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FESTIVAL CHILI

The Daily Clog, May 1988, Volume 4 Number 11

This recipe was contributed by Paul Rosen, who gave me a bowl of this wonderful chili at Musicalia.

Eating a bowl of chili is a festive occasion. There's no other food that people comment on so much, or remember so well. You hear statements like, "yeh, this is some pretty good beans, but I made a helluva pot back at Galax, 1982." Every pot, even with the same finely measured ingredients is different from each other. Chili probably shows even more variations than old-time tunes in C. Here is a typical pot of festival chili you can make in a smoke-blackened stew pot over an open hibachi this summer. It's guaranteed to help your Daily Clog.

Ingredients:

TOMATOES (homegrown or otherwise different sizes from each other),
BEANS (black beans or (yawn) kidney beans)
MUSHROOMS (wipe manure off first)
CHICKEN (if you have a moral objection to eating chicken, you can substitute stew beef)
CHILI POWDER
RED CAYENNE PEPPER POWDER
JALAPENO PEPPERS (dried is better)
BEER (working class brand; politically correct, if available)
RICE (brown)
CHEESE (cheddar, Swiss, or some others)
ONIONS (don't skimp)
GARLIC (skimp)
OREGANO
PAPRIKA.

(You can get the spices all-in-one pre-measured, it's just as good. All the ones in the store that separate the individual spices into packets do fine, the ones that don't are mostly salt.)

Optional Ingredients:

Canned corn
salt
and a bunch of other stuff (be creative).

Leave out:

potatoes
carrots
broccoli
milk
ground beef
and a bunch of other stuff (don't be creative).

Cooking Instructions:

If you use dried beans, precook a long time, I'm warning you! First, hack up the chicken to where you can get the bones off it and it's in small enough pieces that polite people can eat a chunk in one bite, then toss it in a frying pan to whiten. While that's smoking, add the cooked beans and the other ingredients, chopped up a little, to a big pot (except the rice). Add a little beer to keep it from burning until the tomatoes melt. Cook the rice separately. Put the pot on a fire close to some genuine old-time music, since you've got to stick around and stir the stuff sometimes. When you stir, watch out for dust, leaves, and other organic materials, or the batch will be too crunchy. The amount of local countryside that makes it into the pot is known as trail seasoning.

After the chicken is cooked, add it to the pot. Mix the cheese in gradually. It will melt and thicken the general mixture. Start tasting the stuff to adjust it when you can't tell the ingredients from each other so well anymore (about ½ hour or so). When it's mature, down a judicial mouthful and tell people that you might draw a bowl now just to see how it's doing, but the longer it cooks the better it will be.

The Zen of Spicing:

The term chili comes from a tool used in Mexican torture, the chili pepper. You cannot have real macho old-time chili without these. In fact, it is usually good to throw in some JALAPENO and CAYENNE peppers just to be sure. Now it takes a delicate art to put in just the right amount of peppers in a pot of Ol' Red, and since it is an art, there are different, antagonistic schools of thought on how to judge the fire.

On one extreme, is the Right to Choose group, who feel that the pot should be under-spiced, but peppers should be readily available at the table for those who need to impress other chili-lovers. The other extreme is the Men from the Boys group, who feel that the above policy causes a drain on the supply, since anyone is likely to dip a spoon in and draw a bowl. At a festival with a lot of people milling around, this could cause some slow-moving die-hards to miss their experience. Of course, following this to an extreme may force the cook to eat the whole batch. This could happen anyway if the cook falls into the following trap.

Let's say he dips into the bowl just as the tomatoes melt and he decides it's a little too bland. He puts in a JALAPENO, stirs it around, and tastes it again. The chilies from his first taste have slightly deadened his senses, so it still tastes a little bland, so he adds some CAYENNE pepper powder...in any case, probably the best path is to judge the size of the pot and the size of the crowd and spice accordingly.

Note: the correct way to eat a bowl of chili prepared like the above is to make two or three stirs with the spoon to judge the texture, take a good size "average" spoonful, chew thoroughly and nod your head slowly, then say in a slightly surprised but pleased voice, "This has a little kick to it." Then, nonchalantly reach for a couple of beers.

--Paul Rosen

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