The Big Game is just around the corner. (Apparently, unauthorized people are not allowed to combine the words “Super” and “Bowl” into one phrase lest they violate copyright and get raided by the Football Gestapo. So we’re calling it the Big Game. You know what I mean.)
The traditional dish for this event is chili. I usually make my standard beef chili, but this year my college roommate Amy MacDonald has offered something more unusual. Her chili was tied for first place in a chili cook-off last year. She says she was inspired by a class she took years ago with chef/instructor Pat Kapp.
Amy sent me her recipe in narrative form. In her words, “It’s not really a recipe—it took three days—it’s practically a way of life.” I love her attitude and her writing because they illustrate the improvisational way in which we all really cook (yes, even cookbook authors!). I hardly ever follow a recipe from start to finish. There’s too much tasting, thinking, and running out of ingredients along the way.
In the interest of making this blog more or less coherent, however, I have translated her essay about making the chili into a semi-standardized recipe. I’ve left in several of her observations because they reflect her personality and that of her chili.
I should add that my family ran out of time and turned the three-day chili into a two-day chili. We just basically kept it in the slow cooker overnight and thought it was ready to serve after 24 hours, just after we added the brown sugar and jam. The end result was quite delicious and definitely prize worthy. So don’t worry if you don’t have three days before the game.
2 chicken breasts (or 5 drumsticks, which I happened to have in the house)
2 4-inch sticks fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh
salt to taste
1 cup red wine, divided (Amy says, “if you happen to be drinking it at the time. I say, “Drink.”)
1/2 pound kielbasa (I mixed kielbasa and locally produced chorizo), plus more if desired
1 large red onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
butter and olive oil as needed for sautéing
2 cans black beans
2 cans other beans (NOT garbanzos; I used pinto and kidney)
1 can pureed or chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari—even better—if you have it in the house)
3 serrano chiles, seeded and minced
6 ounces dark beer or ale
2 heaping tablespoons chili powder, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ounces barbecue sauce
vegetable or chicken stock if needed
1/3 cup apricot jam
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
hot sauce to taste (optional)
Poach the chicken in a little water along with the rosemary and thyme, plus a little salt. Throw in 1/4 cup wine.
Slice the kielbasa into pieces “about the size of a very thick quarter,” and brown them in a frying pan.
In a separate frying pan, brown the onion and garlic in butter and oil. “I don’t know why both butter and oil,” says Amy. “Just do it.” (Actually, the combination adds flavor and keeps the butter from burning.) “The critical thing here is the browning part. Searing everything adds depth.”
Open the cans of beans. Throw them into a pot. “Heat them to a really good simmer.” While they are heating up, take the chicken meat off the bones. Put that meat and the chicken’s cooking liquid in a large slow cooker. Add the beans, vegetables, sausage, tomatoes, soy, chiles, and beer.
“[T]hen start worrying about whether there is enough meat,” says Amy. If you’re concerned (I was! I love meat!), brown another 1 /2 pound at least of sausage in a frying pan. Deglaze the pan with the remaining wine, and add the sausage and wine to the slow cooker. If you don’t use more sausage, just throw the wine in by itself. Stir in the chili powder. Cook overnight on low heat.
On Day II Amy’s son announced that the chili needed some barbecue sauce. Amy didn’t actually add any, but I misunderstood her explanation of his request, and I put some in. Not bad! Taste for flavoring, and if you want to add more chili powder. If you think you want more liquid in your chili, add some stock. Stir in the brown sugar and jam; then cook for a few more hours on low heat. Remove the chili from the crock pot, and refrigerate it overnight.
Return the chili to the crock pot, add the cilantro, and cook it for several additional hours on low heat. Taste it a couple of hours before you’re ready to serve it. If you think it needs more seasoning, feel free to add some chili powder, salt, red pepper flakes, or even hot sauce. If you think it just needs more cooking, increase the heat to high.
If you’re entering a chili cook-off, lobby avidly and look cute. (Amy always does.) If you’re just watching football, dish the chili out.
Serves at least 10 football fans.