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Arts & Culture

Chili: A Class Of Food All By Itself

Flickr user, JeffreyW (CC BY 2.0)
chorizo chili

"Every chili turns out different," observes Jon Jackson, Food Guy and fan of both the hot pepper and the famous dish. Chili, that versatile outlet for creativity and leftovers, can go in a million directions - as long as it contains chilis, cumin, and an aromatic base. Cumin, one of the ingredients found in packaged chili powder, forms a common ingredient among the zillions of recipes for chili. According to Greg Patent, Indian and Mexican cooks toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat till they smell its aroma, immediately transferring it to the spice grinder.   

Greg offers some broad chili-cooking guidelines. "Any chili should start with a base of aromatics. Heat up the oil, add lots of onions, along with leeks, chopped carrots and garlic, and cook slowly till the vegetables are tender. Add chili powder next, to activate its flavors. That's your base."

Jon adds chili peppers right at the start, even before the onions, to give them time to soften. Certain chilis, like poblanos, should be roasted and peeled first, and you'll want to add them later in the cooking process than the sturdier serrano or jalapeño.

The next step is to add cubes of meat and some liquid. Venison is a great meat for chili, since it holds its shape and can be cooked till it's tender, no matter how tough the cut.

Cook very slowly till the meat is tender. (If you're using ground meat, this will happen much faster.) Next, add salt and pepper and, Greg recommends, at least one 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Beer goes well with chili; add it next.

At the very end, add beans, either canned or home-cooked, and greens such as chopped parsley or cilantro.

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 2/7/16 and 2/11/16. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays and again at 4:54 p.m. Thursdays, or via podcast.)