Chili Melts the Chill


How many different chili recipes have you encountered in your food journeys? If you’re anything like me, then the number is staggering. I mean, almost everyone I know has his or her own proprietary version of this comfort food classic. Restaurants, too. Not surprising, either. As with so many American standards, this favorite is flexible. So many flavoring options and tons of opportunities for placing a personalized stamp on the dish. I think that’s what I like so much about it.

So where does chili come from? I’ve read lots of stories, none of which can be substantiated. I’ve heard say that it is a Mexican dish. I really do doubt that, since you don’t find it in Mexico, except in establishments near the border catering to American tourists. However, I can’t help but believe that the creation of chili was highly influenced by Mexican cuisine. Many of the same spices. Most do agree though that the first chili was concocted in the Southwest. That makes a lot of sense to me.

I love chili. I’ve found that there are nights when nothing else will do. Warm and filling and really intense in flavor. One of my fondest memories includes chili. It was at a winter resort. The day was a single digit one, and we were frolicking in the snow doing all sorts of fun things. At about 4:00 pm, I found myself famished. We had a late breakfast and skipped lunch. So we headed for a cozy eatery and found chili on the menu. I tell you, it just hit the spot so beautifully that it was the highlight of my day. Can’t get enough of it ever since.

So, in the mood for simmering a big old pot of chili? There’s nothing quite like it on a cold and wintry day. One of the first things you need to decide when embarking on chili cuisine is whether or not to bean it. Texans will fall on a sword before they’d add beans to their recipes. All meat for them. Others will omit the meat altogether, vegetarians or not. You should also think about the level of heat you want to infuse into your chili. I’ve found that most go easy on the spice. Some, however, are so heavy handed that you don’t taste a thing because your mouth is afire. You know, the Five Alarm Chili crew. Really, it’s a matter of taste. I prefer a blend of beans and meat, whether it’s beef, turkey or chicken. More hearty and interesting to me, with contrasting textures and all. As for heat, I’m all for a moderately intense kick.

The next thing to do is to get your hands on a fantastic recipe. And they do abound via cookbooks and online. But why leave it up to chance? If you haven’t guessed by now, Phyllis Kirigan wins my affection through my taste buds all the time. So I highly recommend her recipe. I promise, you’ll love it.

It’s funny how some foods just have to be included in certain occasions and events. Chili is one of those. I mention this because Game Day is soon approaching. In my home, we refuse to enjoy football unless there is chili in the offing. I like to serve it with the usual suspects – chopped onion, cheese and sour cream accompaniments. I always have cooked rice available as well. One thing I’ll never do is ladle it over pasta. I know, lots of people like it. But I’m Italian, and my mother would kill me if I did!

I also adore chili leftovers. The flavors really meld and marry in the fridge overnight. And I find that you can do lots with it. Chili hot dogs are spectacular. Chili sitting next to my scrambled eggs is divine. Chili on a grilled chicken sandwich – amazing. Chili makes it better. Sounds like a tag line. I might use that sometime. In any event, I’m cooking up some of Phyllis’ chili tonight. If you care to join us, dinner is at seven.

Victor Ribaudo

Chili Con Carne

OK. You and your friends are gathered around the TV riveted on the Super Bowl. Chips and salsa have been passed about, but now it’s half time and the call is for something more stick-to-your ribs satisfying. Chili!


1 T cumin seeds

2 medium (roughly 3 by 5 inches) chiles ancho

2 T pure chile powder

2 t ground Mexican oregano

4 strips applewood smoked bacon

2 ½ lbs. well marbled beef chuck cut into ½ inch cubes


1 medium white onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 14-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes (preferable D.O.P.)**

1 T freshly squeezed lime juice

1 t sugar

1 t masa harina

1 14-oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained


1. Toast cumin seeds in a small cast iron skillet until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool. Pulverize in a small grinder (such as a coffee grinder used only for spices).*

2. In the same skillet, toast chiles ancho until crisp. Turn over but be careful not to burn. Tear into pieces. discarding stem and seeds, and place in a bowl. Cover with 2 ½ cups hot water. Set aside.

3. Mix chile powder and oregano together. Add enough water to form a light paste. Set aside.

4. Cook bacon in a large skillet on medium high until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove from pan and set aside on a paper towel. Pour bacon fat in a separate container and set aside. When bacon cools, crumble it into small pieces and set aside.

5. Increase heat to medium high and add one tablespoon bacon fat back into pan. Work in batches to brown the beef. Don’t crowd or you will steam the beef. Brown on all sides and lightly salt as you cook. Remove from pan and set aside.

6. Add another tablespoon of bacon fat to pan. Add chopped onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chile and oregano paste and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes.

7. Put onions and garlic, beef, bacon and tomatoes (breaking them up with your fingers) into a 6-quart Dutch oven.

8. Pulse ancho chile water in a food processor a few times. (There will still be pieces of chile in the liquid.) Strain into pot and add lime juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 ½ hours. Then uncover and maintain a bare simmer for another half hour.

9. Mix the masa harina in a small amount of water to make a slurry. Stir into the chili to thicken it. Mix in the kidney beans. Add salt and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with any or all of the following garnishes on the side:

grated sharp cheddar

chopped red onion

sour cream

sliced scallions

diced fresh tomatoes

chopped fresh cilantro

*Ground cumin comes in a spice bottle, of course, but if you toast and grind your own, you will be transported to spice heaven by the aroma and fresh taste.

**D.O.P. refers to tomatoes that have been processed in the same place they were grown.

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis
Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika

Food Stylist Brian
Preston Campbell

Food Stylist Laurie Knoop
Courtesy of Heat Magazine
Blog syndicated at the