Chilly? Cook Some Chili!

written and photographed by Amy S. White
 
Whenever winter begins its sure approach, I look forward to cold-weather cooking – soups and stews, yes, but especially chili. I find that nothing has a way of warming up me (or my kitchen) quite like a pot full of chili. As the recipe simmers away, the spicy scent wafts through the house, forcing my taste buds to wait impatiently for the end result: a bowl of meat and spices with all the fixings.
There are as many variations on chili as there are legends about where and how the dish originated. But we do know that in the 1880s, the “bowls o’ red,” as they were called, were being sold by women known as “chili queens” at stands around San Antonio, Texas. This red chili con carne (always, forever, and very stringently without beans) became such a tourist draw that it was featured at the San Antonio Chili Stand at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and in 1977, was proclaimed the official state food of Texas.
Having judged several chili competitions for the International Chili Society, I at least outwardly subscribe to their rules for both green (chili verde) and traditional red chili. For both, neither beans nor pasta nor any non-meat fillers are allowed, nor is preference given to either cut meat or ground meat. Traditional red chili is defined as “any kind of meat/combination of meats with red chili peppers/powders, various spices and other ingredients,” while chili verde is the same but made with green chili peppers/powders.
The green chili recipe below is my own, specifically designed for the slow cooker, for a relatively easy weeknight dinner. The red chili recipe is from Bob Plager, the only two-time winner of the International Chili Society World Championship and fellow ICS judge. Finally, I offer a simple recipe for semi-homemade cornbread, a side dish with a little sweetness to balance out the spicy heat from either chili. Great for snow days, game days, National Chili Day (which is the fourth Thursday of February), or any blustery cold day in between, these recipes will prove that even though it may have been born in the heat of Texas, chili finds a perfect home in any New England kitchen. And to bean or not to bean? I’ll leave it entirely up to you.
Slow Cooker Chili Verde

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds fresh tomatillos*
1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 poblano peppers
2 jalapeño peppers
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ pound pork loin, cut into half-inch cubes
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
tortillas (optional) for serving
*Fresh tomatillos can be found at Spanish specialty markets. If not available, use 1 28-ounce can and do not roast them.

Heat oven to 450F.

Place the fresh tomatillos, onion quarters, garlic and peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, flipping half way through. Allow to cool slightly, then place the roasted vegetables and the cilantro in a blender, and pulse until the mixture takes on a salsa-like texture.

Toss the pork cubes with flour. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, working in batches as needed. Add the browned pork to the slow cooker and then add the chicken broth, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and roasted vegetable salsa.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. Serve with warm tortillas.

 

Semi-Homemade Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients:

1 box Krusteaz Honey Cornbread mix
8 ½-ounce can corn kernels
1 stick salted butter, softened
½ cup honey

Prepare cornbread according to package directions. Stir in the canned corn. Pour the mixture into a cast-iron skillet and bake according to package directions. While the cornbread is baking, beat together the butter and honey until light and fluffy. Brush the top of the cornbread with some of the honey butter as soon as it comes out of the oven. Serve with the remaining honey butter.

Pools Brew Chili 

(recipe by Bob Plager, adapted from www.chilicookoff.com)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Crisco shortening
2 ¼ pounds tri-tip beef roast, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce 
2 Sunsweet pitted prunes
1 cup water

First Round of Spices

1 Tbsp paprika
1 ½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 ½ beef bouillon cubes
1 chicken bouillon cube
½ tsp seasoned salt
1 ½ tsp New Mexico chili powder*
1 ½ tsp New Mexico ground chili pepper*

Second Round of Spices

3 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp seasoned salt
1 ½ Tbsp Gebhardt chili powder*
1 ½ Tbsp Texas-style chili powder*
1 ½ tsp New Mexico hot ground chili pepper*
1 ½ tsp New Mexico light chili powder*
Additional water if needed

Third Round of Spices

2 tsp Texas-style chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp garlic powder
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions, tortilla strips, or other garnishes (optional)

*Yes, these are very specific spices, and a lot of them, but then again, this is a world-champion recipe. I was able to find them at www.mildbillsspices.com.  

Melt the shortening in a large stockpot. Brown the meat on all sides, working in batches as needed. Transfer the meat to a colander to drain, rinse it with water, and return it to the pot. Add the broths, tomato sauce, prunes, water,  and first round of spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, about 2 hours, removing the prunes half way through. After the 2 hours are done, stir in the second round of spices, add 1 to 1 ½ cups of hot water if it needs additional liquid, and simmer another 30 minutes. Add the third round of spices and cook 15 more minutes. Add Tabasco to taste and garnish as desired.

Amy S. White is a food writer who teaches Latin for a living. She loves seasonal cooking, taking pictures of her food, and snow days. Find out more about Amy at amyswhite.com.

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