Its a mouth full
… and it should be. Its Chili for goodness sake!
My cooking has been called many things over the years. Finally, and it’s about damn time, award winning can be added to the list. This past Saturday I entered my chili into CrossFit 808’s chili cook off and came out on top. A shoe in this was not. All the chili’s entered were super dishes with their own unique flavor and had to pass and impress the taste buds of five blindfolded judges. In the end, after two rounds of blind tasting it was my chili that won the prize – a sweeter than expected prize if I’m honest (a pair of reebox’s new crossfitting shoes). Thanks a bunch Elyse and with no time to spare, as I tore my Inovv8’s up climbing rope the other day. As a thank you to Elyse, other judges, the entire crew at the box who said such nice things about my red lead, and because I think secrets in cooking (especially paleo cooking) are just stupid, here is how I won over your taste buds. I really think it’s more of a method than a recipe. I’ve never once cooked it using the same ingredients and to be honest it never tastes exactly the same. The only thing that’s super consistent is that people like it and its sure to be gone quick; so get it while its hot.
The Method (again this is not a recipe)
Step One: Where’s the beef? More importantly, what you should do with it.
Recently, I have become particular about where I buy my red meat. My island search for good grass fed beef landed me at the Aala Meat Market. They get their product from island producers who raise grass fed critters. The prices are spot on, service is nice (not always fast) and you should pop in if you live on Oahu. If you don’t, you should be looking for a local meat man or woman near you. Selection can be inconsistent concerning special cuts so if you want something particular call ahead.
For the latest version of my chili I used a ball (stop into Aala, you’ll know what I’m talking about) of 80/20 ground beef and two pounds of stew meat. The night before I started cooking, I seasoned the meat with olive oil, fresh garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and a touch of quality sea salt. The important thing here is to marinate or rub your meat in something you like overnight.
When you are ready to begin cooking grab the biggest pot you can find and start browning the ground beef and rendering out the fat. Once browned remove the beef, leave the hot fat, and add the stew meat. I like to cut my stew meat so all the chunks are close in size. Be sure to add a little at a time and remove the browned pieces as you cook. If you put too much in at once the meat will just boil and that’s not good eats (my attempt at being Alton Brown). Again we are looking to just brown the meat and put some color to it. After all color equals what? That’s right class, FLAVOR. Once all the meat is browned set it aside to be added later and keep the fat in the pot (you’ll be using it later).
The points to remember about your meat are simple; get good meat, marinate or rub it down the night before, and brown it. Experiment with rubs, spices, and all things good as you see fit. Remember, if you use a wet marinade it will affect the browning process if you put too much meat in the pot at once
Step two: Peter Pipper Picked a Patch of Peppers?
Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t but for this batch of chili I sure tried to and I generally try to for each batch I prepare. For this award winning creation I used some local bell pepper (yellow and red sweet), poblano, anaheim, one jalapeno, one sweet red chili and two fresh spicy thai chilies. The point here is to know what peppers are hot and what ones aren’t and mix and match. That’s what I do. Knowing this chili was going to be eaten by the masses I didn’t want to blow anyone out of the water with something too spicy.
Dice your peppers as you see fit. I leave some of the seeds depending on how spicy I want the chili to be. The more seeds from the hot peppers the more spicy your chili will be. Along with the peppers I’ll also dice up some sweet onion and fresh garlic. If I were living on the main land I’d search for Vidalia Onions but because I live in Hawaii I have to settle for sweet Muai onions, there awesome too. Once your onions, peppers, and garlic are cut throw them into your rendered beef fat and season them with the same goodies you used to marinate your meat. Let this stuff cook and sweat until the onions are translucent and the peppers begin to soften up.
The short and happy of this step is to simply get a bunch of peppers you like and cook them in your seasoned beef fat. If they start to burn and get dry add some coconut or olive oil. Experiment with different peppers and find out how much heat you can handle. If you are not sure where to start try two jalapenoes. From there you can add a Serrano, maybe a habanero, even some pure capsaicin. I don’t but that’s because I like to taste other things the week after I eat chili.
Step Three: Build your sauce and bring it all together.
The sauce is really simple, tomatoes, garlic, and seasoning (unless you would like to add something). All I do is add tomato paste to my pepper mix and let it cook for 3-4 minutes. I then add roasted garlic, usually a whole head, and let that cook for another minute or two (cut the top off a head of garlic, shake on a little salt, cover in olive oil, and roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes). You’ll notice that it will get pasty and begin to stick to the pan. At this point you want to add your tomato. I usually use two big cans of diced tomato. I could use fresh tomato but don’t. To be honest I hate cutting up tomatoes and just can’t do it well. What I do is look for organic and quality tomatoes. I also check the ingredients list on the can to make sure there isn’t anything being snuck into my chili that I don’t want or need. If you do use canned tomato the one thing you will have to deal with is citric acid. After your tomatoes are added, throw your meat back into the pool and add some water, 1-3 cups depending on how much meat and veg you added earlier. Once you add the water bring the entire mixture to a boil then reduces the heat to a low simmer. As you let it simmer taste it frequently and added the same seasonings you used in the beginning (or different if you like) as you see fit. At the last minute I threw in an extra thai chili to being up the heat.
It’s your chili do with it what you like. I usually like to let my chili reduce about one inch. What? Yeah, it’s not a time thing. I look for color, texture, level and taste. When I think it’s the greatest chili ever or a lost cause I take it off the stove and add a few finishing touches. This is the hard part and you only get good at it by making a lot of chili. The short story here is to keep it simple and get experience. That’s it. No tricks. Put in some tomato, garlic, special seasonings you like, extra liquid and baby the mixture until you are happy with the results.
Step Four: FINISH IT!!!
After the chili has cooked down to your liking add some fresh herbs to brighten it up. I added basil, oregano, and parsley to the latest version of my Texas style red. I have found that if you add fresh herb to early it either gets bitter from the long cooking process or is lost entirely. I usually chop up a bunch and add a little bit at a time.
That’s how I make award winning chili, well at least how I did it this time. It didn’t hurt that my wife and D-Tron tasted it along the way and added their two sense. The key to a good chili is to find good meat, a veg mix you can handle, season it the way you like it, and baby it like it were your first born. I really think experience matters and that only comes by making the stuff, so go make some. I hope this long winded explanation for where I got my new shoes is helpful to someone. If the method described above is confusing and you were hoping for an exact road map I’m sorry. I have done a lot of things while making chili over the years, following a recipe is not one of them. Good luck, get it done, and enjoy.