Cookoff Chili!

Mom gave me a great cookbook for Christmas some years ago that was full of the “Best Recipes of 1999,” according to someone. About the only thing I’ve made more than once is a chili recipe, although I’ve played with it to the point where it’s now another “standard fare” item in the Recipe Box. You, too, can play with it to your heart’s content. Just make sure to include the most special ingredients and techniques, and you’ll have everyone oooh-ing and aah-ing for more. Recently, a friend who just won a chili cookoff told me never to enter any contest he was in! High praise.

This recipe is highly configurable. There are all kinds of ways you can tweak it to make it your very own. I am hoping to spawn a whole new generation of great Chili Cookoff recipes here. Have at it!

After years of experimenting with different chili recipes and after getting into this flavor thing, I think there are a few things about this recipe that are essential to develop maximum flavor and to create a truly luscious chili.

  • First, brown the heck out of the meat. Water is the enemy of flavor. Browning = flavor. It’s amazing how much water is in meat.
  • Second, sauté the heck out of the vegetables. And use lots of vegetables.
  • Use lots of spices, blended and added together.
  • For liquid, use a whole bottle of really good beer plus broth. Guess it figures that Shiner Bock is a good choice here.
  • To finish, embellish the chili with frozen corn and garnish with fresh green onion, and/or sour cream. Serve over great cornbread (recipe under “development” in Dad’s test kitchen).

OK, here’s the recipe.

  1. Meat: I’ve used steak and pork tenderloin, ground chuck, chicken and even lamb. Buy the best organic or natural of whatever you choose. However, if you’re using beef, get 80 or 85% fat content. Ground chuck is a good choice. Sometimes I buy whatever they’re selling as a mixture for meatloaf.
  2. Saute the meat in a dutch oven in a little olive or canola oil for a long time – until all the moisture is cooked out  (especially important in ground turkey, which contains tons of water), and you get serious browning.
  3. Remove the meat to a bowl.
  4. Add diced vegetables to pot with a little extra olive oil if needed. Onion, celery, and bell pepper (any color) are essentials. For 2 lbs. of meat, I add a whole, large yellow onion, one bell pepper and 2 stalks of celery. Add a little salt and pepper and cook for 10-15 minutes until vegs are real soft and browned. Use their moisture to scrape up the brown bits from the meat. I usually also add one jalapeno pepper, minced. To jalapeno, or not to jalapeno, that is up to you. Add 1 large for 2 lbs meat unless you know you want more or a different pepper variety. The amount and type of fresh pepper and the amount of cayenne pepper in the spice blend will determine the heat. You may already know what heat level you’re looking for. If not, proceed with caution. I suppose dried pepper flakes would work fine, but have never tried because this seems like an Italian thing to do, so I save the pepper flakes for pasta sauces.
  5. While the vegs are cooking, mix up a spice blend in a small bowl. Dad’s basic chili spice blend is:
    • 1/4 cup chili powder
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried coriander
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried cumin
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground if possible.
  6. When the vegs look about ready to move on, add 3 large cloves garlic, minced, and cook for a minute more.
  7. Add back the meat.
  8. Add in the spice blend. The amount you made above is what is specified for a total of 4 lbs of meat. So, you can add as much as you want and store the rest. But don’t under do the spices because they will lose a lot of their punch in the long cooking that’s ahead.
  9. Add 16 oz of your favorite bottled salsa, or if you don’t have salsa or not 16 oz., make up the difference with canned, diced tomatoes.
  10. Add a 12 oz bottle of beer. I’ve tried a wide variety. The one you choose will make a difference in the eventual flavor, so pick something you like!
  11. Add 1 1/2 cups stock or water, or enough to cover everything. I use low-sodium, organic chicken stock usually.
  12. Stir well. Cover the pot. Simmer for two hours.
  13. Remove cover. Cook for another half hour or until desired consistency is reached.
  14. Turn off heat. Add 1-2 16 oz cans beans. Kidney beans. Chili beans. Black beans. A mixture. Whatever.
  15. Add 1-2 cups frozen corn kernels.
  16. Stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.
  17. Place in frig overnight (if you can stand it). The chili will improve for several days.
  18. To serve:
    • Place crumbled tortilla chips or cornbread in the bottom of a bowl.
    • Scoop chili on top.
    • Garnish with at least one of these: shredded cheddar or Jack cheese, chopped green onion (scallions), fresh cilantro.
    • Microwave to melt cheese.
  19. Eat. You will be so happy. And the more you’ve invented your own variations, the happier you’ll be.

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