Is there anything better on a cold winter evening than a steaming bowl of chili? Or on a hot summer day, for that matter? Yesterday was National Chili Day, and while it's going to be another 364 days before it comes around again, there's no reason you can't eat chili on every one of those days. Go ahead: I dare you.
Just to get you started, here are a couple chili tips I got from the man who created the chili that recently won the People's Choice Award for Best Chili at the Third Annual Milwaukee Chili Bowl.
Robin Rosenberg is chef de cuisine at Levy Restaurants, known for Motor, its restaurant in the Harley-Davidson Museum. They served out 1,600 tasting portions at the Chili Bowl, with proceeds going to Second Harvest of Wisconsin. Personally, he falls on the beans-and-tomato side of the chili divide, so if you're a chili purist, be warned.
Here are his do's and don't's of making great chili:
- DO use the best ingredients you can.
- DO use the right utensils, like a Dutch oven or really thick heavy-duty pot that maintains even heat.
- DO cook the meat in the same pot you're making the chili in, to incorporate the flavor.
- DON'T use meat that's too fatty or lean. Eighty-percent three-piece chuck is perfect.
- DO season the meat while it's raw, and drain off the fat before adding the other ingredients.
- DON'T add the liquids and other ingredients until the meat's fully cooked.
- DO add your ingredients a little at a time, checking for taste as you go.
- ALWAYS cook chili slow. "A good pot of chili should take two to three hours, at least. I call it a party." Let it simmer really slowly, and skim the fat off as it cooks.
- DON'T rush your chili and scorch the bottom.
- DO refrigerate your chili and reheat it for better flavor. Bring it below 35 F for 24 hours or more, letting the onions get sweet, the garlic buttery, etc.
- DON'T make your chili too hot. Too many chili cooks think that the best chili is the spiciest. In fact, making your chili too hot means guests will be overwhelmed with the heat (or too busy chugging down milk) to appreciate the subtler flavors in your chili.
- DO give guests the option of adding hot sauce or peppers on their own, if they prefer their chili at five alarms or more.
Rosenberg offered some ideas for variations, too:
- For a really light chili, use chicken stock, onions, garlic.
- If you want to add color without beans, tomatoes or peppers, caramelize the onions until they're golden-dark brown to create a richer color.
- You can make tofu chili using extra-firm tofu in 1/2-inch dice and browning it with the onions. Apparently, it's a favorite of the owner of the St. Louis Rams.
- For veggie chili, use three or four different kinds of beans.
- Experiment with sweet hot chilis, like one made with peaches or mangoes and served with plaintain chips.
Of course, chili's like Monopoly: Everyone plays by different house rules and swears that it's the only way to go. What lessons have you learned about making the best chili in the world?
By Michael Y. Park
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