I recently got feedback on a paper I wrote for a seasonal dish, in which I had (in my mind) craftily written about the weather’s unpredictability. I was so proud of my kicker: “Like the wind, mists, partial clouds, and barometer swings we’re sure to experience this month, there is a lasagna to get you through every day.” Ingenious! But the feedback, thanks to internet technology, was almost instantaneous. A mere thirty minutes after I clicked “send” it came back to me: “start [by] omitting [the] forecast (so many people use that device this time of year).” My heart sank, but my pen did not. For she’s right: everyone’s writing about the weather.
Instead of moaning about my lack of creativity, I’ve decided to embrace it recently and enjoy this last chance to fire up my oven or make stews before my kitchen gets too hot to even imagine these cooking techniques. Recently I experimented with making chili, arguably America’s #1 stew.
The correct method of preparing this comfort food is, like any national dish, subject to much debate. Some say it must have chunks of meat, others say ground, some maintain beans are sacrilegious, others insist they are mainstays. I’m not one to argue though, and I say: make it the way you like it, and enjoy it. Below I’ll give you my way, but feel free to alter as you wish (and let me know how you do!).
The most important part of chili is the chili powder. Since most of the other ingredients are inexpensive (if not using ground meat, choose cheaper cuts for stews such as chuck), you should invest in a quality chili powder*. I like using a combination of ancho chili, which has a Scoville heat level of 2 or 3 out of 10 (depending on who you ask), and cayenne pepper (7 of 10). Don’t balk at the amount of chili powder this stew will take – you need a lot to make this chili sing.
I love serving my chili with corn bread – it’s an association I have from childhood, when my parents always served chili this way. Everyone seems to have their favorite recipe. I’m still developing mine, but recently made a really tasty skillet corn bread with my cast iron pan from Jasper White’s “The Summer Shack Cookbook.” For an intriguing recipe with bacon drippings, cheese, and onions, check out Elise’s recipe. Dorrie Greenspan also has tasty-looking corn muffins with whole corn in her column this week on Serious Eats.
For all of you still waiting for those cherry blossoms to pop out, and groaning at yet another article referring to the weather, make yourself a large pot of chili – and hope that tomorrow will be another cold end-of-winter day, because your chili will only taste better as leftovers!*In Boston a great store for spices is Christina’s in Inman Square. Christina’s is a homemade ice cream shop and spice store; recently when I was in there I overheard them talking about opening a chocolate café next door, and I am eagerly anticipating it! Their shop is located at 1255 Cambridge St Cambridge, MA 02139. Tel. (617) 576-2090. You can also purchase great spices online through Penzeys Spices, which has retail stores all over the nation. Beef Chili 1 28-oz can crushed (or diced) tomatoes 1 16-oz can kidney beans (drained and rinsed) 1.5 lb ground beef ½ cup onion, finely chopped 1 cup fresh, or frozen, corn 5 Tbsp ancho chili powder 1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste) Salt and pepper (to taste) Olive oil (for sautéing) 1. Heat olive oil on medium heat in a skillet. Sauté the ground beef on medium heat until done, remove and set aside. 2. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat more olive oil and sauté the onions until clear. Add the chili powders and cook another 1-2 minutes to release the flavors. 3. Add the tomatoes, corn, and beef and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the stew simmer, covered, for thirty minutes, or longer (the longer it simmers, the more flavorful it is). 4. Add the beans and, carefully, stir and cook until beans are heated (you don’t want them to pop and get mushy!). If the chili seems too thick for your taste you can add a bit of water at this point, but not too much! 5. Season the chili, also checking for heat and chili flavor, and add chili powder as well as salt and pepper as needed.