Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chili, an American Pastime

With September many things arrive: playoff baseball, cooler weather, and the greatest sport in the world, football. For me, the last two things mean it’s time for chili.

If you’re a fan of Good Eats, you’ve no doubt seen the episode The Big Chili where Alton describes the mysterious origins of chili. Like many food favorites, the origin of chili is unknown, but Alton is quick to point out that “chili is a very basic kind of food, made out of some very basic kind of parts”. I take that to mean chili needs a tough piece of meat, brisket.

On Oct 23rd, I wrote about my order of beef from Flying M Farm, and posted this picture of a lovely brisket.

I decided the best use for this hunk of beef would in chili, so I cubed it up.

I then set it aside and got to prepping the vegetables.

Alton may have said Chili was about simplicity but over time I’ve found that chili benefits from a variety of flavors. Here’s everything that’s pictured:

-2 white onions

-2 green bell peppers

-1 bulb of garlic

-4 homegrown pablano peppers

-4 jalapenos, seeds included

-6-7 baby habaneros – 4 seeded and deveined. I call them baby because they are from our garden and were from the end of the season

In addition to the fresh vegetables, I decided to use some dried peppers this time, 3 New Mexico chili and 3 California chili pods. I rehydrated them and chopped this like so.

Once you get all that vegetation chopped and diced, you end up with a bowl of color like this.

Pretty isn’t it?

Next step is searing the meat and that requires some fat in the pan. Since this was a special piece of beef, I figured vegetable oil was just too common place. What did I use? Good ole bacon grease was the answer.

So I started searing the beef in batches.

Ending up with a nice bowl of beef

I know that some recipes will tell you to put in the vegetables in stages, but I don’t do that. I dumped the entire bowl of vegetables in at once.

Once the vegetables have softened, you can start adding the necessary spices and herbs.

-6-8 tablespoons of chili powder. I use spice island because my attempts to make a good chili powder have not gone well so far

-4 tablespoons of Mexican oregano

-1 tablespoon of ground cumin

-1 tablespoon of cayenne

Those amounts are nothing more than guesses, but once you put them all in, you get something like this.

I know it’s not attractive now, but it’s hard to make chili look good.

A key to good chili is the liquid you use. Sure you can use water, but why go through all this effort? I use a carton of beef stock and a bottle of shiner beer, a 99 helles in this case.

Now you’re getting ready for the long haul, I added the beef back into the pot.

I brought it to a boil, and then lowered it to a simmer and left it alone.

After about 2 hours

Here is how I differ from other chili recipes, I never serve/eat mine the first day. I let it simmer with the top off/ top on for about 6 hours the first day and then leave it on the stove overnight. I know that doesn’t sound very safe but if I put the chili in the fridge it would be too hot and make the entire fridge hot. Besides, chili is a dish that benefits from sitting. It gives the flavors a chance to meld and develop.

The next day I put the spurs back to it and get the simmer going for a few more hours.

This is how my chili looked right before serving.

Here’s the culmination of all that work, a big, steaming bowl of red.

This picture really shows how all that time has softened up the brisket, as it literally falls apart when you take a bite.

There you have it, a step by step tutorial on how I make my chili. However, I can’t guarantee the taste, like everything my family makes, the ingredients and amounts change each time. Also, no beans and absolutely no noodles, you can keep that mess up north.

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