I was sitting in the middle of the living room floor the other day, playing with the dog and feeling sorry for myself. It was the third day of a long series of storms coming through, each bringing snow and rain and snow and rain, all leading to mud, mud, and more mud. Can’t work outside. Can’t play outside.
As I threw the tennis ball for the fiftieth time, and Sparky caught it again, I saw the word Chili, written in snow on a frozen windowpane. My heart leaped, my mouth watered, my tongue burned in anticipation. I love chili. Real chili. Tasty, blazing hot chili.
Chili is an art form, and as in every art form, there are more than five ways to accomplish and create chili as art. Each artist believes his is the best way, and I’m sure you feel yours is best, old Sam there, feels his is best, and I’m rather sure mine is best.
By its very nature, chili is hot, but the best chili is far more flavorful than it is just hot. One can boil a pot of chili peppers and it would be hot, but it takes a combination of fine meats, vegetables, herbs, and chili spices to make a pot of really good chili. Many prefer using dried chilies, some use a mixture of dry and fresh, and of course, others use fresh only.
A pound or two of beef or venison and a pound or two of pork, and don’t trim the fat, that’s where the taste is. A yellow or white onion or three, a bulb of minced garlic, a couple of big cans of stewed tomatoes, half a pound of chilies, and a well seasoned cast iron Dutch oven, and enough beer to allow you the time it takes to simmer that pot, and you will find yourself close to heaven.
I like equal amounts of Serrano and Jalapeño peppers, fresh and minced. Leave the seeds in, thank you. Add a goodly dose of smoked paprika, some crushed cumin and turmeric for the extra zip in flavor.
Cut the meat in one inch or so chunks and brown it in bacon grease. Brown the onions in bacon grease. Use the Dutch oven for this and all that flavor stays where it’s supposed to be. Add the rest of everything and bring the pot to a full rolling boil. Let ‘er boil for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to simmer, put the lid on the pot and walk away with that six-pack.
In an hour or so, slowly lift the lid on the pot to savor all those flavors rising so temptingly to your open nostrils, and give the pot a nice stir. Take a large spoon and carefully taste the juices. At this point the hot might be strong, but it’s the other flavors you’re looking for. A little salt? Some more black pepper? Okay, you’ve made the adjustments.
Add two bottles of dark ale, put the lid back on the pot and go back to your six-pack. That pot of chili will be ready to eat in about another two hours, and will be absolutely the best tomorrow, not tonight. A large bowl of chili, some crusty French bread or tortilla chips, and another six-pack and you will have one fine supper. I’ve never had leftovers, but they tell me this can be frozen for use another day.
Until next time, read good books and stay regular.
Johnny Gunn, member, Western Fictioneers
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