"Wish I had time for one more bowl of chili."
~Purportedly the dying words of American Frontiersman, Kit Carson
"Chili, chili con carne, Texas red - whatever you affectionately call this savory mix of meat and heat - is one of those dishes that most people feel just misses when made by someone else, while their own recipe is a deeply held family secret that should win blue-ribbon honors."
~The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1989)
Recently this desert dweller found herself plunged into the biting cold of the northeastern United States during a major snow storm. I would have been content to cozy myself in the window seat of a quaint inn, a knitted throw over my lap, a glass of port within easy reach, a happy fire in the hearth and a book, inverted on my lap, waiting patiently as I absent-mindedly gaze upon the snow as it falls in a slow waltz to land lightly on the pristine white carpet one story below. Alas, my visit was not a vacation, but long work days kick started by early mornings (save one), driving across three states in six days, staying in three hotels, visiting four customers, and beginning and ending the business trip with connecting flights and dual layovers in Chicago - not always the easiest place to get in and out of in winter.
I typically associate snow with fun, of the downhill skiing variety. I reminisce fondly of days on the slopes followed by evening cocktails and warming dinners in the cabin or a nearby restaurant, typically a steakhouse or a pizza parlor, sitting in a booth, exhausted and happy, cheeks radiating heat brought on by the blasts of cold wind incurred by riding lifts and speeding down slopes. We crash after dinner, bone tired, to sleep like the dead. Waking the next morning, groaning from the pain of aching muscles, we look forward to another day on the mountain, our skis carving turns into light powdery snow.
|The hidden house.|
If we're staying with friends, inevitably the ladies or the gents will rustle up a big pot of spaghetti with Bolognese or someone will make Chili ahead of time, freeze and then transport in an ice chest for an extra easy and less costly alternative to eating out. A salad with choice of dressings and homemade garlic bread for either entrée and dinner is ready for a large group with relative ease.
|Portland Head Light located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.|
So more often than not, I associate Chili more with cold weather than I do with getting together with the gang to watch sporting events. Naturally then, driving through snow laden roads through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, snow flakes mounting an onslaught against the windshield, my craving for chili escalated by the day. Strange thing though, everywhere we went, chili was not on the menu. It slowly dawned on me that Chili is a western dish. Believe me, I love Clam Chowder, but a girl cannot live on that alone and unfortunately I am allergic to lobster so any kind of bisque that included the giant crustacean was not an option for me.
Finally, my quest was answered at a steakhouse in Maine. It was getting late in the evening, so a big steak dinner was out of the question, and I thought a cup of chili and a nice salad would fit the bill quite nicely. Still, knowing that chili varies widly, I asked the waiter for his opinion. He seemed enthusiastic about the chili, so I went ahead and ordered it. As Juliette often says, "One first eats with the eyes." Upon the first look, the concoction looked like a cup of Ground Beef Bolognese. Hmmmm... that's not chili. Step two: tasting is believing. Still hopeful (ever the optimist), I took my first taste and thought to myself, "I'm glad this isn't Kit Carson's last bowl of chili." He would have died a very disappointed man.
Please do not think I'm being a Ground Beef Chili snob. I am not. I grew up on my Mom's Chili Con Carne recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, which consists of ground beef, chopped yellow onion, diced green bell pepper, minced garlic, canned tomatoes, red kidney beans, tomato sauce, chili powder and dried basil. A hearty, tasty dinner in under an hour. This restaurant's Chili consisted of ground beef and marinara. All that was missing was the pasta. That's not Chili, folks! Disappointed, much? Heck yes! Of course, my friend and co-worker, Bruce ooohed and aaahed over his scrumptious bowl of Shrimp and Lobster Bisque declaring it one of the best things he ever tasted as I sat snarling, feeling slightly bitter, at the mild Italian Chili sitting before me.
My first order of business upon returning home was to make a big ol' pot of Chili. I like pinto beans in mine and two types of meat - crumbled chicken or beef sausage and cubes of pork butt simmered until meltingly tender. Is it the easiest chili to make? No. But I think the extra steps are worth it especially if I'm enjoying a relatively lazy day at home. Preparing a double batch of chili is as easy as making a regular pot and the taste gets better with a day or two of aging, making the dish a great make ahead meal for parties or dividing extra portions to store in the freezer in anticipation of easy weekday meals.
After spending nearly a week of braving the elements of a New England winter, I appreciated returning home to Tucson where the sun always seems to shine even on cold days. I am also grateful not to put on and take off three layers of clothes (and gloves) a minimum of five times a day, or brush the snow off the car everytime we needed to drive - whether it was across the state, or just down the street for coffee.
In my mental scrapbook of life, what I will remember fondly is the night when the guys insisted on a live action performance of what will surely be the next installment of The Fast and The Furious movie franchise by taking the Tokyo Drift experience to the mostly empty parking lot of the local big box store. The four tires of the sports coupe skidded and then carved "donuts" into the fresh snow. The smell of a hot engine and burning rubber slowly building up inside the cold interior. I instantly felt sixteen once again, screaming and laughing until my cheeks ached and my stomach hurt. I have identified my second favorite snow activity. I can make a better bowl of Chili at home, but donuts on powder will have to wait for another snowy day adventure.
Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne For A Crowd
Plan ahead as the pinto beans should be soaked overnight before proceeding with the recipe. Ideally, you can make the Chili the day before so all you need to do is reheat for your guests leaving you time to whip up some Guacamole and Linda's Salsa Fresca. The Chili is great served with tortilla chips, small flour tortillas, biscuits or cornbread.
More often than not, I set out garnishes in separate bowls filled with shredded cheese, sour cream or Mexican Crème Fraîche, minced red onion, leaves of cilantro and wedges of lime. Yep, you guessed it, Margaritas and cold beer are quite tasty with the Pinto Bean Chili Con Carne and are always a crowd favorite.
Depending upon the size of the pork butt you purchase, you may choose not to add all the meat to the Chili. Consider reserving some of the cooked cubes for another use such as making tacos, burritos or a delicious bean soup.
1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked in water overnight and drained
1/4 cup dried minced onion, optional
Diamond® kosher salt or sea salt
Prepare Stew Meat:
1 pork butt, about 5-6 pounds, fat trimmed, cut in 1-1/2 to 2-inch cubes
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1-1/2 tsps sea salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsps ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsps granulated garlic
1-1/2 tsps chile powder
1-1/2 tsps oregano
1 quart chicken broth
1 bottle pale ale, such as Sam Adams®, optional
1 14-oz can tomato purée or 1 cup leftover pizza sauce
about 4 Tbsps ghee or high-heat oil (peanut, safflower, etc.) or more as needed
1 pound uncooked Chicken Sicilian Sausages, such as Trader Joe's®
1 medium or large yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 medium green bell pepper, deveined, seeded and diced
1 medium red bell pepper, deveined, seeded and diced
1-2 jalapeño, deveined, seeded and minced
1-2 Anaheim chile, deveined, seeded and minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1/4 cup smoked paprika
3 Tbsps best quality chili powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 Tbsps Tobasco® sauce or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
kosher or sea salt, to taste
shredded cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese
sour cream or Mexican Crème Fraîche
diced red onion or thinly sliced scallions
leaves of cilantro
wedges of lime
1. Prepare beans: The night before, place 1 pound of pinto beans in a colander. Pick over the beans, remove and discard any debris or small rocks. Rinse the beans and transfer to a large soup pot. Cover the beans with water by 2-inches. Let the beans soak over night, at least 8 hours. Drain soak water and rinse beans.
2. In the morning, prepare pork: In a small bowl, combine spices, herbs, salt and pepper, and stir well.
Trim and discard excess fat from the pork and cut the meat into 1-1/2 to 2-inch cubes. Your friendly butcher can do this task for you, which is what we prefer to do. Sprinkle the pork with the spice mix, toss and press to adhere well. You can either cook the pork in a crock pot or in a soup pot or Dutch oven:
A. In a crock pot: In a saucepan, heat chicken stock, beer and tomato purée until boiling, then transfer to large crock pot set to high. Cover with lid.
B. On the stove: Place a large Dutch oven or soup pot on the stove and add the chicken stock, beer and tomato purée. Set the burner to medium.
Brown the meat in batches in a large, heavy skillet that does the job well. Add a few tablespoons of ghee or high-heat oil to the skillet. When the fat is very hot, add the pork and brown, turning occasionally, for about 5 to 10 minutes. As the pieces are finished browning, add the pork to the liquid in the Dutch oven or crock pot. Repeat process until all the cubes of meat are browned. Partially cover the Dutch oven with a lid, and simmer for about 2 hours or until the pork is tender and dark brown, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to low, if necessary, to maintain a happy simmer. Alternatively, cook the pork in the crock pot for about 6 hours set on high.
3. To cook the beans: Return beans to soup pot. Once again, cover the beans with water by 2-inches, about 7 cups. Add dried onion. Bring beans to a simmer of high heat, partially cover with a lid, then adjust heat as needed to maintain the simmer until the beans are cooked through, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Once the beans are tender to the bite, add 1 tablespoon Diamond brand kosher salt or 2 teaspoons sea salt and stir. Note: any acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, tomatoes, citrus juices or wine should always be added after the beans tender.
3. Once the beans are tender, finish the chili: Begin by heating a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from the casings and add to the skillet. Using a spatula, crumble the sausage as it cooks. When the sausage is cooked through, add the crumbled meat to the pinto beans. Add a little ghee, bacon fat or oil to the skillet and add the onion, sprinkle with a little sea salt, dried red pepper flakes and sauté for a few minutes, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the green and red bell peppers, jalapeño, anaheim chile and garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes (sometimes I blend the can of tomatoes to make my daughter happy), and additional herbs and spices. Taste check for salt and pepper. Stir frequently, until heated through and then add to beans. When pork is fork tender, add to pot as well. Stir often, and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Makes lots o' servings. Portion and freeze, if desired.