Fast and Hot

20140313_161649This year our chili was ready by the official opening time of 10:30 a.m., possibly because we started drinking tequila earlier than usual, which helped ease conflicts between me and my friend Keggan Luskey. I like to measure all the ingredients precisely, while Keggan tends to eyeball everything. This year I let him add the chile powder, and he let me fix our off-center banner.

We used eight different kinds of chiles, including the Trinidad Meruga Scorpion, currently the worlds’s hottest pepper. Keggan found a bag of Scorpion peppers at Whole Foods (I think), and we ended up using the whole bag, which I was afraid would make the chili too hot. But we were all quite happy with the results, having long ago adopted the philosophy summed up in Rick Nelson’s song “Garden Party.”

I was happy to notice this year that several other teams were producing hotter chilis of the sort that my teammates and I enjoy, showcasing the key ingredient. I was also gratified that the two major political parties produced equally awful chili, which validated my worldview.

Chili Shopping Tips

scorpion-pepper2This year, as usual, I did the grocery shopping for my team, the Hebrew Men’s Poker Association. At this point we have all of our supplies, but anyone who is doing some last-minute shopping for the cook-off may find this information useful:

Tomato products. Walmart’s house brand, Great Value, has an O-U certification, and you generally can find kosher chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste there after Tom Thumb has been cleaned out. (Yes, that has been known to happen during chili cook-off season.) Plus Walmart’s stuff is super cheap, and I have not noticed any corresponding reduction in quality.

Chiles. According to Dallas Kosher, which supervises the cook-off, whole fresh or dried chiles do not need a hechsher, since they are basically produce with no added ingredients. Walmart is also a good source for these. They generally have fresh jalapeno, serrano, habanero, and poblano peppers, plus dried ancho, New Mexico, guajillo, and chile de arbol. If you are looking for something more obscure, such as the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (currently the world’s hottest pepper), and do not need too much of it, try Whole Foods, Central Market, or Amazon. As I mentioned last year, Chipotle Texas, which is certified by Dallas Kosher, is a great local source for ground chiles, and they deliver.

Onions. If you do not want to go to the trouble of chopping 20 onions early on a Sunday morning, you can buy fresh or frozen pre-chopped onions. Dallas Kosher says these are OK without a hechsher as long as they are sealed.

Masa harina. Some people like to use corn flour to thicken their chile. But given how much is left over from even a small bag, one would probably be enough for all of the teams at the cook-off. If you use masa and have not bought a bag yet, don’t bother. You can have some of ours.

A Good Source for Chile Powder

ChipotlePowderFor several years our team (the Hebrew Men’s Poker Association) used dried chiles that I pulverized in a coffee mill. The first time around, I did the grinding inside the shul, but I realized the fumes caused passers-by to gasp and cough. In later years I moved the grinding outside, using a 100-foot extension cord I brought from home. But the last two years we’ve been using chile powder from Chipotle Texas, which sells a variety of chiles in various forms and is supervised by the Dallas Va’ad Ha Kashrut. They deliver at reasonable rates, their powder is less expensive than the small containers you see at the grocery store, and you don’t need to worry about grinding anything (and thereby incommoding the passers-by). Something to keep in mind for next year.

Slow Burn

Trinidad Moruga ScorpionOur chili this year at the Hebrew Men’s Poker Association booth is a bit milder than last year but still hotter than anything else I’ve tried so far at the cook-off. The other day I said I like my chili hot but not so hot that I achieve an altered state of consciousness. The next day, Keggan Luskey, another member of the HMPA team, sent me a link to this Time story about the world’s hottest pepper: the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which clocks in at 1.2 million Scoville units, compared to about 5,000 for a jalapeno. Regarding the psychoactive effects of hot peppers, one expert told Time: “People actually get a crack-like rush. I know the people who will eat the hottest stuff to get this rush, but they’ve got to go through the pain.” That is not the effect we are going for, although Keggan plans to plant the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion in his garden this spring, so maybe we’ll have them in our chili next year. This year we made do with the Ghost Pepper (a.k.a. Naga Bhut Jolokia), which is rated at 855,000 Scoville units, in addition to our usual blend of hot and mild chiles. Come check it out and give us your gold coin.

Hot or Not?

Some call it madness.I have been competing in the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-Off since 2007, on the Shearith Israel team for the first couple of years and since then as a representative of the Hebrew Men’s Poker Association. A perennial question for us is how hot our chili should be. I am not talking about the correct temperature to “prevent bacterial growth”–which, as the Restaurant and Bar Inspections Unit of the Dallas Department of Code Compliance Services has helpfully informed us, is 135 degrees Fahrenheit. I am talking about the extent to which chili should showcase its defining ingredient.

Standard chili recipes commonly call for much higher chile-to-beef ratios than is typical at the DKCC. The recipe for Pecos River Bowl of Red in Jane Butel’s Chili Madness, for instance, calls for four tablespoons of ground hot chile and four tablespoons of ground mild red chile to go with three pounds of coarsely ground beef. I know that if we made anything like that (more than a tablespoon of hot chile per pound of meet), it would be rejected as uncomfortably hot by almost everyone attending the DKCC. Last year we took that ratio and dialed it back a lot (we also left out the lard), and the result was still too hot for many people. But we had repeat visits by attendees who like their chili spicy, and they passed the word. “I hear this is where I can get the hot chili,” people would say, and they almost always left satisfied. So we were filling a niche, which in a crowded field can be more satisfying than catering to the lowest common denominator.

My own view is that chili is all about the chiles, and you should be able to taste them (preferably several different kinds). I do not want to achieve an altered state of consciousness when I eat my chili, but I do like it hotter than everyone else in my family and probably hotter than most people at the cook-off prefer. Lately I am inclined  to make chili the way I like it, which I know at least some people will appreciate. If you cook it, they will come.