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Good Chili Often Like Thick, Boiling Mud
The leaves are turning and falling; the sky is low and gray. This can mean but one thing:
Which also means it is time for me to dust off my rant about what is, and is not, a decent bowl of chili.
Before we begin, let’s review:
Chili is the perfect food, at least for the man part of the human family. It is made from all the food groups: The Meat Group, The Fire Group, The Grease Group, and The Gives-You-Gas Group. In other words, it satisfies a man’s needs for nutrition AND entertainment.
Chili is also something that a great many men take pride in preparing. Of course, they make it far too complicated, but that’s typical. Men do the same thing with the simple act of immolating a hamburger patty on an outdoor grill. Never expect a man to do in three steps what he can do in 12.
The preparation of chili is really kitchen theater, with lots of chopping and mincing and bandaged fingers, much smoke and more fire, and more than a little weeping from standing over a chili pot where you’ve just deposited four onions, eight cloves of garlic and a half-cup of chili powder.
Chili varies by region. Here in the Midwest, we favor a rather mild, tomato-bean-and-hamburger stew that often includes the horror of (gag) elbow macaroni. This most likely started during the Great Depression and World War II, when home cooks were trying to get the most out of what little they had. Properly stretched, a pound of hamburger could feed a neighborhood.
Subsequent generations grew up with this chili and liked it. This preference was reinforced by school lunch programs featuring a hamburger-tomato-and-pasta concoction known as Johnny Marzetti, Goulash, and, in one school I attended, Chop Sewage. While not chili, it did tend to reinforce the idea that hamburger, tomatoes and pasta should never be separated.
I used to be a chili purist, preferring the Texas-style bowl of red to all others. I didn’t even want beans in my chili. I’ve moderated my position on the legumes, however. Beans are pretty much standard in non-Texas chili and I am a non-Texan, so I’ve come to appreciate their presence. I draw the line at macaroni, though.
I have traditionally gone for a snappier and thicker chili than you can usually find in a restaurant. Soupy chili, to me, is underdone chili. I like mine thick enough to sit in the pot on a low burner and make blooping noises, like the mud flats around a geyser. Sometimes I even thicken mine with a little masa harina, which also adds a nice tamale flavor.
But snappier - well, I guess I’ve outgrown my need to have the strongest stomach on the block. You get chili too hot, and all your tongue will register is pain. Good chili has layers of flavor that should reveal themselves and ... and ...
And I just realized I have been giving this subject WAY too much thought.
It’s chili, for heaven’s sake. And whatever kind of chili you like is fine.
Even the stuff with macaroni. This is simple. You put it in a bowl, grab a handful of crackers and eat it. It’s really not much more complicated than that.
Bowl, crackers, eat. Three steps. And I took 12 just to realize it’s all good.
© 2009 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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