The Evolution of Your Chili Zen

…not just a big pot of beefy slop with taco seasoning and some fake heat in the form of hot sauce with a donkey on the bottle.  Not something that you can serve with Cool Ranch Doritos to the common meathead.  And not some recipe you found in the eating light section of Cooking for Jerks.  I’m talking about a recipe that takes you ten pounds of beef and veggies to make, ten times to get it where you want it, and ten years to absolutely perfect.

You see, having a chili recipe that people remember you for is a badge of honor, and most likely is not something that you can just read in a book, understand and execute.  Especially when that book was written by someone else – this means that you’re cooking somebody else’s chili. This is not something to be taken lightly.  There is so much more than ingredients and cook time that goes into a good batch of chili.

You must begin your training while you are young and still live with your parents. Get some basic knowledge of the ingredients that you absolutely need to make chili.  I suggest starting very simple. Just use ground beef, small chunks of steak or stew meat, chopped onions and peppers, kidney beans, tomato sauce, and the chili mix packets in the spice aisle.

Test it on your family because if it really sucks, they will tell you with tact, and they will most likely tell you how to make it better.  Not because they necessarily know how to make a great chili, but because they know simple stew cooking guidelines, like that you need to drain the ground beef or else the fat and oil will rise to the top of the pot and create a layer that resembles the BP gulf spill.  They know that you need to cook it on low to medium else you will burn the bottom of the pan and create a used wookie-like smell that fills the house and the flavor of the chili.

And now for the “how to cook basic chili in one sentence” sentence… Cook all of the meat on medium and drain it, add the veggies and cook until they are, um, cooked, then add the drained beans, sauce, spices, and simma down for two hours.

Want some heat?  Add fresh de-seeded jalapenos during the veggie cooking stage, and don’t wipe your face until you wash your hands thoroughly.  Want it really hot?  Keep the seeds and add it during the sauce and spice stage.  Or you can add your fave hot sauce as it’s simmering.  If you can get comfortable making a basic chili a few times at home before you go off to college, you will have the confidence to make it for your boys on any given Sunday.

OK, so you made it into college where you live with dudes that like football Sundays and eating tailgate food.  Good job, junior.  Now you can start to experiment a bit, but don’t make any major changes – try adding new things, removing some things, all kinds of things… You are on your own now, and it is time to use what you learned at home and explore, try new things.  Blossom, child.  You will make some mistakes, but you will learn from them unless you are an idiot, in which case you will not be in college much longer anyways and you should start learning how to make license plates because that’s obviously were you are headed.

Anyways, try new things in college.  How do you prefer to spark it up – jalapeno, habanero, cayenne, or cholula?  What other fillers do you prefer, legumally speaking?   I use baked beans, black beans, and kidney beans.  This makes the chili a little sweeter tasting and adds  thickness to the sauce.  It also turns my dog Dre into a gaseous carpet ass-dragger, so I try to keep him away from it.  I also use corn, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, onion salt, and sometimes beer or Guinness early.  During these years of experimentation you will not only learn what works and what doesn’t work, but precisely how everything cooks.  By that I mean the difference of flavor and texture of onions in your chili if you cut them big or small, and if you add them early or late.

So you’ve graduated college – or at least made it through 4 years and have like one or two classes to make up.  You should be proud – now you have the tools to totally make it on your own.  The chili, I mean.  You have your own chili pot, and roommates that have grown to prefer your chili over the last couple of years.  You’re making money now and you can afford to buy better quality ingredients and good beer.  These are the years that you will perfect your chili.  You know what works and what doesn’t.  You know what types of meats you prefer, and which spices seem to hit it for you.  You’ve got the shopping and preparation part down to a science, you can make minor adjustments as you wish, and you know exactly what turning each knob will do.  You are no longer the padawan, young Flywacker, you are one with the force.  Now go win a local chili cookoff, or host one at your nasty apartment.

And if you really want to wow someone, serve your chili as huevos rancheros.  A layer of good quality corn tortilla chips topped with one egg over easy, topped with the chili, topped with melted cheese.  The bites with the runny yolk will make your eyes roll up into the back of your head.

I just drooled on the space bar.

-Jp

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