Chili is one those things, like barbecue, that polarizes people. Lots of people feel they know what real chili is, and, if you don’t agree, you just don’t know chili!
My philosophy about food and regionality has changed over the years. While I’m not a huge fan of the type of chili typically found in Ohio (think ground beef, beans, sweet chili with little or no heat), I do think the definition can be more loosely applied. For instance, I love Skyline chili, which someone from Texas would say isn’t even close to real chili… I don’t care, though; it’s great!
When I make my own chili, however, I prefer to stick to a style that I feel is more suited to ‘real’ chili, with chunks of meat, no beans, and a mix of chiles for flavor and heat, with no real sweetness. I’m getting ready for my church’s men’s ministry chili cookoff, so I thought I’d try some twists out making a batch of red.
I started with gathering up ingredients. I started with about 4 pounds of bottom round roast and mixed up a rub of ground coffee, Turbinado sugar, salt and pepper. I cubed the meat into 1″ or less chunks and applied the rub, then I smoked the meat for about 3 hours at 225F to get some smoke flavor in the meat. It didn’t fully cook during this time, but I wasn’t going for that… this was just for flavor.
I diced up 2 sweet onions and sweated them in olive oil with some garlic. Once they were sweated, I added 2 bottles of dark beer (I used Shiner Commemorator) and a variety of powdered chiles and cumin. I used pasilla, guarillo, ancho, chipotle and cayenne peppers, which I toasted in a dry skillet until the aroma opened up, then I did the same with the cumin.
I cooked out all of the liquid from the beer, so the onions were all colored with the powdered chiles. To this, I added 2 cans of crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper, then added all of that to the meat in a crockpot. The last step I did was cut up a can of chipotles in adobo, adding the whole can with liquid to the chili. It cooked overnight and was ready to take to the office the next day.
To serve the chili, I added a bit of grated cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream (though creme fraiche is even better, I think).
The result is a chili with a nice smoky, meaty flavor, a bit of tomato sweetness, and layers of chili goodness with the mix of chiles. The heat was low to medium, though a couple of Ohio natives felt it was too hot (wimps!). It was pretty good on a snowy winter day!
At the chili cookoff coming up, there will be a big variety of chile types, from venison to chicken to pork to beef, with the majority being the sweet type of Ohio slop, but a few will likely be pretty good. I’m a judge, so my chili is just to share, but I think I’d do just fine with it! You can say it’s not real chili, or maybe it is, but it’s good, however you categorize it.