My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
|Tomorrow is our 5th annual Office Chili Cook Off. There will be 17 crockpots, full of steaming, hot chili for all the judges to taste. One of them will be mine. I've been running this contest for the last five years (no, I've never won) and during that time I've gained some insight into chili and how people view it.
First, let me explain how we do it. We place the 17 pots of chili in one of our conference rooms and each pot receives a number. This eliminates, to some extent voting for your best buddy, though, after five years we all pretty much recognize each others crockpots. Everyone in the office is a judge. For that matter, anyone who happens to walk in off the street can also be a judge. The only requirement is that you try the chili. And you don't even have to try all 17. If there are some that are simply too hot for you or that have an ingredient you don't care for (venison) than you can skip it. And that takes me to what I've learned about chili over the past five years.
1. There are as many variations of chili in the world as there are people.
I've made kielbasi chili, venison chili, turkey chili, Australian Dinkum chili and right now I'm cooking chicken chili.
2. No matter what the variety of chili, the one common ingredeient seems to be some variation of chile pepper. Either the powder, the peppers themselves, the juice, whatever.
3. There are as many variations in hotness of chili as there are variations in chili.
Don't confuse hot with spicy. These are entirely two different things. Hotness is just a matter of judging the tolerence or insanity of a chili judge/taster. In some cases it's simply a measure of machoness, if there is such a word, both on the part of the chef and the taster. Never mind that they may both end up in adjoining beds in the local emergency room. The chef will confidently know that he created the hottest chili possible and the taster will know, beaming with pride, that he consumed said chili...and survived. Not my idea of a fun repast.
4. Italian sausage chili is a favorite.
This may be a local phenomenon, but the winning chili, two of the last four years, have been some variation made with italian sausage, sweet and hot.
5. Most people like chili that is either mild to medium in heat and flavorful.
These chilis have always done well in the voting, which brings me to spicy.
6. Spicy is not hot, spicy is flavorful.
Spicy is being able to taste the various flavors of the ingredients in the chili, with a certain amount of pleasure, not pain. Spicy is two day old chili that has had time to release its flavors into the broth, warmed for breakfast. I kid you not. Hot, on the other hand is Shania Twain, in anything she chooses to wear...or nothing at all.