Thursday, January 7, 2010

An Extended Fugue in the Key of Chili; Part One


The beginning of a decent chili has to start with the chili powder.  Yeah, yeah, when it is summer you can make chili using freshly roasted and peeled peppers out of your garden.  Yeah, it makes a mean chili that way, but the great bulk of the year you get to make chili using powder from the store.     So, there are two ways to go about this.  The spice companies make a fair to middlin' chili powder. You can make a wicked chili out of it.  So if you are lazy and don't approach chili with the purist bent, go to the store and try one out, hell try them all, there is enough difference between the lot of competitors that you will find a brand that you like better than the others.

The next step up is to head to the local mercado.  Around here, they euphemistically call them "international markets", but you know what I mean. 

This will allow you a step from the simple gringo chili powder and into the good stuff.  They have sacks of the spices for dirt cheap.  They are true-blue mexican stuff, with five or six different levels of hot.  Do your homework and figure out what works for you.  I either buy the pre-made (the regular is fairly tame, the hot is pretty hot).

Better though is the access you get to the ground chiles of different heats and flavors.  I have my blend that works really well for me and suits my tastes just dandy.  I tend to keep to the "Mojave" brand.  It is dirt cheap and gives you great results. 

  • 1 x one ounce bag of paprika
  • 1 x one ounce bag of ground chipotles
  • 5 x one ounce bag of anchos
  • 1 x one ounce bag of cheyenne

    This makes eight ounces of some pretty fine pepper mix.  Enough for quite a bit of Mexican food, which is the reason we should be eternally grateful to our neighbors to the south.

The last method is for the true purist.  I prefer doing it this way, but I don't always get around to it.  In this case you buy the whole dried peppers from the mercado.  You have to be a little careful with these.  Don't buy the dried out leavings.  The dried peppers that you get should still be pliable.  If they are breaking in your fingers, don't buy them, they are too old.  Anyway,  when you get your bag of peppers, you cut the stem off, take out the seeds and toss anything that don't "look right".

When you get them sorted and ready, get your broiler fired up and run them through under the boiler in batches.  They will need about 5 or six minute per batch and when they look properly "roasty", take them out and put them in a blender and reduce them to powder.

When you get your mix set, no matter how you arrive at your chili powder, make sure that it is kept in a sealed jar and preferably in the freezer.  That way you can depend on it for quite a while.

A side note
I always have some fresh, frozen or canned green chiles for the last hour of cooking.  As usual,fresh grown from your own garden and roasted on the BBQ is the best, but that is for when time is freely available in the summer

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