Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tyler's Not Award Winning Chili

A couple weekends ago, I competed in a Texas alumni chili competition. The competition was open to all, and each team was required to provide 5 gallons of chili. If you’re not familiar with measurement amounts, 5 gallons is a massive amount of chili. Our team of 5 people was named “To Bean or Not To Bean” (we beaned). My job was to plan and execute the making chili, with my friend Andrew and my girlfriend Devon as my sous-chefs.

Wrapping my head around the sheer volume of ingredients needed for this amount of chili was one of the hardest parts of the preparation. I had never made that amount of anything before, so I had to do a bit of guessing in terms of what quantities to buy. My normal chili recipe feeds about 6 and is about 1-1.5 gallons, so I figured I could just quadruple that and be set for the competition. 

I picked up 20 lbs of meat (10 of a ground beef blend of chuck and sirloin and 10 of boneless short rib). I like using boneless short rib because it’s a very marbled cut that breaks down well when cooked for a long time. Chunks of short rib give chili a nice texture and a bit more heartiness than using only ground beef. In addition to the beef, I bought 3lbs of onions, 2 lbs of carrots, 2 celery hearts, 2 garlic cloves, 1 lb of jalapenos, 4 cans of diced tomatoes, 6 cans of kidney beans, 2 bars of 100% dark chocolate, brown sugar, 2 4oz cans of tomato paste, 2 16 fl oz boxes of chicken broth (I like Kitchen Basics, Pacific Organics, or Whole Foods brand – most other ones are too salty and have some artificial ingredients in them), and 2 bottles of Yuengling beer. In order to transport all of this, I had to bring my large rolling duffel bag to whole foods and pack everything nice and tight to I could get it home.

Once home, we started on the chili. Andrew diced the vegetables, while Devon cut the boneless short rib into small cubes. I made my special spice rub which consists of toasting and grinding whole peppercorns, cumin seed, mustard seed, and crushed red pepper, and mixing those with paprika, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon, and salt. Once the spice mix was done, I mixed some of it in with the ground beef and began to brown all of the meet in a couple heavy bottom pots. Browning the meat gives it a nice caramelized flavor that you wouldn’t get if you just tossed it in the chili, and it cooks off a lot of the fat content, making the chili a little healthier and a little less greasy. I did reserve the fat for use while cooking, as it does have great flavor (I just didn’t want to use all of it).

Once I browned all of the meat, I started cooking the vegetables. Because I was making so much chili, I wanted to use 2 pots to cook so that it heated more evenly and I could better prevent burning at the bottom of the pot. I did my best to divide the ingredients proportionally between the two pots. I cooked the onion, celery, and carrot until translucent, and added the remaining spice mix, the peppers and garlic. Once all of the veggies were ready, I added the meat in, the tomato paste, the cans of tomatoes, the broth, and the beer. I also put in a couple bay leaves to give the broth more flavor. I had wanted to add beef bones to the broth, but Whole Foods didn’t have any. These would have added a rich beefy quality to the liquid. Once everything was stirred, I let it simmer, and then let it simmer some more.

The chili cooked for about 3 hours that night. After hour 1, I added the chocolate and some brown sugar. After hour 2, I added the kidney beans. I stirred it about every half hour, and watched it go from a brothy red to a thick reddish brown. The texture was perfect. You want chili to be a little thicker than a stew. As you cook it, it begins to grow an identity of its own. The color changes, the textures change, and the flavor develops and expands.

Once the chili was done, I put all of it in a big 5 gallon pot, and put it in the fridge to sit until the competition. On competition morning, I got up early, divided the chili between 3 pots to heat it, and stirred it constantly to avoid burning. I also added a little more sugar and some crushed red pepper and cayenne. The chili was good! It had a rich flavor that was sweet at the beginning and hot at the end. We brought it to the competition, setup our table (led by Keeli and Lily, the other two team members), and served the chili to judges, competitors, and attendees. Everyone seemed to like it a lot, other than the judges...

We didn’t make it to the finals because the chili was too sweet and not hot enough. Next time I will make the chili with less sugar and use habanero peppers instead of jalapenos to add more spice. We had a blast at the event nonetheless, and now I have a clear goal for my chili making throughout the year - perfect my chili, and win the competition!!

No comments: