Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Man, that went fast!
Chili, I think, speaks for itself. My first attempt at chili was a little over a year ago, when I wanted to enter a chili cook-off. After fixing it up in my cast iron pot, I went to have lunch with a friend; when I came back, the chili was burnt beyond recognition. Needless to say, I didn't enter my chili into the cook-off.

Then I got a slow cooker. And that, my friends, has made all the difference. I can set it up in the morning, go do things (like audition or rehearse), then come back and have a hearty meal waiting for me.

The first rule of chili is that it doesn't have to contain beans. I don't particularly like them, so I leave them out. But put them in if you want.

The second rule is that there should be a "star ingredient." This is usually beef, preferably chopped into cubes instead of ground. This can also be beans, sweet potato, lamb, pork, or a mix of them all. I haven't tried tofu (because I don't particularly like it), but I imagine some extra firm would work as well.

The third rule is don't put too much hot (spicy) stuff in it. You can always make it hotter, but you can't take the heat away.

Beyond that, it's up to you what's in your chili. It can be vegan, vegetarian, or meat-filled to your heart's content. Put in what you like, leave out what you don't. Put extra in containers in the fridge for a week, or freeze for an easy-to-prepare lunch in the near future (just add some more water, since the chili will keep thickening as it ages.)

Slow-Cooker Old-Fashioned Chili

To begin, toss 3 lbs. cubed sweet potato (or beef chuck or pork or lamb or whatever you want) in a large bowl with 1-2 tbsp. peanut oil and 1 tbsp. salt. Set aside.

Definitely use sweet potatoes, not yams.
Chop the other ingredients you'll need: 1 large onion (red preferred), 2 medium green bell peppers, 2 ribs of celery, 2 medium carrots, 13 cloves of garlic, and 1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce. I usually put the garlic in a small bowl, leave the chipotle pepper on the board, and put the rest in a medium bowl. Helps to keep things organized.

Light some fire under a cast iron pot (or any old pot), medium to medium-high heat. When it gets hot, introduce some of the sweet potato to it, but don't crowd the pot. Keep turning the chunks until they're brown on the sides. (I honestly don't know if this does anything magical to the flavor of the chili, but if you use meat, this is an indispensable step. Instead of tossing meat in the oil, just fry up half a pound of bacon and use the bacon grease to brown the meat.) Put the browned sweet potatoes in the slow cooker.

Veggie juices.
Now into the pot pour in the medium bowl of veggies along with 2 tbsp. unsalted butter and 2 tsp. salt. (If you're going for vegan fare, use peanut oil instead.) Stir occasionally until there's a fair amount of liquid in the pan, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and give it another 2-3 minutes. Then, pop open a 12 oz. bottle of amber ale and pour into the pot to deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pot. Kill the heat and carefully transfer the whole thing into the slow cooker.

The beginnings of a masterpiece.
Also add the following to the slow cooker: 1-2 tbsp. adobo sauce, another 12 oz. bottle of amber ale, a 28 oz. can of tomato puree, a 16 oz. jar of your favorite salsa, 6 crushed handfuls of tortilla chips, 1 tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. smoked paprika, ¼ c. molasses, and 1 tbsp. brown sugar. Stir together, switch on the slow cooker, and go do other things. Cook on high for 3-5 hours, on low for 6-8 hours.

Serve your chili by itself, or with any number of toppings, condiments, and/or side dishes: sliced jalapeño, sour cream, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, cornbread, rice, etc.

Title inspiration: Philadelphia, a dramatic film directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Released 14 January 1994.

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