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.
Thai Red Curry Shrimp with Pineapple
Thai stick it to you: I can’t remember the first time I had really good Thai food. But I do remember I was very intrigued with the flavors. I became especially fond of the curries. I like spicy food and the heat in curry is my favorite kind of heat. Curry heat is kind of heat that shows up at the end of a bite, not the front. Some spicy food is so hot it burns my lips and that ruins it for me. I can’t get past the pain to get to the flavors. This may not be a great comparison but some wines have such a long finish they just deliver layer after layer of flavors long after the sip is down the hatch. That’s true for me with good curry. Okay, I like chicken wings that are really hot just so I can extinguish them in bleu cheese dressing. But, I like my curries with slow, backdoor heat.
Use your coconut: Coconut oil and coconut milk give this dish it’s smooth, rich, and off sweet flavors. Just recently the heath benefits of virgin organic coconut oil have become recognized. Coconut oil is healthy oil with a high flash point and great flavor. Regular coconut milk is a must for this dish. Skip the” light” in favor of full rich flavor and healthy fat. Besides being wonderfully tasty, this is a pretty dish. The pink shrimp and sauce with a dash of yellow from the pineapple and green from the basil and cilantro look like a decorator’s wheel.
Cut and paste: Curry paste comes in all heat ranges. I like a medium hot as a base so I can add enough paste to get the great curry flavor. If the paste is too hot I find I back away from adding enough to bring out the curry flavor. We can always raise the heat with other spices so use the paste first for curry flavor and next for heat. The best way is to test some brands. I’ve always bought my paste pre made but one day I’ll try to make it on my own. Most supermarkets carry curry paste in the Asian section but if you can find a Thai market better yet. They may have many to taste so you can find your favorite. This dish is made with red curry but I like green and Panang as well.
Red badge of Curry: I just wanted to write that down so I did. What’s up with the pineapple? I normally don’t make red curry with pineapple or mango but it’s a great combo. If the curry is hot the sweet fruit offers a cooling bite and a great contrast in the dish. I don’t cook the pineapple but add just before serving. I also put it as a “condiment” on the table so some can add if they like.
Thai Red Curry with Shrimp and Pineapple
- 2 lbs. of raw peeled shrimp, 30-35 per lb size
- 3 Tablespoons of virgin organic coconut oil divided
- 2-14 oz. cans of whole unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons medium hot red curry paste
- 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey to taste
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste
- Dash of sea salt
- 4 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
- 4 Thai basil sprigs (tops)
In a 12” heavy skillet heat ½ the coconut oil on medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink. Set aside and drain the remaining liquid out of the skillet. Add 1 Tablespoon of the remaining coconut oil and add the onions cooking on medium. Cook for about 2 minutes and add the garlic and the red pepper. Cook for 2 minutes more until the peppers start to soften but not mushy. Drain and set aside. Add the remaining coconut oil and curry paste to the skillet cooking for a minute until the paste becomes fragrant. Add the coconut milk (it may have separated in the can so be sure to get the thick stuff out) ginger, fish sauce and stir with a whisk, being sure to break up the paste and combining the ingredients well. Simmer until the mixture starts to thicken. Add the honey to get a slight sweet taste. Then add the cayenne pepper to perfect the heat. After the sauce has reduced by 1/3 add the shrimp, peppers and onions back to the skillet and heat through (about 1-2 minutes). Then add ½ the cilantro, stir. Serve in a bowl or over Jasmine rice. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and basil. Salt to taste.
Tips: If you don’t like to serve the curry over rice it looks nice family style served with rice on the side. I will cook my jasmine rice in light coconut rice for extra coconut flavor. It’s a little softer texture and can be a side dish with mango.
I from time to time get asked about knife sharpening. I have a couple of sharpening steels I use to sharpen my knives. I sharpen most of my knives before every use. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. I’m attaching a link about knife sharpening (http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culinarytools/qt/sharpen.htm) so you can do it yourself. Or, if your knives need professional help, search your market for a knife shop. I use as a local (Sacramento area) guy that does a great job sharpening knives. Al Warren. Email Al at Al@warrenknives.com or give him a call (916) 257-5904. I take my knives to him periodically for a professional “deep” sharpening while keeping the knives tuned up daily with the steel. Al makes great custom knives as well so check out his website at http://warrenknives.com/