It's the time of year when I extol the virtues of chili as a buffer between your soul and the frosty breezes that have begun racing over the plains.
But this year, I'm doing it from a loftier perch than usual. That's right, I took my chili-making skills downtown last Friday for the VI Marketing and Branding Carne Diem Chili Cookoff and came home with top honors in the professional division.
In the amateur division, VI designer David Hinds, a native of Tuttle, used a recipe he adapted from former chef Andy Marlette.
Hinds, 25, told me Marlette grew up in Louisiana and suggested a Cajun chili would allow him to stand out.
Hinds said Marlette was kind enough to share the original recipe, which he used as the foundation.
“I basically figured out how to put my own spin on it and see how I could improve on the recipe. This was only my fourth time cooking chili ever, so I was pretty excited that it won.”
And the crowd was obviously thrilled Hinds switched out ground turkey and hot links as the meats for ground beef and Mexican chorizo. They were further happy Hinds kept the andouille sausage from Marlette's original recipe. Hinds also stayed with slices of whole smoked andouille for added texture and some fresh sliced jalapeno for a last kick to the palate.
Clearly, the judges agreed.
I was one of 12 in the professional division that included entries from Ludivine, CoolGreens, Kitchen No. 324, LT's Deli, Empire Slice House, The Mule, Packard's, The Range Cafe, Ground Floor Cafe, Cafe 7 and Deep Fork Grill.
With ingredients donated from the good folks at Buy For Less as sponsors for my efforts, my plan was simple. Seriously, simplicity was what I sought after a sound beating at the hands of Bruce Rinehart, a known Yankee, in last year's competition.
Last year's losing recipe included wisps of Mexican cocoa and a garnish of dehydrated corn kernels, which were clearly too fussy for the chili world. So, this year I went to the very roots of chili, which is the Mexican dish chile con carne.
Using what I knew about that dish and what helped it evolve into a “bowl of the red,” I came up with a plan to create a powder-free pot of powder-keg chili.
That meant rehydrating lots of dried chilies, making stock and tomato sauce from scratch and coming up with an answer to the paprika question.
Rehydrating the chilies rather than simply powderizing them removed any fear of gritty mouth feel in lieu of a silky texture. Using chef Kurt Fleischfresser's simple, homemade chicken stock recipe was clearly a boost to the final result.
For the Mexican tomato sauce, I made a version that I wouldn't use for anything other than chili, because it contains enough onion to make the sauce plus the amount I would use for a simple chili recipe. I combined the amount of onion into the tomato sauce recipe to save time and unify the flavors.
The three biggest secrets to my success were substituting paprika with a puree of roasted sweet red pepper, sweating the onions for the tomato sauce in fresh rendered bacon fat, and converting the aforementioned bacon into bits and adding it to the chili for a third layer of protein flavor and texture.
I realize this isn't a recipe many of you are going to want to rush right out and attempt, so I'm calling it my Bucket List Championship Chili recipe. Read the recipe through, understand that there are a lot of steps, but none of them requires a special city permit or a chef's coat to accomplish. Just some time and patience. I can also promise you that if you do attempt this recipe, you will gain all the knowledge you ever need to create your own chili recipe. In fact, after creating the recipe, I came away with ideas how to elevate the result even more with intermediate techniques.
But you'll have to wait until next year's Carne Diem to find out what they are. Bruce Rinehart and I have a chili rubber match to settle — which most likely means chef Russ Johnson from Ludivine will see his name printed on the Carne Cup for 2014.
Bucket List Championship Chili
1 pound coarse-grind ground beef
¾ pound tri-tip roast, cut into ½-inch cubes
3 slices thick-cut bacon
2-3 cups homemade chicken stock, recipe below
½ cup homemade Mexican tomato sauce, recipe below
1 cup homemade chile paste, or more if you like
1 roasted sweet red pepper, pureed
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds, toasted
Salt and pepper to taste
6 dried New Mexico red chilies
4 dried ancho chilies
4 dried chipotle chilies
4 dried chilies de arbol
2 dried guajillo chilies
¼ cup chicken stock
¼ cup chile tea, see instructions
2 tablespoons salt
Hint: Wear kitchen gloves for this project.
Homemade Mexican Tomato Sauce for Chili
1 onion, fine diced
4 to 6 garlic cloves
4 Roma tomatoes, skinned
4 to 6 serranos, minced
1 tablespoon salt
Ice and water
Bacon fat rendered from 3 slices of bacon
Source: Dave Cathey
Here is chef Kurt Fleischfresser's basic chicken stock recipe. He said you can follow the same technique using a roasted chicken carcass, which I later did and was thrilled with the result.
3 chicken carcasses (or about 3 pounds of meaty chicken bones)
3 stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons kosher salt
A dozen or so black peppercorns
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 whole head of garlic
¼ cup olive oil
Water to cover
Source: Chef Kurt Fleischfresser
Basic Pinto Beans for Chili
2 cups dried pinto beans, sorted and any stones removed
1 gallon water
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups liquid used to rehydrate chilies or water
Liquid from strained Mexican tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Source: Dave Cathey
1/3 pound Louisiana hot link sausages, sliced
¾ tablespoon extra-
1 pound ground beef
1 pound Mexican chorizo sausage
1 pound andouille sausage
2 celery ribs, chopped
1/3 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (seeds included)
2 scant tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cup Frank's red hot sauce
¾ tablespoon chili powder
¾ tablespoon cumin
1¼ teaspoon paprika
1¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/8 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's)
1½ cups chicken stock
2 (15-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
¾ cup spicy hot V-8 juice
½ (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
½ (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
Source: David Hinds