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What Is Chili Anyway? part 3)
(Food #4: January 18, 1999)

    Is it OK to brag about your own cooking? I hope so, because I'm about to do it. I just ate one of the best bowls of chili I've ever made. It's the second one like it this week. I got everything just right twice in a row.
    For a long time now I've been growing vaguely dissatisfied with my chili. It wasn't the chili powder that caused the problem. I've always used my own fresh Spider Cañon™ Southwest Style, Cottonwood™ New Mexican Style, and La Gallina™ White chili powders; and they're still as fresh and tasty as they've ever been. But the brew didn't sparkle like it should. It didn't exude that comfortable satisfaction it used to. When my younger, Kate, said "It's not very hot, Daddy," I thought, she's right— why isn't it hot any more?
    So I went back to the recipe and tried once more; followed it exactly. I discovered three errors I'd been making. First was the tomatoes. I'd fallen into the habit of making the chili by memory, and I'd gradually increased the amount of tomatoes instead of measuring them accurately. You can make great chili without tomatoes, but I love them. But too much of them in chili hides the fresh cumin taste. I made a note. Now, what about the meat?
    I wasn't using the salt properly. I was putting it in just a minute or two before I turned off the burner. Salt needs a little more time to develop the meat's flavor. I jotted down a second note.
    I was also not treating the meat right. I like chili made from diced chuck roast. It's the best in the world for chili, I think. Ground chuck is OK, too; but I really hadn't been extracting that great chuck flavor from either of them. Another note.
    This week I put it all together twice: great chili powder, good beef cooked well (and ground chuck at that), vegetable balance favoring the peppers and onions, more time for the salt to do its thing...and a better cooking sequence.
    I ate today's chili at work—cold, over cold rice. It's what I do on workdays. The flavors were there; the heat was just right—not too far back, right up about midway on the tongue where it belongs. It gave me one of those nice, quiet little rushes that say "Everything's OK; relax and enjoy. Take the time."
    Here's the final recipe. It's going into all my Spider Cañon™ and Cottonwood™ packages, as of today!

Spider Cañon Red Chili
    This recipe seasons 1/2-lb. of meat, enough for two or three medium servings of rich, mild to medium-hot chili. Start with:
  • 1/2-lb. chuck roast, cubed or ground coarsely
  • 1 strip bacon or 1 Tbsp. pork sausage
Fry the bacon or sausage until it is crisp. Crumble it and brown the beef in the fat until all the liquid it yields has simmered away. Skim off the fat and add:
  • 1/2 of an 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 3/4- to 1 cup water (rinse the sauce can)
  • (1/4-cup red wine–optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. masa harina
Bring to a boil and reduce to a very low simmer. Simmer, covered, for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Add:
  • 1 1/2-lb. packet Spider Cañon™ or Cottonwood™ Chili Powder
  • 1/4- to 1/2-cup red bell pepper or pimiento, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, cut in chunks (about 1/2-cup)
  • 1/2-cup fresh tomato, chopped, or canned, diced
  • several small pieces of well-smoked pepper or ham, diced,
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
Return to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer very slowly, covered, stirring occasionally, for fifteen minutes. Add:
  • 1 tsp. salt
Simmer very slowly, covered, fifteen minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add water or simmer longer to adjust consistency of sauce.

    While I'm about it, it dawns on me that I've never really said much about my three chili powders: Spider Cañon™ Southwest Style, Cottonwood™ New Mexican Style, and La Gallina™ White Chili Seasoning.
    Spider Cañon™ is a simple red chili powder with traditional Southwest flavor. I've carefully blended it to give a clean, fresh flavor with beef (and lamb, for some people), and a beautiful red color from red New Mexican peppers. Spider Cañon's a working chili, for everyday, not a show chili. This is a chili everyone can enjoy any time. Even the medium-hot blend sits on your tongue, not back in your throat, like some. After all, hot and harsh are two different things.
    I've proportioned the spices to do best with about 3/4-hour cooking. That way I can get better flavor from a smaller pack of spice. That's better for my system, and the taste is really a lot better.
    Cottonwood™ is a sweetheart. It's just as red as Spider Cañon, maybe more so; but it's not Southwest. Its main flavor comes from red New Mexican peppers, helped along with some interesting bitter herbs. For all you purists, no, it doesn't make New Mexican Chili; it makes New Mexican Style Chili. I've taken a little artistic license.
    The recipe and cooking sequence is the same for both of my red chilis.
    La Gallina™ was a surprise to me. Somebody showed me a white chili recipe and something clicked. I knew just what should go in the spice package, and I got it just on the first try.
    I really thought it would be a fad, and maybe it will be, but La Gallina White started out as popular as both the reds. And I really like it, too; but why so many women love chicken chili I don't know. (Now that little comment will cost me about a half hour of protest from my older, Lib.)
    Chicken doesn't cook as long as beef, so the recipe for La Gallina's quicker and sequenced a little differently. This week I'm going to start some tests with La Gallina and pork.
    Recently I've been packaging my chili powders in twin packs: two "makes-1/2-pound" packs, as well as our standard "makes-1-pound" pack. In my chili powders all the ingredients are mixed especially for each order, not premixed. I do it this way because I use a lot of crushed spices instead of all powdered ingredients. The crushed spices taste better, but they don't mix uniformly. Shake a package and watch. You'll see what I mean. For some people it's really a lot easier to make chili in smaller batches; for singles or small families, a 1-pound batch is a lot of chili.
    You can obtain all our fine chili powders and spices, and other useful and entertaining products from our Online Store.

