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chili

Uncovering tricks of the trade in advance of the Big Chili Contest.

A closeup of Official Chili's big pot at a past Big Chili Contest. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Big Chili Contest is coming up this weekend, Jan. 24, at the Portuguese-American Club, and in light of the famous event, we wanted to prepare you with some chili history, rules, and recipes.

Before we dive into the world of chili, fair warning: Chili is one of the most controversial recipes in American history. There have probably been wars about chili, friendships dissolved over the meaning of true chili, and marriages terminated on terms of what makes a real chili. And with that fair warning, there’s one true fact we can state: True chili has no beans. There, we said it. You can discuss all you want, but after careful research, we found this statement to be true, and plan to stick by it.

If you’re outraged and want to fight about it, you can take it up with the International Chili Society (ICS), a nonprofit organization that sanctions chili cook-offs with judging, and has an entire set of rules and regulations in place, one of which is shared below:

Traditional Red Chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats,cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of beans and pasta which are strictly forbidden. No garnish is allowed.

In this history that’s difficult to pinpoint with accuracy, stories from the Texan cattle trails are heard often: how range cooks would plant herb gardens along the trails to use in future travels for cooking their chili. Slowly, chili moved into San Antonio, under the aegis of the “chili queens,” a group of dozens of Mexican women who cooked chili at home and sold it from small carts in the Military Plaza of San Antonio, each with her own blend of spices, trying to one-up the others. For 200 years they sold their chili, until the 1930s, when the health department shut down their operation.

Background of fresh red hot chili peppers, or cayenne chillis, a pungent strong flavoured spice used in cooking. — freefoodphotos.com
Background of fresh red hot chili peppers, or cayenne chillis, a pungent strong flavoured spice used in cooking. — freefoodphotos.com

Here, a basic recipe of chili from the ICS via the range cooks: Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to get.

Thanks to the magic of social media, a simple Facebook status turned into a chance to chat with Steve Jordan, local award-winning chili maker and creator of the hottest chili recipe in the past 20 years. Mr. Jordan has been even granted a lifetime achievement award, and is judging this year’s hottest chili category at the Big Chili Contest. Of course, I had to ask him his insider tips and secrets to great and spicy chili.

When I inquired about his recipe, he replied,

Ingredients include ground beef and chopped steak tips that are browned with onions and garlic, as well as chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and paprika. Chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, dark beer, and corn masa flour are added, letting it simmer until ready. You might be wondering why it’s the hottest, right? Well, I grow my own habanero, jalapeño, cayenne, and ghost peppers. Those are all processed, seeds and all, and then slowly cooked in oil. That mixture is added to the simmering chili — hottest chili ever!

Another local favorite is the delicious White Chicken Chili at Mocha Motts, made by Erica McCarron. Her recipe:

White Chicken Chili

1 Tbs. olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

4 tsp. cumin

1 Tbs. chili powder

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

4 cups shredded/cubed cooked chicken

2 (4 oz.) cans chopped green chiles

4 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth

4 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans

2 cups corn kernels

½ cup half-and-half

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Shredded Monterey jack cheese and tortilla strips, for serving (optional)

Preparation

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add diced onions and sauté until soft. Add the minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Cook one minute longer. Stir in cooked chicken and chopped green chiles.

Add 3 cans of chicken broth, and 2 cans of cannellini beans. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Add corn.

In a food processor or using an immersion blender, combine ½ cup half-and-half, remaining 1 can chicken broth, and remaining 2 cans of cannellini beans, and purée until smooth. Add to the soup and simmer 10 min. Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper according to taste.

Serve with optional shredded cheese and tortilla strips.

Big Chili Contest tickets are available at Shirley’s True Value in Vineyard Haven and at Trader Fred’s in Edgartown for $35 each. The annual event is this Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm, and is hosted by MVY Radio, benefiting the Red Stocking Fund, and is a 21-plus event. Free bus transportation is provided from the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven to the Chili Contest, and will return you there at the end of the event. For more information, visit mvyradio.com.

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Brianna Albert and Bethany Butler of Middleboro were appropriately dressed. — Photo by Ralph Stewart
The crew from Quahog Republic restaurant in Falmouth and Onset celebrate first place in the Professional category.
The crew from Quahog Republic restaurant in Falmouth and Onset celebrate first place in the Professional category.

Approximately 2,000 people made their way to the 28th annual Big Chili Contest at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs last Saturday, Jan. 25, and tasted chili from 16 vendors. The event’s beneficiary, The Red Stocking Fund, netted approximately $34,000, according to Greg Orcutt, general manager of mvyradio, the event’s sponsor.

Many Island restaurants, as well as amateur chili aficionados, made their special recipes for the contest. The competition categories include “Is It Really Chili?,” “Farthest Traveled” (last year’s came from Florida), “Best Presentation,” “Steve Jordan Memorial Hottest Chili” (Mr. Jordan retired from the contest to judge after winning the category 18 straight years), “Best Pro” and “Best Amateur” chili.

And the winners are:

Best Professional chili, third place: Wicked Chili  from the Wicked Restaurant and Wine Bar in Mashpee and Dedham.

Best professional chili, second place: The Black Dog.

Best professional chili, first place: Quahog Republic of Falmouth.

Farthest traveled chili: Dr. Jack’s Love Chili from Glastonbury, Connecticut. Dr. Jack has won before but not last year.

No Teenie Peenie of Hopkinton won for Best Vegetarian Chili.
No Teenie Peenie of Hopkinton won for Best Vegetarian Chili.

Best veggie chili: No Teenie Peenie from Hopkinton.

Best Presentation: Edgartown Firemen’s Association.

Is that really chili?:  MVOL won for their chili chocolate bites.

Hottest chili: Wicked Chili won the fire extinguisher prize.

For the Amateur third place, Dr. Jack’s Better Love Chili by Jack Lavalette and Mike Spellman of Glastonbury, Ct.

Amateur second prize went to Jim Pringle.

Amateur first prize went to Bob Costello for his official Carver Cranberry Chili. (Times Calendar editor Eleni Roriz reported: “It was SO GOOD!!!”)

Times photo editor Ralph Stewart was on the scene and reports:

“I tasted all of the chili but two.  There also was MV Ole mole chili chocolate bites. Didn’t try that. So, I tasted 10 chilis from nine vendors. No Teenie Peenie Chili of Hopkinton had two versions—Venison and bacon; and a veggie (I had both). The Newes had a chicken, white bean chili with a creme fraiche and nine different peppers that was actually pretty tasty, though more like a soup.

Ramon Ruiz of Mariachi Mexico Lindo.
Ramon Ruiz of Mariachi Mexico Lindo.

“The tent in front of the PA Club (and the club itself) was still filling up when I left. The Mariachi Mexico Lindo band was in full swing. My favorite chili was Official Carver Chili (amateurs from Carver, Mass.) Rob Costello and Bob Poulin were serving; a sweet and spicy chili that had cranberries in it. Next, gotta say, The Black Dog. A little hotter (spicier) this year but terrific. Third, I liked another amateur chili called Que Tease Barbecue from Plymouth. Christine and Mike Conrod served it up. The chili had a variety of peppers and smoked meats. They said that they were on the Pitmasters TV Show. But I wish I had tasted that Quahog chili.”

Mr. Orcutt said the threat of bad weather and high winds caused the contest to lose some off-Island regular contestants and one new contestant.