Fall is chili time in my house. There is nothing better than a bowl of chili while watching a football game. There are as many chili recipes as there are ingredients. The name chili coming from the spice (or chile peppers) used to flavor the dish. I’ve eaten vegetarian chilis, ground turkey chilis, chili with beans, and chilis with beef or pork. Ground meat, chunks of meat, beans, no beans. I like them all but I put chili into 2 categories, green or red. Green chili uses the roasted but essentially raw green chile peppers while red uses the roasted, dried and ground red chile powders. 2 distinct but equally delicious chilis. I also find it interesting the dish is spelled “chili” whereas the pepper is spelled “chile”. The spelling may be debated but the dish is undoubtedly a cornerstone of great comfort food. Like soups, stews, and gumbo, chili deserves a seat on the board and a place at the table. In a world where “fresh” is equated with “best” it’s hard to deny that chili may be better the next day.
Beans or no beans? Traditional chili recipes have no beans. As meat became more expensive beans were added as a filler (and thickener). Most commercial chilis contain beans. In fact in some of the chilis, they are almost all beans, making it hard to find the meat, even though it’s listed on the package. Some contain several kinds of beans, kidney, red, pinto, white, etc. When it comes to beans, I like them in red chili but not in green. Spending time in wonderful SW Colorado, where Pinto beans were a big part of weekly meals, it takes me back home.
RED CHILI WITH TRI TIP
- 5 lbs. of Tri Tip, trimmed of visible fat and cubed into 1 inches pieces
- 4 cups of yellow onion diced
- 4 cloves of minced fresh garlic
- 4 cups low sodium beef stock
- 5 cups minced tomatoes with juice
- 3 Tablespoons mild chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup plus 4 Tablespoons Canola oil
- ½ cup unbleached flour
- 1 ½ cups cooked Pinto beans (optional)
- 1 stalkcelery finely diced (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the Tri Tip (bottom sirloin) of all visible fat and cut into I” cubes. Heat a heavy stock pot on high and add 1 Tablespoon of Canola oil. Brown the meat in batches covering the bottom of the pan. Do not immediately stir. After the meat starts to release its juices, stir. Pour the meat (and juice) into a large bowl. Repeat until all meat is browned. Turn the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes scraping any meat bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes, beef, stock, and beans (if adding) into the pot. Stir while adding the chili powder and cayenne. Taste for spice. In a separate heavy skillet or sauce pan add the remaining ½ cup of Canola oil. Heat on medium high until the oil begins to smoke. Make a roux adding the flour a little at a time whisking as you go. When all the flour is added, continue to stir, browning the flour. I like a medium brown roux for this chili which is about the color of milk chocolate. When the roux is done, carefully add to the chili. It may spit and splatter. Stir into the chili and turn the chili down to simmer. Stir frequently. !/2 hour before serving add the finely minced celery (optional) and adjust spice for heat. Red chili can be eaten after a few hours of simmering but really gets good after about hour 4.
Tips: I like Tri Tip because the meat is moist and tender. The cut contains enough fat to not dry out over time. If you prefer ground meat in your chili, have your butcher grind a few Tri Tips. Some of the supermarkets have gone to a single grind plate (saves them money) but a few of the better stores will still offer a few choices. The coarsest grind is often called the chili plate, has the biggest holes and leaves the meat in nice spoon filling pieces. Leaner cuts of beef like round or sirloin tip dry out and lack the flavor to hold up to the big chile spices.
On the side: I like to put sharp cheddar cheese in my chili, either white or yellow. I like the silky texture of the melted cheese against the chewiness of the meat. The cheese also cuts the heat if the chili is spicy. I also like to eat my red chili with cornbread, warm cornbread with melting butter and a little honey.
What about wine? I like a big spicy red wine with my red chili. A big foothill’s Zinfandel suits me just fine. Give me a blue collar bottle that doesn’t back down when the food is spicy. There are many great choices for less than $15.
Grab a heavy bowl, ladle in the chili, drop in the cheese, slice the corn bread, pour the wine, turn on the game and enjoy a great fall meal. Make a big batch because tomorrow it will taste even better.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve passed over this wine, selecting another for dinner. I’m not exactly sure why but I remember looking at the label and thinking “not tonight”. Maybe because I didn’t know this wine and wasn’t sure what to expect. Choosing instead to select a bottle I knew and had confidence in its pedigree. For some reason last night was the night. Maybe because I was afraid the wine was getting too old and tired and needed to be consumed. Not sure what the deciding factor was but so glad I did. The menu included Southwest style rib eyes, Ancho chili BBQ Gulf shrimp, fresh tomato and cucumber salad, and roasted broccoli and cauliflower. My hopes the brawn of a Chilean wine would hold up to the bold spices and rich meat.
Respect this old gentleman: While stirring pots and cutting veggies, I decided to open this old man and pour out an oz. to determine his character. The wine was brick red with a brownish hue. My first thought was, “I’d waited too long” and I cursed my procrastination. Okay take a sniff, and out of respect, no matter what, take a sip. The wine, although thinner in color than I expected, was full of life. The fragrance of cedar, spice, and a little wet earth came first. Followed by (I can’t completely describe it), a little floral scent. With my expectations now elevated, I took a sip. This old man had muscle tone. It was superb. The bold characteristics remained and all the sharp edges had been softened. The tannins were tamed and the finish was long and soft.
Feeling lucky? I got lucky on this one. Too many times it’s gone the other way. I’ve waited too long and got a bottle of empty promises. Err on the side of early. Okay, some wines are too young to drink and, let’s face it; some wines will never get better with age. But sometimes, we get lucky and it all comes together in time and place. Hat’s off to the old guys!
Fruit or vegetable? I think the age old debate finally ended (with those that have the power to decide) and the decision is a tomato is a vegetable. I grew up being told they were a fruit, but it didn’t matter to me because I have always loved tomatoes. When I was 4, my mom and I used to eat them off the vine with a salt shaker to sprinkle behind every bite. As a kid, when asked “what is your favorite fruit” without hesitation I would say “tomato”. Today, because of the reclassification of the tomato, I say “peach”. Regardless, I live in the capital of tomato country, actually the capital of California aptly nicknamed “Sacra tomato”. Field after field is full of tomatoes. Those big fields full of tomatoes are for processing but every farmers market has a pile of just picked, ready to take home beauties. Why am I talking about tomatoes? Well, I love them so much I thought I should give them their place in the sun. Stop in, squeeze the merchandise, and take some home.
May I have this dance? I couldn’t mention my pal the tomato without his Italian dance partner, Basil. Grab a plant, pop it in the ground (or pot), and enjoy Basil all summer. I find with our summer heat, morning sun and afternoon shade works best. Keep it moist and pick those fat and juicy leaves all season. Garlic, Olive Oil, fresh tomatoes (Romas are best for this), dried Oregano, and Basil. You’ve got homemade Marinara that keeps and freezes.