Chili Questions Answered–Myths Exploded!
    In our first food issue I mentioned the various mystiques that chili devotees have applied to chili recipes, spices, etc. (Food back issue #1; "What is Chili, Anyway?", 9/25/98, available from our Reference Library). My question was, basically, what is there about chili that causes such polarization? I've been testing chili recipes again, and I'd like to explode a few of these myths and answer a few questions in this part of this issue.

Question: What is the best meat to use for chili? A lot depends on whether you're making red or white chili. Beef goes perfectly with red chilis, but what kind of beef? I've heard all sorts of favorites: ground chuck, ground sirloin, diced chuck, diced sirloin, diced brisket, diced round, etc., etc., etc. I've tried them all and come up with one absolute favorite—diced lean chuck; second choice— ground chuck. All the others were either weak in flavor or poor in texture. Brisket was the worst, with awful texture and a very high price.
   If you choose chuck plan on cooking it slowly for about forty-five minutes. If it's ground chuck, skim off all the fat. Start by browning the meat, without flour or masa harina, until all the liquid that sweats from the meat boils away. Skim off all the fat, then cook at a very low simmer, covered, with the recipe's liquid ingredients added, for fifteen minutes. Cook it fifteen minutes more with the spices and vegetables added, and a last fifteen with the salt added. The result in my tests was tender, tasty, well- spiced meat that spoke for itself from amidst all the rest of the ingredients. A definitely superior red chili.
   I feel pork, chicken, and turkey are bland in the richness of my Spider Cañon red chilis. For those light meats I blended La Gallina White Chili Seasoning, based on sweeter green chiles and several other aromatic herbs and spices. In this new medium chicken was wonderful.
   Cook chicken slowly, too, but for less time than beef. Use the same browning technique as for the chuck. When thoroughly browned cook only about six minutes in the recipe liquids. Then add the remaining ingredients and the salt, and simmer just until the vegetables are transparent.
   A last note: I found lamb very tasty in chili, but only as a companion to beef. By itself it was a little on the gamey side. If you add ground lamb to your chili, be sure and skim off as much fat as possible; lamb is very fat.
The Perfect Recipe
At this point I can't help mentioning Pam Anderson's great cookbook again. Some people don't like the discipline of recipes; but if you like to lock down good, reliable results you'll appreciate this book. In The Perfect Recipe Ms. Anderson fully explains selecting meats for recipes and getting the best flavor from them. I put my money where my mouth is and gave copies of The Perfect Recipe for Christmas this season. They were very well received. See our Online Bookstore to order from our associate

    And now for the myths:

Myth 1: Chili must be cooked in a cast iron pot only! Did I mention polarization? Both of these myths are nonsense created, apparently, for the purpose of adding some sort of secret insider "method" to chili's very simple and forgiving nature. I tried cast iron, glass, stainless, and aluminum—no difference at all except for the cleanup. Stainless is definitely best. I use the kind of stainless with the thick aluminum bottom to get very even heating.
   Forget about these two myths and use what you have or can afford. You could probably make great chili in a hub cap if you used good meat, vegetables, and spices.

Myth 2: Never cook chili in cast iron!
Myth 3: Always cook chili covered! See what I mean? You can't have it both ways. What did my tests show? First, when browning the meat your pot should be uncovered. It won't brown properly and the juices won't reduce if the pot is covered. Once browned and simmering, cover the pot tightly. It saves heat, keeps aromatic ingredients in, and gives the meat more even cooking in the closed, moist environment.
   To thicken chili remove the cover and simmer just long enough to reduce the liquid content to suit you.
   Cooking with a tight cover gives you control of the cooking process and time; cooking uncovered reduces your control.

Myth 4: Never cook chili covered!
Myth 5: Only masa harina is suitable for thickening chili! Well—we've got to have something to talk about next time. I'll take these and several others then.

   Hey! It's chilly chili weather again!

Myth 6: Always use flour to thicken chili!
Spider Cañon™, Cottonwood™, and La Gallina™ are trademarks of Atlantis Creative Enterprises.

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