Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bar for Chili

When trying to describe a particular food, taste is always in the mind of the beholder. Whereas I may love spicy foods, other people may avoid them like the plaque. Some people like broccoli and cauliflower; I cannot stand them.

I've heard that there are as many recipes for chili as there are people that cook it, and that would probably be close to the truth. There are many "forms" of chili as well--Texas style, New Mexico style, Cincinnati style, etc. each obsessed with such questions as:

  • Do you add beans? (Although I like most beans, I don't think they really belong in chili; however, I'll never berate a chili just because it has beans.)
  • Do you add tomatoes? (Some chili aficionados insist that chili's red color should only come from the chili peppers)
  • What kind of meat? Beef (chile con carne)? Pork? Chicken ("White chili")?
  • What other accompaniments or ingredients are used?
The traditional chili con carne is, by translation from Spanish, "Chili with Meat," which is usually interpreted as with beef. I've read differing accounts of the history of chili in which the original recipes from way back simply have meat stewing with chiles and liquid and possibly a little salt. Other spices were probably added later for taste: garlic, onions, oregano, thyme, coriander, etc. Each of these spices has a subtle effect on the chili.

I've tried many recipes in search of a great "bowl of red." I've come to favor a mixture without beans with added tomato mostly as an extender. No doubt others have searched as much as I and came up with differing favorites.

One thing I've found is that if you are cooking chili for a bunch of people, it's best to let your guests decide what they want in their chili. If you keep to the basics (like my recipe), you can serve things "on the side" for people to add to taste.

A good chili bar is similar to a taco bar. Here are some things that I think would be nice to let people pick and choose from:
  • Cheese (of course!)
  • Saltines or tortilla chips
  • Heated kidney beans (for those that must have beans in their chili!)
  • Raw onions (red, green, yellow, or Vidalia)
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Green onions (I know I mentioned them with onions, but there's no reason you can't have scallions as well as other onions)
  • Hot sauce (Tabasco or whatever hot sauce tickles your fancy)
  • Cilantro (for that extra-fresh finish)
  • Spaghetti (believe it or not, chili on top of spaghetti is wonderful!)
I have no doubt that others can think of other things to add to a chili bar, but this is probably a good start. Having hot sauce available allows you to make your chili less spicy and allow your guests to "kick it up a notch" to their own tastes.

Bon Appetit!


Harmony said...

I was going to make chili one weekend when I wasn't in the Arrow or coming home. Could I possibly raid your spice cabinet for some of the ingredients that I don't have, and probably won't use that often (i.e. cumin, chipotle jalepeno powder)?

I do like adding raw onions, cheese, and tortilla chips, myself. I'm not so sure about the spaghetti bit, though. Although, flour tortillas might be nice to have a chili burrito or something.

lar3ry said...

In the Midwest, chili with pasta is actually very common. Check the Wikipedia for Cincinnati Chili (I think in the Midwest, they actually spell it with two L's, as "chilli"). According to that article, "one way" chili is chili only, and is rarely ordered. "Two way" means chili and pasta, usually spaghetti. "Three way" adds cheese. Other "ways" add beans, minced raw onions, and/or chopped garlic in different combinations.

To tell you the truth, I've never had chili in the Midwest, although I have had chili over spaghetti at a (now closed) BBQ place on Chelmsford Street in Lowell back in the early 1990s.