It isn’t spring yet — let’s make chili!

January 27, 2009 at 11:07 pm 2 comments

Just when I was starting to think about the early crocus we should be seeing pop up in our front yard in the next few weeks, Old Man Winter sent a chilly reminder that we are still in his frigid grip. It snowed almost all day before turning into drizzle, which is sure to play hell on the roads, but no matter for now. We have chili.

It took me a while to come around to chili. It’s not a dish I grew up with, even despite the years we spent living in Texas.

But in recent years — after trying a lot of chili I didn’t like, and suddenly stumbling upon one or two I did — I’ve ended up with my own brand of chili, natch. It’s got plenty of heat, but not that bright BAAAAA SPICY heat; it’s that slow heat that warms you up from the inside out. When I was a resident assistant in college, my director — Mississippi born and raised — called it that “too damn late” heat, because by the time it hit you, you’d already swallowed it and it was too damn late. Still, this chili doesn’t have it so much that it sends you running for a glass of milk and a bottle of Tums. In my opinion (and my guinea pigs*) it’s just enough, and perfect for a snowy winter evening.

I think the real beauty of it is that the recipe is so simple. And always imprecise. It’s good to cook slow over a campfire, or a quick-fix at home (like tonight).


You can see how I cherish it.

See this?


This is why it’s so easy. The whole things starts with a pound of Mexican chorizo, and 1-1/2 pounds of ground beef. Have you ever tried chorizo? It’s a spicy sausage that’s wonderful on its own — but when you put it to work in other dishes, like chili, it makes your job a lot easier. Instead of adding loads of herbs and spices and chopping loads of peppers, all you have to do is slit the casings with a small knife and peel it off of the meat. Then I just give the meat a quick, very rough chop, and toss it in a pot with the ground beef to cook.


And while the meat is cooking, I turn on the oven and mix up this stuff. You’ll want to remember this for later.


Because the meat takes a good fifteen minutes or so, there’s plenty of time to chop some onions. I use Vidalias if I can get them, but any two medium sweet onions will do. I like to let the mellow sweetness of the onions act as a counterpoint to the brighter, spicy flavors. You can use red or yellow onions, but it just won’t taste the same.**

When the meat is fully cooked, I remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, and pile it up on a paper-towel lined plate. The pot should have bright red-orange fat left in it from the beef and chorizo. Fun color. Good flavor. I do not drain the pot, and instead use the fat to cook the onions, seasoned with a few pinches of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper, over medium-high heat until they’re soft and just turning translucent — about 5 minutes. THEN you can toss in the 4-5 cloves of garlic that you chopped, but don’t stir it up! Garlic burns easily, and burned garlic is not tasty, so I let it steam on top of the onions for a few minutes while I seed and chop 2-3 jalapeños.


This time around I used 2 jalapeños. Sometimes I use three. Sometimes I only need to use one. But please, oh please, taste them before you go throwing a bunch of spicy peppers into the pot. And wash your hands *really* well after you handle them. Especially if you’re going to rub your eyes.

I don’t use any of the seeds or inner membranes because I just don’t like too much of the bright jalapeño flavor. But you can use the whole pepper — seeds and all — if you want. Or if you want a smokier flavor, fresh poblanos work well too. I toss the pepper on top of the onions and let it steam for a minute, just like the garlic.

Then I simply add 3 14.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (juice and all), 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 5-6 tablespoons of chili powder (for that deep, slow chili flavor), a heaping tablespoon of cumin (warm and sort of woodsy), and stir it all together. And then I add the meat back in, cover and simmer over medium-low for 20-30 minutes.

When you’ve done all that — and this is the MOST IMPORTANT PART — you have to take a clean spoon from the silverware drawer, dip it into the chili pot, removing a small sample of the stew, and after letting it cool for a moment, you eat it. To make sure it’s good. Which it is, natch.


That’s me upside-down in the spoon. Hello! Hey, stop playing around — we’re hungry here. Dish that chili up into bowls.

And remember that sweet corn cake mix from earlier? It happens to come out of the oven just as the chili’s ready for plating — how serendipitous! So pile that sweet stuff on top (sweet corn bread would work too, but this stuff is gooey and mmmmm mmm! good). Then take a picture, because this won’t stick around for long.


*People, not really guinea pigs

**What’s with the candle on the cutting board? It’s a trick I learned from Alton Brown that’s supposed to keep the onions from stinging your eyes. The flame burns the gas or whatever that onions release when you cut them, before it can reach your face and burn your eyeballs out. Or something like that.


Entry filed under: Food. Tags: , , , .

Scientific Method: Monday And so it begins: The Sarahthon, Vol. 2

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Caitlin  |  January 28, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Sounds yummy!

  • 2. onewandering  |  January 28, 2009 at 11:21 am

    oh, that post so makes me wish I wasn’t still eating ramen and saltines… ;)


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