- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Not too long ago, the celebrity-filled Los Angeles restaurant Chasen’s enjoyed notoriety for a dish that wasn’t on the menu, but that everybody ordered: chili. In 1962, Elizabeth Taylor had 10 quarts of it frozen, packed in dry ice and sent by airfreight to her on the set of “Cleopatra” in Rome.

This I had to try. So one night in the early 1970s, on an evening off, I went to Chasen’s and ordered their chili.

It arrived. I ate my first spoonful, and couldn’t believe my taste buds. I called the waiter over.

“Do you have an Austrian running the kitchen?” I asked him excitedly.

Chasen’s chili reminded me of the goulash I’d loved since childhood.

There’s really little difference between American chili and central European goulash. Both are thick meat stews or soups. Both get their distinctive flavor from peppers: goulash from the mild to spicy dried paprika pepper and chili from all sorts of fresh or dried chilies. And both usually include an aromatic base of sauteed onions and garlic, along with fresh or dried seasonings - cumin being a common element.

Chili and goulash are also subject to many variations. These include the type of meat, with both enjoyed in versions featuring beef, pork, poultry and game; and the inclusion of starchy vegetables, with potatoes frequently used in goulash and beans used in chili.

Of course, I had to try making my own chili. Along with my team of American-born chefs, I’ve tinkered with the recipe down through the years, creating not one but many versions. The recipe I share here includes some of my favorite elements.

First, it combines beef and pork for a more complex flavor. You could just use one meat if you prefer, including ground turkey or chicken. At various times in my restaurants, we’ve even made chili with ground duck leg meat or venison.

Next, I include two different chili powders. One, chipotle, comes from delicious smoke-dried jalapeno chilies. I label the other “pure” to distinguish it from commercial chili seasoning blends; study the label to make sure you’re buying chilies alone, whether you prefer them milder or hotter. Then add other seasonings - cumin, oregano, and good old European paprika (I can’t resist!) - for just the right blend of flavors.

I like the sweet, deep taste that tomatoes contribute, and the earthy flavor of dark beer. Adding beans yields more of a complete meal, but I save time by using precooked canned kidney beans. Finally, a slurry of masa harina - Mexican-style cornmeal for tortillas and tamales, stirred together with liquid to help it blend in - thickens the final results.

There you have it: What folks in Texas call a “bowl o’ red” - or what we Austrians might call American goulash. And, just like goulash, it tastes even better reheated the next day.

BEEF AND PORK CHIPOTLE CHILI WITH BEANS

Serves 6

CHILI:

1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 pound (1 kg) ground beef

1 pound (500 g) ground pork

1 cup (250 ml) chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons chipotle chili powder

2 tablespoons pure ground chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon paprika

1 28-ounce (875-g) can crushed tomatoes

2 cups (500 ml) good quality canned beef broth

1 cup (250 ml) dark beer

3 tablespoons tomato paste

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican-style cornmeal)

1 15-ounce (465-g) can red kidney beans, drained

GARNISHES:

Tomato salsa

Sour cream

Shredded cheddar or Jack cheese

Chopped sweet onion

Sliced avocado

Chopped fresh cilantro

Corn tortilla chips

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the beef and pork, in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, and saute, stirring and breaking up the meat into small chunks with a wooden spoon, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes per batch. Before adding another batch, pour off the liquid and fat from the pan. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl and set aside.

In a large, heavy casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, chipotle and chili powders, cumin, oregano, and paprika. Saute until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the meat and the juices that have collected in the bowl, the tomatoes, broth, beer and tomato paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until very fragrant and thick, 2 to 3 hours, stirring often.

Put the masa harina in a small mixing bowl. With a ladle, scoop up about 1/2 cup (60 ml) of liquid from the pot. Add the liquid to the masa harina nd stir with a fork until smooth and free of lumps. Stir the mixture into the chili pot along with the beans. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chili’s liquid has thickened and the beans are heated through, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, arrange the garnishes in separate bowls on the dining table. Adjust the chili’s seasonings to taste with salt and pepper and ladle it into individual heated serving bowls. Pass the garnishes for everyone to add to taste.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Also, chef Wolfgang Puck’s latest cookbook, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, is now available in bookstores.)

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