Shiftwork Bites: Yankee Chili

This just might prove to be my last Shiftwork Bites column. Not because I'm going to stop cooking at work, but because I might be forced to stop writing about food in Texas, or living in it, for that matter. You see, I'm kind of a Yankee. Let that one sink in.

Okay. Are you guys (note the absence of a "y'all") breathing again? Let us continue. Although I've lived in Texas for about 17 years now -- most of my life -- I spent my first 11 in Northern Indiana. Although it took a while, I've adopted Texas wholeheartedly and consider myself more of a Texan than a Hoosier. Regardless, many of my formative food experiences come from corn country, and I just can't seem to shake them.

Take chili (here's where I get booed out of the state). To me, chili just isn't chili without the inclusion of beans. There. I've said it. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Texas Red. It's just not what I grew up eating. We ate a lot of chili in my house growing up. It's a good way to feed a bunch of hungry boys on the cheap, and it makes excellent leftovers. More on that later. The point is, every pot of chili I can remember from my childhood contained beans. Hey, at least I'm not like those weirdo Buckeyes who put their chili over spaghetti.

Naturally, when I want chili, I want MY chili. That means ground meat, and plenty of beans. Fortunately for me, the other guy on shift with me is from Michigan, so for this Shiftwork Bites, we were free to wallow in our northern chili predilections without concern for our Texan coworkers forcibly ejecting our carpetbagger asses from the premises.

Aside from the inclusion of beans and ground meat in place of cubed, my chili method really isn't all that far removed from any chili recipe anywhere. I even took the step of roasting my New Mexico chiles and red bell pepper. That was done on the bare element of our portable electric burner, and made me very nervous. I don't think my boss would have been happy if I'd set off the fire suppression system by igniting capsicums.

Shiftwork Bites Yankee Chili

• 1-2 Tbsp canola oil • 1 lb. each ground beef and pork (I usually use all beef, just decided to go with a mix this time) • 1 large Spanish onion, medium dice • 4 New Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, and cut into medium dice • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and cut into medium dice • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced • Spice mix (it's not so much that it's a secret, as it is that I don't use exact measurements. Chili powder, cumin, ancho chile powder, smoked paprika are involved, in order of volume) • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes with juices • 2 15.5-oz cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (feel free to use dried, and adjust the cooking time accordingly. If you soak them overnight, they'll take about 2 hours to cook once you add them to the chili. • 1 small Spanish onion, small dice (for garnish) • Shredded cheddar cheese

Add the oil to a large pot and heat until shimmering. Add the ground meat and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. When the meat is cooked, add the onion and cook until translucent, but do not brown. Add the chiles and bell pepper, and cook for a few minutes. Create a bare spot in the middle of the pot, and add your spice mix. Cook until fragrant, toasting the spices slightly. Add tomatoes and minced chipotle chile. Bring to a simmer and cook for several hours. Add the beans at least half an hour before you intend to serve, so that they can soften, and so that they pick up flavor from the chili, and thicken it slightly.

In a nod to Texas, I served the chili in bags of Fritos slit along the side, garnished with freshly chopped onion and cheddar cheese. It was delicious, but those bags got finger-scalding hot.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall