Saturday, August 28, 2021

Best Damn Chili in the State

My favorite part of my favorite movie, The Blues Brothers, is when John Belushi is in Aretha Franklin's restaurant and he asks her, "Got any fried chicken?" Upon which she puts her hand on her hip, gives him the hairy eyeball, and says - like a boss - "Best damn chicken in the state." 

Well, I make the best damn chili in the state. True, I live in Illinois. But in my younger days I had fantasies of travelling down to Terlingua,Texas for the Great Chili Cook-off, where I would cook up a batch of my fabulous chili, wearing a prom dress, and walk off with first prize. In stilettos. 

(Nowadays I would rather set my head on fire than travel to Texas. Unless I was invited. By Willie Nelson. And promised a lot of weed. Then, maybe.)

But back to the chili. This recipe is my own invention, and here's the story.

It all started with my Sausage and Mushroom Sauce. Easy, peasy. Some hot Italian sausage, some mushrooms, canned tomatoes. A little olive oil, salt and pepper. Maybe a dash of oregano, but really - and this is the secret - the sausage seasons the sauce. Perfectly. I've even made this sauce with that plant-fake Italian sausage, and you know? It wasn't bad.

So, one day I was thinking: If sausage can season this sauce, could chorizo season chili? Like, make the beans, add the tomatoes, and just throw in some fried chorizo?

Yup. And a star was born.

Let me tell you a few things about chorizo before I give you the recipe. I'm talking about Mexican chorizo as opposed to Spanish chorizo, which is a different thing altogether. Mexican chorizo, at least the stuff I use, comes in a 13 oz. package, and it's two plastic-wrapped tubes of loose sausage. You take off the outer packaging, snip the tubes at one end and down the sides a bit, and peel off the plastic. Then fry the chorizo in some hot olive oil, breaking it up with a fork. I use Supremo Beef Chorizo Original Picante. (Picante = Spicy, but it also comes in mild, for big babies.) There's a pork version of this chorizo, too, if you prefer.

Chorizo Chili
Red beans, 1 lb. bag
Italian plum tomatoes, 1 28oz or 32oz can
A little olive oil
Mexican chorizo 
Salt, pepper, oregano (optional)

In a big pot, cook the red beans according to package directions. When they're done, pour off some of the liquid, but not all of it because it's good stuff and you don't want your chili to get too thick. Add a big can of Italian tomatoes and let them simmer with the beans until the tomatoes get soft. Smash up the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, and keep simmering. Fry the chorizo in a cast iron pan with little olive oil until it's very brown. Add the fried chorizo to the tomatoes and beans. Keep simmering for at least an hour. The longer the chorizo cooks with the tomatoes and beans, the better your chili will taste. At the end, you can add salt, pepper, and oregano, but taste the chili first to see if it needs it.

Serve with sour cream (I use Greek yogurt) and shredded cheese. Guacamole and/or cornbread are nice sides. 

And tell Willy I'm waiting.

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