Fixin’ up some chili
Here come those weird days of winter, after the holidays and before the Super Bowl, where we promptly forget about our New Year’s resolutions and do just about anything to stay warm and interested. If you live in a part of the country where it’s cold – and that’s pretty much any place except Texas or Florida – you may want to give some thought to cookin’ up a big pot o’ chili.
A number of regions lay claim to creating the humble bowl of red, but the story I’ve heard most often is that the spicy meat concoction was created by the chili queens of 1880s-era San Antonio who came up with the recipe we still use and enhance to this day. And of course, different cooks will put different ingredients in their versions of chili.
The big argument is whether or not to add beans to chili. Now most enlightened thinkers say no, beans take up space that more meat could better occupy. My in-laws, who live up in New York state, swear up and down that true chili has beans in it but what do they know – they consider grilled weenies real barbecue. I suppose you can put anything you want in chili – including turkey, pork, duck, even beans – as long as you can find someone to eat it. Count me out! (I saw a TV movie one time, I think it had Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in it, and although the title escapes me I will never forget what one character said: “I’d have to kill somebody who put lima beans in my chili.” Or something like that.)
A righteous pot of chili ought to contain some sort of beef, chiles (or chili powder) and maybe some tomato sauce if you roll that way. For years I have used the recipe you see at the top of this post (click to enlarge it), supplied on a handy post card by the Lone Star Brewing Company of San Antonio, Texas. I am fairly sure you can buy everything the recipe requires pretty much any place in the country; if you can’t find coarse ground beef you can always slap in a pound or two of hamburger. My daughter went off to college and now she’s on some kind of anti-beef kick; now when she’s home I gotta use ground turkey in my chili. That works, too.
Years ago I got this book, A Bowl of Red, by Texas writer Frank X. Tolbert and that’s supposed to be the bible of chili heads nationwide. I kind of think this guy was full of bull (or Lone Star beer) when he wrote this book, because he even sings the praises of chili made at Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills for movie stars, and he talks about how great some brands of canned chili are. Well, I am partial to Wolf Brand in a can – but with no beans!
Anyway, the followers of this Tolbert fellow (he died a while back) still operate some kind of International Chili Appreciation Society and stage cookoffs in a place called Terlingua, along the Texas-Mexico border in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. I never was a follower of organized religion, so I really don’t know what these chili heads stand for but like those beans, you are quite welcome to explore on your own.
Chili is of course the national dish of Texas, and when you are in Austin there is one great place to get some chili. It’s called the Texas Chili Parlor, and it’s located on Lavaca Street near the Capitol. They have all kinds of chili and other stuff (their enchiladas are pretty tasty) and they’ll even put beans in your bowl for you while looking the other way. If you order their super-hot XXXX chili, before they serve it you have to sign a release saying you won’t hold them responsible for a heart attack or any catastrophes in your underwear.
I like the chili over at Shady Grove too, that’s a pretty nice place. San Antonio has a bunch of great places to get chili (try La Paloma or Casa Rio on the Riverwalk) and in Houston, well, the best chili I’ve had here is at my house. Check out the recipe above and play some of these tunes. Enjoy your chili, with or without beans (remember to open a window), and here’s hoping it keeps you warm this winter!