Spices, Chiles and Thickeners: Who cheats in their chili?
Rob Iracane: I still think chili powder is okay if you have a good idea about where and whence it came from.
Ted Berg: It came from the supermarket, next to the coriander seeds.
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: When I gave my recipe to Sarah she was like “Hey, are the chipotles canned or dried? People can get pretty freaking irate about that”. I wasn’t even aware there was a big dried/canned chili controversy.
Also, I have never considered adding bacon, sausage, or venison to my chili before, and now that I think about it, all that sounds like the best thing ever.
Unsilent: Well yeah, something from Penzey’s is probably better than the year old McCormick in your cabinet. Still, I love the process of toasting and grinding dried chiles. And I don’t even need to use a water bath.
Sarah: And on turkey, I should add that I’ve made my chicken mole Frito pie with turkey that is cooked and then shredded and it is excellent. (Mostly because it’s covered in mole.) (In my book Frito pie counts towards chili, but milage may vary.)
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: The only real problem I have with turkey is one of consistency. When I eat turkey chili, something about it seems off, even if the actual chili base is delicious– like it hasn’t dissolved into the chili quite right or absorbed the flavors quite enough. It probably has something to do with the fat content in turkey vs the fat content in beef or pork.
Andrea Hangst: I can accept a situation involving turkey and mole, because that’s really, really traditional. Rick Bayless says so.
Sarah: Since Hulk mentioned chili cook-offs and we’re on actually chiles now, have any of you been to one of those stores in Texas that is nothing but bin after bin of chiles in various ratios? They’re marked for the different years they’ve won which cook-off, and have chiles that I haven’t even seen in Thai/Vietnamese/Mexican/South American markets in LA.
Too many chiles can be intimidating.
Film Crit Hulk: YEAH. GOING BEYOND MEAT AND BEAN, CHILI IS ABOUT IT STILL TASTING LIKE CHILI. IF YOU DON’T STRIKE THE BALANCE YOU’RE JUST MAKING BOLOGNESE SOUP OR JUMBALAYA. AND FOR HULK, THAT ALL STARTS WITH DRIED CHILIS. ANCHO IS ALWAYS THE ANCHOR, BUT IN THE CREOLE TRADITION OTHERS SHOW UP. AS DOES OKRA. WHICH TECHNICALLY IS A MALVACEAE BREED, BUT WHATEVER. IT’S A GREAT THICKENING AGENT IF YOU DON’T WANNA OVERDO THE BEANS.
Andrea Hangst: Dried beans are like an insane powder keg of “WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN” for me. No two times do they ever seem to cook the same. It’s my big failing as a person who cooks all the damn time.
I also use chili powder, or rather powderS and I don’t make it myself, even though: Chicago, so many dried chiles, ACCESS TO ROBOT COUPE. Maybe I should do this. This weekend. Man, I didn’t have any chili-making plans for this weekend but Arctic Polar Vector Vortex (2.0) plus this discussion seems to be forcing my hand towards the inevitable. And I may just do a few things differently this time (dusting off the R’Coupe).
Unsilent: Ancho for flavor. Always. Then I mix it up for heat. I think I have some mulatos at home for tomorrow’s batch.
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. Okra is a chile? THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING
Film Crit Hulk: TECHNICALLY NOT A CHILI, BUT THEY’RE ALONG THE SAME PATH OF VEGETAL. THEY’RE MORE LIKE COUSINS.
Stephanie Stradley: To me, the critical step for whatever kind of chili is the salt to heat ratio. That is the hardest thing to get just right but it is crucial in the best tasting chili. Perfect salt/heat is what makes chili go so well with beer.
Sarah: Stephanie, I hate when I get an under-salted chili, or when I get an over salted chili because they didn’t cut back on the salt when using canned beans.
Do you cheat thickening your chili? I’ve been known to throw in some tomato paste or refried beans if it seems too thin. I tried mesa once and it backfired on me.
Michael Felder: I too have fallen prey to the tomato paste. I’m not proud but I can admit it here in this safe place.
Andrea Hangst: I’ve never cheated to thicken my chili. If it needs a billion hours to reduce, that’s just the way it goes. Sorry, dinner’s at midnight!
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: I throw some carefully sifted all purpose flour or corn starch in there sometimes, but only because I cook the chili in the same pot as the meat without degreasing it or anything. I know that’s like, a sin, but I don’t usually like my thickening agents to flavor the chili. It usually throws something off for me.
