Everybody Makes Chili

Sure they do. College students, tailgaters, just about anyone with a few pounds of beef, some peppers and a fire can do it. I'm writing this column sitting in a roadside BBQ joint in Coldspring Texas, where the owner/cook just told me about his chili recipe.

I remember the first chili pots made on New Year's Day for friends and football frenzy. Atop ground beef were tossed cans of beans and tomatoes, further supplemented by, I think, a few cans of Rotel chilis. That was definitely in the early days of my cooking career.

I still make chili once a year, especially when the temperature dips and football is in full swing. So if anyone can make chili - why should I bother adding it to a discussion of "being a better cook"?

Because one of the most important parts of good cooking is recipe selection.

Wait a minute. Shouldn't chili be 90% inspiration? Sure - why not? But on the other hand, following a well composed recipe, even for simple chili, can lead to excellent, repeatable results. You might not even like the recipe I'll offer in the next post, but as a starting point, it has some important characteristics which make this an above average recipe, or maybe better:

  • Use of multiple kinds of peppers, in different forms (New Mexico and Ancho dried; Red Bell Pepper, Poblano and Jalapeno fresh; cayenne and / or hot pepper flakes and some fresh ground black pepper). 
  • The use of ground pork and ground beef. The pork softens the texture a little.  
  • A well-composed ratio of vegetables to meat. 
  • The use of homemade stock (see last week's article about chicken stock). 
  • The use of black beans for contrast in texture and color. 
  • Fresh herbs (see this week's article). 
  • A short cooking time - which keeps the vegetables from breaking down, and the meats from getting tough.
I'm not recommending my recipe just because I think it's good. 90% of this recipe originated from Pierre Franey. Pierre was the author of the 60 Minute Gourmet column which ran for many years in the New York Times. He was responsible for encouraging thousands of home cooks, providing straightforward advice and recipes that revealed multiple layers of subtle flavors. This was due to his classical training in French cooking, his restaurant experience and his desire to share with everyday home cooks. 

One last thought - how does one find a reliable recipe? Well, that's the subject of an entire other column. For now, trust me on this one. 

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