2 or 4 pounds ground deer (half a ham)
    5 medium onions
    6 cloves garlic
    5 pounds canned red kidney beans
    2 pounds canned garbanzo’s
    3 pounds crushed tomatoes
    1 1/4 bottles chili powder
    quart of stock
    teaspoon salt
    two tablespoons flour
    one tbs cumin seeds
    ground black pepper
    makes 1 1/2 gallons 20-30 servings

    Grind meat, grind onions and garlic into roaster top and fry in oil until soft. Add meat, stir until not gray. Add stock/beans. Start oven 325. Mix spices/flour etc. dry and add when ingredients are at a low bowl. Add tomatoes. Pop in oven until kidneys are soft.

    Donald McCaig

  3. Oh Donald, I'll cut you some slack this time, because you are from Montana.

    Canned beans. Sigh.

  4. For those of us who aren't too fond of beans, canned or dry tastes the same, lol. I've tried both, and the dried was not worth the extra time involved.

    Your chili does sound wonderful so far, can't wait to see what the secret ingredient is! ;)


  5. I can't believe that none of you put oregano in your chili! It's an integral part of chili powder and it helps add a nice herbal note to the chili. Plus, herbs are always good. :-)

    My "secret" ingredient (which I lifed from an old Frugal Gourmet book) is a tablespoon or so of Worchestershire sauce. It really brightens the notes.


  6. "I think you will have very dry hands unless you use a good moisturizing soap."

    Between @500 poop-related handwashes a day, wood stove, general winter crud, my hands look pretty much like this guy's:

    Today we turned a new corner, wherein it actually *hurts* to apply hand lotion, bag balm, etc.

  7. Ugh, how well I know about those hands. Lotion/ A&D/ whatever I put on hurts nearly all winter because my hands get so cracked open. I wash my hands at least 20 times every time I cook, plus being outside in the cold and taking care of the animals. Nothing seems to help except the arrival of spring...

  8. When I was about 25yo I looked at my hands and thought "I have my mother's hands!" (She was 60yo at the time!) Imagine what they look like now, 30+ years later! Working outside takes it's toll on your hands (and your face)!

    My criteria have changed a bit. I just want them to work! Your QUALITY of life shows in your face and your hands!


  9. My allergist just gave me some samples of a hand-cleaner and same-brand moisturizer that she recommends. Also told me to do the white cotton glove thing at night with hydrocortisone cream.

    Hers looked a lot like mine -- constant washing between patients.

  10. TVP? Could I use masa or Uncle Sam's Cereal or something?

    And as far as the hands go, I recommend Corona. They've just changed the packaging, but I'm hopeful the song remains the same.

    (BTW, voted for Cole every day, made my husband vote for Cole every day. Begged others to vote for Cole.)


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