Saturday, January 26, 2008

Is it Chili or Chilli?

It's cold outside. This may be obvious for some, but I mean its really cold, like arctic cold, as if you may freeze in place, cold. OK. I'm exaggerating but its darn cold and I'm not happy about it. Its this time of year I start flipping through my recipes trying to find some comfort. Something that will stick to your ribs and warm you up from the inside. A meal in a bowl if you will.

That's when I remembered I still had some 'Back Yard Chili' in the deep freeze. I had made this batch up after the neighborhood Chili Cook-off and had frozen some of the base. Pulling that frozen block out, I dropped it my pot and commenced to the thawing. Slow simmering a can of diced tomatoes (I didn't feel like doing the work), some stock and a few adjustments later and I was slurping up a flash of last summer. The cold could come now, I was insulated from the inside.

So, this got me thinking of where chili came from.
Who thought up the idea that we should make this stew of peppers, tomatoes and meats?
Why is chili different all over America?
And where are my notes from last summer?

It turns out Chili has a vague past, or at least vague before the Civil War. Damn near everyone claims to be the first to have made it. Even a Nun from the 16th Century stating she had an out of body experience, went to America to preach Christianity and was given a recipe from the local Indians. Interestingly in Mexico , which most people would think is chili's source, there is the Diccionario de Mejicanismos, published in 1959, that defines Chili as:
"A detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican."

What we call Chili is actually Chili con Carne which originally means beans in a spicy tomato sauce with meat. Now spicy sauces can be found all over Central America and what we call Chili most assuredly would have been a derivative of these basic sauces. Think French cuisine here. There are five (5) "Mother Sauces" from which a myriad of dishes derive. If you have ever watched a person make a mole' sauce, actually Aztec in origin but that's another post, you have seen a Mexican base to chili. Mexico has several sauces that become suspect. There's Mexican Cadillos (thick stews), moles, and adabos (thick sauces), which all resemble our Chili of today. They even have similar ingredients: various chili peppers, meat, onions, cumin, garlic. But these are not the American Chili. For American Chili we have to come forward in time to San Antonio, Texas. In an area, called Military Square, from the 1880's to 1937, the 'Chili Queens" sold Chili to residents, soldiers, and tourists.

The Chili Queens were a peculiarity of San Antonio. It all started when the Spanish army was stationed in this area. Latino women would make a stew with chili peppers for the soldiers. Over time, the army left but the Chili Queens found a new audience, the locals, and tourists. They made their chili at home, loaded it onto colorful 'chili wagons', and transported the wagons and chili to the plaza. They built mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, lit their wagons with colored lanterns, and squatted on the ground beside their carts, dishing out chili to customers who sat on wooden stools to eat their fiery stew. A night was not considered complete without a visit to one of these "chili queens." In 1937, they were put out of business due to their inability to conform to sanitary standards, enforced in the town's restaurants (public officials objected to flies and poorly washed dishes). They were restored by Mayor Maury Maverick in 1939, but their stands were closed again shortly after the start of World War II. Chili wouldn't stop there. By the 1920's 'Chili Parlors' were sprouting up all over America and with them came local variation.

In Texas, the apparent home of Chili, beef would be the star. Not surprising, really considering that cattle and the herding of cattle (which I am sure has something to do with manifest destiny and a poor sense of direction) has been a major industry for centuries. Texas Chili is defined in one place as "made with beef stewed in its own sauce with spices added." Note the lack of beans, real Texas Chili doesn't have beans! Thus the International Chili Society's Rules and Regulations strictly forbid the use of pasta or beans, the addition of which results in immediate disqualification (and possibly a lynchin'!).

Cincinnati has possibly the most convoluted concept for Chili with thanks to a Macedonian immigrant, Tom (Athanas) Kiradjieff. He settled in Cincinnati and opened a hot dog stand with Greek food. Sadly business was lousy as the idea of international cuisine wouldn't start until post WWII and this was 1929. But, being the smart business men they were, they called their spaghetti "Chili." His "Five-way Chili" was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, chopped onion, red kidney beans, shredded yellow cheese, and served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with shredded cheese.

In Springfield, the Chili Parlors would take a semantic turn, thanks to a painter named Shehan. Seems ole' Shehan was painting a window for the Dew Chilli Parlor but spelled Chili with two L's The name stuck and to this day in Springfield, Illinois, Chili is spelled "Chilli." A fun side note is that in 1993, almost 90 years after Shehan's flub, the Illinois State Senate passed a resolution proclaiming that Springfield, Illinois, was to be the "Chilli Capital of the Civilized World." Texas may never forgive them.

