I visited the Malibu Kiwanis Chili Cook-Off. It was nice. Like spending a hot day in the Valley. The arena was jammed. I saw two people I knew slightly-a pair of Realtors-and everybody else called me Sir.
Scanning for local color and a familiar face, I slogged my way among booths of trinkets, costume jewelry, sunglasses, T-shirts, bobbin heads, the pony ride and 22 toilets to get to the chili. Which I love. The first four booths had run out by Sunday at two-ish. Ultimately, I found a seat on a haystack under a canopy, made several runs and sampled five exotic varieties: “Maui,” “Hot Damn,” with tri-tip, “Hot to Trot,” “Daredevil” and “Blazing Saddles-Mongo Like.” Whatever the hell that means.
I say Mongo-schmongo, Chasen’s Chili, renowned in every part of the world Liz Taylor has inhabited-rumor has it she had it flown all over the place-is the best by a long shot. It has subtlety, flavor and style; and the ingredients retain identity. Especially as I tweak it in my own kitchen. Back when Chasen’s was an expensive celebrity restaurant, the recipe was a secret. That the place went belly-up in April 2000 is a plus for the rest of us.
Driven by hunger for the real thing, I moved my appetite to Ralph’s Market. Where I felt more at home with the likes of Debrah, Sheila, Jackie and Janet at the checkout counter, and where the music was better.
I weaved the aisles like a Wayne King Waltz.
1 1/2 cups dried pinto beans (more if you like it thicker)
2 large (28-oz.) cans S&W Ready-Cut peeled tomatoes
1 lb. red bell pepper, chopped (Chasen’s says green, red is prettier)
Olive oil (Chasen’s says “salad oil.” Gimme a break.)
1 cube butter
1-1/2 lbs. onions, chopped
3 (or so) cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2-1/2 lbs. of the leanest ground sirloin available (Chasen’s says “chuck.” Trust me.)
1 lb. ground pork
1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 cup chili powder
Pepper and salt.
Chasen’s suggests a teaspoon and a half of monosodium glutamate. Which I think is mistrustful of the original intent. Why not just point a gun at your heart?
You can soak the beans overnight the way your grandmother did, or if you have a pressure cooker, 15 – 20 minutes in plenty of water at gentle jiggle will do the trick. Drain, spray with cold water and set aside.
Saut chopped peppers in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. Get the oil good and hot first, bell peppers like to be spanked before softening. Otherwise they take the rap for indigestibility. When lightly singed, add chopped onions and garlic. Turn the heat down and saut the works till everything is soft. Stir in chopped parsley and set aside.
In a large soup pot, brown beef and pork in butter and a little more olive oil (keeps the butter from burning) till meat is crumbly. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir. Add tomatoes, stir again and simmer together till they sort of give up their ego for the good of the whole. (My father referred to the process as The Marriage.) Pepper and salt to taste.
Add the beans as well as the onions and peppers from the frying pan. Stir lovingly, cover and simmer for an hour. Uncover and simmer for another l5 – 30 minutes. If you like it hot, add a touch of Tabasco as you serve it. In any case, award yourself first prize.
If you double the recipe and freeze a large part of it in small containers, this extravaganza will take you into Super Bowl Sunday.
Chasen’s advises to skim off the grease. If you follow the above to the letter and you get grease, call me and I’ll come over and skim.