Chili is not a mild food. There is nothing subtle about chili. It is a bold, assertive meal that, when made properly, can be dangerous. It is not for the faint of heart. True Texas chili is the only food that has a half-life. It is not for the faint-of-heart. Of course, there are those that make ‘mild’ chili, and for the poor unfortunates who can’t handle the real thing, this is fine. To each his own. But true connoisseurs like Smokin’ Hot Chili!
What is the attraction of this culinary anomaly? It could be that it has a very distinguished history, beginning with the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. The recipe was refined on the streets of San Antonio, Texas, long before it was a state, with the legendary “Chili Queens’ offering their delicious, and hot creations to passers-by. Chili was a mainstay on Texas cattle drives, and anyone who knows anything about chili is familiar with the famous Chason’s Chili. Actress Elizabeth Taylor was so fond of Chasen’s Chili that she had it shipped to her in Egypt while shooting the epic movie Cleopatra, and it was actor Clark Gables final meal (what a send-off…). It could be the fact that the active ingredient in all peppers, capsaicin, when ingested, causes a release of endorphins (hormones that create a pleasurable feeling), providing you survive the initial shock. Or it could be all the fun associated with Chili Cook-Offs.
Whatever the reasons, chili has the most loyal following of any food in the world, sharing the # 1 spot with barbecue. Cooking chili is a full-time hobby for some, and many a person has set out on a quest to find the perfect chili. Humorist Will Rogers even kept notes on different restaurants and their chilis with his own rating system. Fights have started over a simple question such as “Is it OK to use beans and tomatoes?” People are fiercely attached to their opinions on chili.
To understand chili, you need to understand the peppers used to create it. The most common peppers used are Anchos, Polanos, Anahiems, and Jalapenos. In addition, blends of peppers are used to create the main spice used, Chili Powder. Peppers are not a vegetable, but a fruit in the Capsicum family. Most of the heat is contained in the veins and seeds of peppers, so discarding these will tone your chili down somewhat, if you are squeamish. The active ingredient in peppers, capsaicin, has many medical uses. It relieves pain, lowers blood pressure, and used as a compress, will stop bleeding rapidly on most cuts. It can clear sinuses, and is a great topical treatment for arthritis, and other chronic painful conditions. Capsaicin has a positive effect on cholesterol levels, digestion, and has even been shown to have a positive effect in the treatment of prostrate cancer.
Capsaicin differs from other ‘hot’ spices like ginger and black pepper, in that regular consumption results in a person developing a tolerance for the heat, allowing one to eat ever hotter peppers, and earning the coveted title of “Chili-Head”. Developing a tolerance for the capsicum allows you to explore the wonderful nuances of the different peppers, each with its own flavor profile. This is why smokin’ hot chili is so exciting.
Peppers are rated by the Scoville System, developed by Wilber Scoville in 1912. The scale is in units of 100, and goes from 0 (the mildest) to over 16,000,000 units (pure capsaicin). Here are some common ratings:
Bell, Banana, and Pimento Peppers-0
And lastly, the king of peppers, the Infinity Chili-1,176,182… Salute!!!
Police Grade Pepper Spray-5,300,000
No discussion of peppers would be complete without a mention of the outstanding Infinity Chili Pepper. This was developed by accident by a former RAF Security Guard, Nick Woods. By cross-breeding different species of chiles, he came up with the hottest pepper known to man, the Infinity. ¼ of one pepper is more than enough to flavor a large pot of chili. Now, Mr. Woods markets sauces using his chiles at http://www.firefoods.co.uk. His products are well worth the effort to try. I use his Infinity Chili Sauce regularly. My next favorite sauce is El Yucateco, which is also hideously hot.
I will leave you with my favorite smokin’ hot chili recipe, that I have won several awards for. It is not the absolute hottest, but plenty hot enough to satisfy even the most die-hard Chili Heads. It is easy to prepare.
Smokin’ Hot Chili Recipe
Joel’s “Manhattan Project” Chili.
(In WW-II, the ‘Manhattan Project’ was the code name for the ultra Top Secret program to develop the world’s first nuclear device…Fat Man.)
Around 3 quarts of water.
1 can of beer
3 pounds ground beef, or chuck
2 cans of chili beans, juice and all
2 cans of chili-spiced tomatoes (or Snappy Tom tomatoes with green chiles), juice and all
2 large onions, chopped
6 canned jalepeno peppers, chopped, with 1/3 cup of the pepper juice
8 Tbsp hot Chili Powder
4 Tbsp Instant Beef Stock
5 Tbsp ground Cumin
1 Tbsp Basil
1 Tsp Oregano, steeped in ¼ cup hot water
20 drops of Yucateco Green, Red or Mayan, Habanero Sauce, or 5 drops of Infiniti Chile Sauce.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Place oregano in ¼ cup of hot water, and set aside. In a large pot, brown the ground beef. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add beans, tomatoes, oregano, spices, water and stock. Adjust liquid if needed. Allow the chili to come to a low boil, and lower heat. Add all the hot sauce and simmer until desired consistency is reached, at least 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Serve with lots of tortillas and hot sauce.
Note-to cut calories and cholesterol, substitute ground turkey for the ground beef. It will not change the taste or consistency at all.