In Hollywood, California, Chasen's Restaurant may be the home of the most famous of Chili. The owner of the restaurant, Dave Chasen (1899-1973), ex-vaudeville performer, kept the recipe a secret, entrusting it to no one. For years, he came to the restaurant every Sunday to privately cook up a batch, which he would freeze for the week, believing that the chili was best when reheated. "It is a kind of bastard chili" was all that Dave Chasen would divulge. During the filming of the movie Cleopatra in Rome, Italy, famous movie star, Elizabeth Taylor, had Chasen's Restaurant in Hollywood, California send 10 quarts of their famous chili to her. She supposedly paid $200 to have it shipped to her in Rome. Sadly, Chasen's restaurant closed in April of 1995.

So, with all this information, I set out to make a Chili. Not just any Chili, but one that would speak of its history. Chili that payed homage to the Chili Queens, of the depth of flavor of the 'Mother Sauces' of Mexico, that said it had spent some time rattling around the kitchens of America, and would beat my neighbor's 'cause he said I couldn't do it.

With this in mind, I made 'Back Yard Chili.' For the Texans, I left out the beans, but on competition day, I threw in a can of Pintos, drained.

Back Yard Chili:

3 lb Pork Shoulder
1 1/2 lb Andouli Sausage
2-3 Dried Chipotle Peppers
2-3 Dried Ancho Peppers
1 Dried Habanero
3-4 Roma Tomatoes
5 Tomatillos
2 Beef Steak Tomatoes
2 Jalapenos
3-4 Cloves Garlic
Salt and Pepper
1 Teaspoon Cumin
3 Cups Beef Stock

Building the base:

Braise Pork shoulder in roasting pan ( place in roasting pan and fill pan with enough water to come up 1/2 the side of the meat. Cover with aluminum foil and put in 300-325 degree oven) or foil for 2-3 hours or until fork tender. When ready pork should shred easily with two forks. Cut all the tomatoes and the jalapeno peppers in half. Then Cut the onion in quarters and place both the onion and the tomatoes on a parchment line sheet pan along with the garlic cloves and jalapeno peppers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. When done the tomatoes will have loose skins and garlic will be soft. Remove skins from tomatoes and place in bowl to cool. Reserve fluid from roasting pan. Slice dried chili's in half lengthwise. In a cast iron skillet on medium heat 'toast' the peppers by placing them under a weight on the heated pan for 30 seconds. Remove to a food processors and pulsate until peppers are chopped down (this takes some patience) add 1/2 of the tomatoes and pulsate until incorporated. In a stew pot on medium heat put in your andoulli sausage until browned slightly. Remove to bowl and add in chili/tomato mixture and roasted vegetables along with fluid from roasted vegetables and beef stock. Let stew for 30 minutes to combine flavors. Add in meats and continue to cook until flavors are combined approx 1-2 hours. Let cool and separate into containers. Can be frozen for several months.

On the big day:
In slow cooker add 1 cup stock, 1 cup water, along with 3 cups Chili Base and 3 Diced and seeded Roma Tomatoes. Let cook for several hours (I did mine 1 1/2 hours) serve with sides of your liking.

Roast Chicken

I'm not sure what can be more satisfying than a chicken slowly browning over a bed of coals. Saddly in todays high speed life we have resorted to bland, dry, rotisserie chickens under plastic domes. Thankfully at my house the roasted chicken is a staple and a regular player in our diet. Even in the dead of winter I can be found firing up the charcoal grill with a bird lubed and ready.
One note, the gravy at the end is a bit unconventional but it's a crowd pleaser.


Roasted Chicken

1 Whole Roasting Chicken (aprox 4lbs)
4 sprigs Tarragon
1/2 cup butter
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/4 cup Marsala or broth
Salt and Pepper

Clean Rinse and pat dry the Chicken. Place 3 sprigs of the tarragon in the cavity of the bird. Spread butter liberally over the Chicken. Slip fingers under the skin along the breast separating the two and spread with butter. Salt and pepper the outside and cavity of the Chicken. Place in a foil pan along with Quartered potato and sprinkle remaining tarragon over the potatoes. Pour Wine in base of pan and place over wood fire in grill or in oven set to 350 degrees. Roast for 25-30 degrees or until liquid runs clear when cut into the thigh. Remove from heat and let rest 5-10 minutes. I recommend carving the bird so those great juices stay in the pan and can become another part of the drippings gravy.


Whisk together dripping in pan until fully incorporated and spoon over potatoes and chicken.