In terms of types of chiles, I think it all depends on what flavor profiles you’re going for. I know lots of folks that stick to anchos, and they’re great for a nice, hearty heat, but at any Super Bowl party, you’re going to want to have a few chilis, hopefully all with different flavor profiles. Since the flavor profile is rooted in the type of chile you use, I usually try to branch out and find something that offers a significantly different flavor than an ancho, then pick ingredients to complement it. I know that’s kinda contrarian, but there’s no worse feeling than bringing chili to a party, putting it on your buddy’s stove next to another pot, and not being able to tell the difference when you try them both.
Film Crit Hulk: TOMATO PASTE IS A GREAT CATCH-ALL FOR JUST ABOUT MOST THINGS CHILLI / ITALIAN / CREOLE / TEX-MEX, SO HULK DOESN’T KEEP IT IN THE HOUSE. TRUST HULK ON THIS ONE. BECAUSE YOU’LL BE HALFWAY INTO COOKING SOMETHING AND NOT WANTING TO WASTE THE TIME TO FIX IT AND THAT LACK OF HAVING IT JUST FORCES YOU TO WORK THROUGH IT. IT’S A GREAT LIFE DECISION.
Michael Felder: Noted. Now going to throw the devil away.
Ted Berg: I’m with Andrea. The chili is ready when it looks like chili. Sometimes that takes two hours, sometimes four. I try not to make it if I’m in a rush to eat, so I inevitably just eat a bunch of the Fritos I’ve purchased while I’m waiting.
Sarah: Hulk – The day you pull my tube tomato paste concentrate out of my hands will be the day that I die.
I usually like to reduce down as much as I can though, and eating late does happen. Although with chili, there is the school of thought that you make a day or two a head of time and then reheat for a more balanced chili.
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: That’s actually a really good point, Hulk. Not that it always ends in brilliance, but lots of times meals in general turn out better when you don’t have a catch-all ingredient to bail you out if something goes wrong.
Film Crit Hulk: HA! BUT HULK CAN UNDERSTAND THE INCLINATION SARAH, BECAUSE HULK ISN’T SAYING IT ISN’T WONDERFUL. BUT IT’S ACTUALLY THE SAME REASON HULK DOESN’T OWN ANY BLU-RAYS. IT’S NOT THAT THEY AREN’T AMAZING, IT’S THAT IF HULK HAD THEM AROUND IT WOULD BE ALL HULK DID.
ALSO IF YOU’RE EVER DESPERATE FOR THICKING, THE TINIEST BIT OF XANTHAN GUM AT THE LAST SECOND WORKS WONDERS ON JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING AND IS PRETTY TASTELESS.
Sarah: The good thing though about thinner chili, the more you can dunk cornbread into it.
While we’re still taking chiles, do you guys mind using canned green chiles? Frozen hatches (because hatch season is like two minutes long, which isn’t fair), fresh chiles that you dry or blacken yourselves?
Film Crit Hulk: MIND? NOT SO MUCH. BUT THE THING IS THAT GETTING / ORDERING GOOD DRIED CHILES IS TOO EASY AT THIS POINT TO GO FOR ANYTHING ELSE.
Sarah: So we’ve talked about the fancy ingredients, but we should also acknowledge we’ve had some pretty — “unconventional” to be kind — chili that was delicious because we were freezing cold and standing in the middle of tailgate. Last year at one of the last home Steeler games it was something ungoldly like 20º (I’M IN LA NOW SO SHUT IT) and some friends of friends brought a chili that must have had three blocks of cream cheese in it. I could have had five bowls of it if I wasn’t too busy playing flip cup with some of the hockey bloggers. (And I didn’t want to eat all of their chili.)
Old James: A pound of beef chuck, a pound of Italian sausage, a one pound of chorizo, browned together in the same skillet.
Hi, I’m Old James. And you’re all probably going to hate me by the end of this.
Sarah: Only if you eat all of the chili and don’t leave any for us. Hot Italian or Sweet Italian?
Old James: Hot. For sure. And beans. Lots of beans. Some drained, some left in the Bush’s blend of SECRET CHILI GOODNESS like Andrea. Tomato paste, because I cook with crutches. And liquid smoke, to taste, because I’m from Kansas City and don’t know any better.
Andrea Hangst: Blocks of cream cheese in the chili? Never heard of such a thing! I sometimes put a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles in mine and last time I made chili I bought a can of green chiles to put in and see how that goes but I forgot. Maybe tomorrow. I’ve also never done the chocolate thing. Much like Texas Red I consider it and ultimately back off.
Jeb Lund: Add me to the pound of beef chuck and pound of Italian sausage group. Hot or mild depends on your guests (wusses) and also if you’re going nuts with lots of other peppers in the chili. (If you have a bunch already, mild sausage seems like a bit of a refuge, palate-wise.)
Also, I am totally guilty of frequently swapping out the chuck for ground beef, just because that takes the chili from the several-hours cooking bracket to a quick-and-dirty version you can actually make after work or if you’re pressed for time.
Unsilent: Catching up after my commute… I use tomato paste in most of my chili. I’ve never considered that cheating. I too thicken all night if need be. Besides, I rarely eat chili the same day I make it. The best way to get the salt right is to salt each element as you go. Soaking beans? Salt. Sweating onions? Salt. Incorporating soy sauce and fish sauce certainly helps as well.
Film Crit Hulk: IF WE’RE TALKING SOY / FISH SAUCE, THEN IT’S PROBABLY TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE LAST ELEMENT: ACCENTS.
THE THING HULK LOVES ABOUT COOK IS NO MATTER WHAT, YOU ARE REALLY TALKING ABOUT THE ART OF BALANCING 5 THINGS: SALT, SWEET, SOUR, BITTER, AND UMAMI. THAT’S IT. AND WITH CHILI YOU COVER SO MUCH WITH SALT AND UMAMI (THE STARCH, PLUS HEAT IS TECHNICALLY THE SWEET ODDLY ENOUGH) BUT THAT JUST LEAVES A BITTER NOTE. EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT CORIANDER AT THIS POINT. A LOT OF FOLKS GO WITH BEER ADDITION AT AN EARLY STAGE (YOU SHOULDN’T ADD BITTER TOO EARLY IN THE PROCESS THOUGH BECAUSE IT BREAKS DOWN EASILY). BUT HULK IS GOING TO SUGGEST SOMETHING THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BLOW YOUR MIND:
COFFEE… A LITTLE BIT OF COFFEE (A STRONG CUP) NEAR THE END CAN ADD THIS WEIRDLY PERFECT NOTE THAT BALANCES EVERYTHING OUT. WHENEVER HULK MENTIONS THIS SOME PEOPLE ARE LIKE “DUH” AND OTHERS ARE LIKE “WHAAAAAAAAAAA” SO HULK NEVER KNOWS HOW TO PRESENT THE IDEA, BUT HULK SWEARS BY IT.
Jeb Lund: I add a strong cup of Italian Roast at the beginning and ten ounces of Guinness (reserving the other ten toward the end), and the coffee really holds up through the simmer. But it might not be bad to do the same thing as the beer and half-and-half at the beginning and end. Haven’t really explored that.
Sarah: Similar to coffee, I will put molasses in beef chili if I feel like it is missing something and it rounds out everything nicely.
RobotsFightingDinosaurs: My recipe is for a chocolate chipotle stout chili, so I can back you up on the guinness. You won’t regret it.
Dan Pashman: At what point have some of these recipes crossed into Mole Territory?
Sarah: Hulk is right about being careful with beer going too early though. I make a vegan lentil chili for my vegan friends and if I put the beer in even thirty minutes too soon, the chili becomes too bitter.
Celebrity Hot Tub: I just want to chime in briefly to say that this is mind-blowing for a total chili amateur.
Film Crit Hulk: COMPLETELY OVERJOYED TO SEE SO MUCH LOVE FOR THE COFFEE / CHOCOLATE / BEER BITTER ANGLES. IT’S SO IMPORTANT!
Sarah: Dan – Really mole takes so much work with the nuts and everything else, I don’t think of chocolate as just being mole.
Andrea Hangst: I recall doing coffee one time. It was good. Sometimes, if something seems off I add a little cider vinegar (Braggs!) right near the end of cooking.
Jeb Lund: I’m so used to being in Twitter “canoes” for these kinds of conversations that I just reflexively tried to favorite Hulk and Celebrity Hot Tubs’s emails.
Sarah: (I’m silently waiting for Albert’s massive thesis to land on this thread.) (Kind of excited, kind of scared.)
I want more like this!
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