The American Series, Pt. II — Chili

Many a cook has been judged on the quality of his or her chili. Whole lives on the cook-off circuit have been made or ruined based on their deftness of hand with garlic and chili powder.

Last year, I almost entered the local Malibu Labor Day chili cook off. I may do so this year. There’s something decidedly appealing and American about these events. Every municipality, from the upscale resort to the redneck town, has one. It’s a ritual all Americans, regardless of political views or socio-economic status, can participate in. If I entered, I would be utterly unconcerned with winning or losing. That’s not what it’s about. (Although I would try really hard to win.)

Here’s a variation on my own chili recipe. (I can’t give away all my secrets — I might wind up facing you at the chili cook off, taking me on with my own recipe!) I know in Texas using beans is sacrilege. But this is California, mates — not Texas. With the addition of ingredients like borlotti beans and heirloom tomatoes, my chili is admittedly a bit uptown. But in the world of chili, you gotta stand out.

Have some friends over for Memorial Day, serve this chili with some homemade corn bread and cold Mexican beer. Sit under a tree while the kids eat watermelon, and talk about old times. Enjoy!

*   *   *

Chili con Carne
serves a whole bunch

2 lbs chuck steak, cut into cubes
1 large white onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
canola oil
2 cups chicken stock
2 large heirloom tomatoes
3 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 cup dried borlotti beans (or red kidney beans), soaked overnight
2 tbsp. dried ground red pepper (pasilla or California)
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour)
salt & pepper

Place soaked beans in a pot with 2 cups water, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour. Remove from heat and set aside, reserving any liquid in the pan.

In another large pot, drizzle some canola oil over medium heat. Brown steak cubes on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add onions and cook until wilted and golden, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and beans with their liquid. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove lid, add spices, lower heat to medium-low and continue cooking covered for another 30 minutes. Add corn flour, and cook for another 15 minutes. Using a wood spoon, break up steak chunks. Uncover and continue cooking for 15 to 45 minutes to thicken. Or, if chili seems too thick already, add 1/2 cup water or more as needed, and cook as described to desired consistency.

*This chili actually gets better if it’s left to sit in the fridge for a day or two. So you can make it ahead of time and reheat it later. It’s also good over a baked potato and sprinkled with grated cheddar and chopped raw onions.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    May 13, 2011 @ 02:44:37

    So…the thing I’ve found with chili is that it has to be MORE than a carne (and bean) stew of sorts…there has to be that sort of THICKNESS… that sort of Dennison’s chili togetherness of ingredients to REALLY be considered chili (otherwise it may as well be stew). This is what I’m always trying to negotiate. Do you think the masa does that magic? I’m looking through your recipe and thinking, “Okay…what makes it chili-ish?”


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    May 13, 2011 @ 02:46:03

    BTW…I make a MEAN Tuscan white bean chili…


  3. mom
    May 13, 2011 @ 15:10:46

    I like chili over white rice or a big fat hot dog with cheddar cheese and lots of onions. I make a pretty good vegetarian one but would ridden out of a cook off on a rail if I showed up with that.


    • scolgin
      May 13, 2011 @ 16:52:13

      I’m with you on the hot dog. Leslie had it over a baked potato for lunch yesterday and said it was out of this world. I think vegetarian is fair play.


  4. Monica
    May 13, 2011 @ 16:50:38

    we should have a Colgin chili cook off!


  5. Monica
    May 13, 2011 @ 16:56:52

    both! 🙂


  6. Lisa Gaskin
    May 14, 2011 @ 02:15:13

    ha…that does not include us…good thing cuz we might wipe you’all out! 😉


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