Ahhh, Autumn. My third most favorite time of the year. A time of retiring as the trees change colors in fiery waves across the mountains, birds begin their southern migration to warmer climes and that most elegant of sports, American Football, starts anew. Fall is also a time of heartier foods made to warm you from the inside, from heavy turkey dinners laden with stuffing, potatoes and casseroles to stews chock full of meats and veggies. This brings me, conveniently, to one of my favorite fall foods, Chili.
Chili, more accurately ‘chili con carne’ dates back to at least 16th century when Spaniard Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a Conquistador stated that the Cholulan Indians were so assured of their coming victory that they had already prepared large vats of tomatoes, salt and chiles. The only missing ingredient was the meat, which was unluckily provided by the Conquistadors themselves in the form of their own flesh (Wikipedia).
I’ve made many different chilis over the years, some good, some, well, not so good. I’ve never made mine with meat from dead hookers or Spaniards, but I have tried various substitutes from various ground meats to diced bits of venison, steak, pork, chicken and veal. I’ve used chiles of different strengths from simple Jalapenos all the way to raw habanero and Scotch Bonnet. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve lost my youthful taste for things so hot your lips burn for hours after, but I still enjoy some tasty, tasty nuclear fire in my chili.
This last batch started off fairly easily. In a large skillet, I browned a pound of ground sirloin and a pound of ground pork. To this I added onion powder and minced garlic to taste. Once browned, I drained off the grease and dumped the whole mix into a large slow cooker, adding in two 15 Oz cans of diced, fire roasted tomatoes, 1 can of black beans, one can of dark red kidney beans and my first bit of inspiration, a can of chickpeas. Next came a whole onion, diced. This was stirred and the crock pot was set on low for about an hour to let things start getting warmed up.
After things were good and hot, I added in about three tablespoons of brown sugar, and then oregano, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, ground mustard and chili powder to taste. I also added in a fair amount of fresh basil from my gardens. Keep in mind when you add this that it will taste one way after adding the ingredients in, and then different after it’s cooked a while and the flavors have had a chance to mingle and have their own key party, each ingredient going off to a seedy motel room with another based purely on who has had too much to drink at the party.
Speaking of drinking, at this point, I had a lot of ingredients, but the whole mix was a bit dry for my taste. I needed some liquid but I wasn’t sure what to add. So I sat down with a glass of Famous Grouse whisky which inspiration number two hit me. So I added in whisky from the bottle and splashes of worcestershire sauce to taste. This I stirred, enjoying the savory aroma and left to stew in drunken debauchery for another couple hours.
At this point, the chili had been cooking on low for about 3 and a half hours and was coming along nicely, but something was missing. It needed a certain bit of tang, that drunken frat boy that comes in and starts yelling in the party goers’ faces. Yeah, that guy. Something that will stand out and give it a bit more punch. So in went white wine vinegar until I had a nice tangy, whisky flavored concoction of meats and beans and onion.
I was finally happy that things were well on their way from an awkward Spring Formal where the boys stand in one row across from the girls in frilly dresses, rocking on their heels, afraid to make the first move, uncomfortable in their Sunday suits picked out by mom for the special night to becoming a full on orgy of flavor that would make even Caligula look on in envy. The crock pot was set to high and off I went to let the kids discover each other on their own for a few hours.
It was almost the end of the dance and the band was all out of tunes. The latecomer finally made it to the party. One whole red bell pepper, chopped into little bits. Sweet, crunch, and a nice compliment to the onion and beans. But something more was missing. Something to tie it all together. The chili had spice, it had zing. It was meaty and beany and tomatoey and full of crunchy bits of onion. Something still wasn’t right. Then I thought more about great Caligula. He lived in Rome. Rome is in Italy. Italy makes that magical elixir that competes with the French called wine. I still had a good bit of Ruby Port sitting there, and I thought, “why not?” The kids are already drunk on the whisky, why not top it off with a port wine night cap. So I added port wine but something still was missing. Some elusive ingredient to make the flavors pop.
In the end, it was that simple girl next door, the one no one notices, who is secretly a freak, making you wish you’d known back then what that actually means. Her name was Salt. Just a little bit of freshly ground sea salt mixed in and the flavors exploded forth. So once more, stir, stir, stir and the mix was left to sit uncovered on High for another 90 minutes or so. This allowed the water to evaporate a bit, turning my amazing pot of chili from a soup to something more hearty, thick, oozing flavor, filling up the special chili spoon that I got years ago from a the Marlboro Man, before he died from lung cancer.
In the end, it all came together, a chili unlike any I’d made before. A new recipe, thrown together into one giant melting pot. Dirty hippies, meat eaters, lustful ladies and giddy school boys all together in one ballroom, drinking whisky and wine, dancing, fighting, fucking and intermingling under the glass dome until it was finally time to be scooped into bowls and devoured by me. Party’s over, now I’m gonna eat ya.
1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground pork
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
The following added to taste:
white wine vinegar
Mix that all up, cook for about 4 hours on low, 2 hours on high, then 1.5 – 2 hours more on high with no top to evaporate the liquid. When it’s cool enough to eat, dig in.