Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Chili Farewell to Winter

by Ki Hackney

In the last few weeks, when the temperature wasn’t stretching up to seventy degrees, it was so cold that I couldn’t resist the idea of whipping up a big pot of chili, as a sort of ceremonial farewell to winter. My son-in-law, John “Hoss” Hossenlopp, who has mastered the art of stews, sent me the introduction to his well-used copy of the Chili-Lovers’ Cook Book (Golden West Publishers, 1984) in which the authors, Al Fisher and Mildred Fischer, refer to this slow-cooked amalgamation of meat and chili peppers as “the ambrosia of modern man.”

Cuisinart 6-quart pressure cooker with push-button controls and digital display, a precision thermostat, pre-programmed settings for high- or low-pressure cooking, browning, simmering, sautéing and warming, a brushed stainless steel housing and removable non-stick cooking bowl; $149.95, at or 800-541-2233. The electric pressure cooker recipe, Beef Chili with Masa Harina in an Electric Pressure Cooker, is available here.
Maybe it is. Legendary chili heads have included trumpeter Harry James, president Lyndon B. Johnson, comedian Jack Benney, former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, outlaw Jesse James, actor Clark Gable, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. And while filming Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor didn’t miss a bowlful, as Hollywood’s Chasen’s Restaurant just shipped their famous chili to her in Rome.

Chili con carne is the state dish of Texas and San Antonio seems to be the agreed-upon home of the hot pepper and meat stew. Legend has it that chuck-wagon cooks in the southwest even planted chili plants among the mesquite, along the trails so that the cattle wouldn’t eat them and there would be plentiful supply of ripe chilies when they returned. And I believe that San Antonio still celebrates the famous “Chili Queens” chili market at Military Plaza in honor of the original woman of Spanish-Canary-Island heritage who, for more than fifty years, from dawn until dusk, cooked, refined and sold their homemade chili in the downtown plaza. In 1937, health laws put an end to this primitive food court.

While a pot of chili recipes has always had meat (beef, pork, venison or other hearty meat) and an equal amount of chili peppers as the mainstay, along the way, ingredients including oregano, onions, garlic, cumin, salt, and tomatoes, even paprika, have become standard additions.
All-Clad, 7-quart deluxe slow cooker with a non-stick cast-aluminum insert that doubles as a cooker on its own to brown ingredients on the stovetop before returning it to the stainless-steel exterior to let the ingredients cook gently to perfection; $249.95, at or 800-541-2233 . For the slow cooker recipe, 6-Hour Chili, click here.
The big debates are ground versus cubed meat and whether or not to include beans. Personally, I gave up grinding or cubing my own meat years ago when my childhood friend, Louise Jenks, brought back 1967 World Chili Champion,Wick Fowler’s “2-Alarm® Chili Kit” from one of her Texas family reunions. It has been a kitchen staple ever since. Sometimes I add beans; mostly I like my chili au natural, with plenty of spice.

There are several chili-lovers’ groups, the two most well-known being the International Chili Society and the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), both of which offer recipes for every type of chili imaginable on their web sites, and CASI includes formulas from the winners of the last 18 annual, grand-champion chili cook-offs in Terlingua, Texas.
Back to the idea of sending winter out with a big pot of warm chili: Once I decided to do it, I called the experts and Williams-Sonoma for a recommendation on the newest cooking pots and their favorite recipes. While I use my trusty, old, well-seasoned cast iron pot, my son-on-law relies on his decade-old Williams-Sonoma-brand, stainless steel 8-quart multi-purpose pot, and the window-dresser for Williams-Sonoma at Madison Avenue/86th Street (212-289-6832) prefers her All-Clad Ltd. 4-quart soup pot, the California-based store’s current favorites for making chili are a stove-top pressure-cooker by Cuisinart or All-Clad’s stainless steel and cast aluminum slow cooker. For a more basic pot, the cooks at Williams-Sonoma selected a warm green enameled, round Dutch oven from Le Creuset. The green looks so timely, that, for a moment, I thought we might start a craze for St. Patrick’s Day Chili.

* Lead image: Le Creuset 3 1/2-quart cast iron Dutch oven with non-reactive enamel coating in exclusive Sonoma Green; $160.00, at or 800-541-2233.