On Chili (not the Country, but the Foodstuff)

I like making chili.  It has been one of my “go to” meals for quite a long time, in part because I think that it was one of the earlier things that I learned how to make.  It is something that I come back to again and again and almost always comes out well. It is, in essence, one of my comfort foods.

One of the things that interests me about chili, is that as far as a food dish goes it can be rather polarizing. Depending on who you talk to there are some very different perspectives on what is, or isn’t, actually chili.  To some, chili is, very simply, meat (read as “ground beef”) and chili peppers, and maybe a few more spices. No beans! No tomatoes! No anything else!  This is kind of the”purest” school of chili.  On the other end of the spectrum however is a kind of big tent mentality that says, ” have fun, add what you like!” Oh, you want to use chicken instead of beef, cool!  Beans! Yay!  Really, it becomes open to very wide variety.

Speaking personally I would say that I very much fall on the inclusive end of chili, and accept a definition of chili that is essentially a “South Western/Mexican spiced stew, of various sorts.” Over the years I’ve included and excluded a vast degree of ingredients.  In fact, part of my love of making chili, in my perspective at least, is that it can be a kind of “well what do I have?” meal. About the only rule, which is really more of guideline actually, which I adhere to pretty consistently, is that you really can’t over do the cumin (yes, the cumin, which I consider a more vital flavor source in a good chili than the chili powder itself).  In addition, adding a bit of corn to chili is a really fun thing to do.

On the hot spiciness of chili (that you get from using actual chili peppers), I’ve come to tone it down a lot of times, in part because, while I love me some hot pungency, a lot of other people are less tolerable of heat than I am, and when I make chili it is often for sharing.  Furthermore, if you want some burn, it is easy to add outside of the cooking pot.  Chili sauces are in abundance of variety themselves.  Allowing control in the served bowl seems worthwhile if it means that everybody enjoys the food all the more.

As a final bit of thought on chili.  It seems to me, that it falls into a category of foods, that defy a general logic.  This category includes all foodstuffs that, miraculously improve, once made to leftover status (that is, they’ve sat for a day or two in the fridge, been allowed to cool thoroughly, and then are reheated for a later meal).  I am not entirely sure what it is about these kinds of foods like chili (also including lasagna and, occasionally, beef stew), but something just gets better.  I suspect it is that the spices and flavors can more fully integrate into the dish as a whole, and as such, upon reheating, packs even more of a flavor punch.  In this regard I pretty much always cook chili to the amount where some leftovers are a certainty.  I prefer it if I can make enough so that there is some I can take to work within a few days in addition to some that can be frozen for a later quick meal.  Generally this works out, though, in cases like last nights batch of chili, there was only enough to freeze one future serving.

So chili, good stuff right?  What do you all use in your batches? Leave a comment and let me know.

~ by Nathaniel on October 29, 2013.

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