chili 245

My dad sent me a recipe the other day titled “The best chili ever”.

Sensationalist links aren’t usually my thing. But chili, now you’re speaking my language; anything food-related is immediately worthy of attention. Especially chili, which I consider to be a distinct sub-category in my recipe arsenal. I’ve done the time, I’ve studied it like a fine art, I’ve Dutch ovened it, Crock potted it, made it with black beans and pinto, ground beef and cubed chuck. I even made a pretty killer vegan version earlier this year.

But the one thing I’d never tried….Texas chili.

I’ve always thought that bean-free chili would taste a little bit like meat sauce. But when I clicked the link, I was surprised and excited to see that it was a recipe from Tim Love. Tim’s not a household name, but a few years ago he did a stint on Top Chef Masters and I was impressed by his big and bold Texas style.

Given that I don’t spend much time in Texas, I figured that his chili is the closest I’ll come to Tim Love and his cooking.

In true-to-form fashion, I felt compelled to source the exact ingredients called for in the recipe. Lone Star beer? Check. Guajillo and chipotle chilies, check and check. Normally I campaign against laborious, painstaking steps like toasting and grinding my own chilies, but when you’re going for something authentic, cutting corners isn’t an option.

Out came the electric spice grinder from the far left corner of my uppermost cabinet, behind the dishtowels and the citrus juicer. The last time I used my grinder, Y2K was our country’s most pressing issue, and American Pie was #1 at the box office. It still smelled faintly of old spices.

texaschili

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chili_fmd

If there’s a cold weather dish that I spring for most, it has to be chili. Or stew. Or soup. Or some kind of braise with a big hunk of meat.

But let’s go with my first answer. Because chili is one of those dishes that has so many variations that you can make it every week and never get bored.

I used to be fanatical about following recipes for chili- the world of dried chiles and  spices can be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with it (which I admit, I still am for the most part). My go-to fruit & vegetable market in in NYC, the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, stocks a big variety of chiles, from the wrinkled, smoky ancho chiles to the tiny chile de arbol. Although I’m pretty adventurous with most foods, I’ve always been a little fearful about picking chiles off the shelf – how can you know how spicy they’ll be? Are there any special preparations that are needed, such as soaking or dry toasting? So for years I cooked chili with guided instructions only.

Fortunately, there are a ton of recipe to choose from both online and off – I even have a cookbook that has nothing but chili recipes. It’s right there on my bookshelf next to the book that has nothing but smoked salmon recipes, and the two separate mac ‘n cheese cookbooks. Thankfully I’ve slowed down on  my cookbook purchases lately, leaving me with a little more money for other essentials like our gas bill, exotic fruits and light-up kids’ shoes.

But strangely, despite trying a huge range of dishes, I never found a chili recipe that I truly loved. And I’d end up doctoring and tweaking my dish until it resembled nothing like the dish I’d originally intended.

I’ll never forget the year that I entered a chili cook-off at a friend’s house. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and he suggested to a group of us that we bring over some beer and vats of chili and have a taste-off. 

And so I began to plan. Eager to impress my crew of judges, I searched through cookbooks and hunted around online until I found a recipe that was impressive enough to wow the guests, who would be tasting each dish blind.

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