It’s Saturday in the South, and we all know what that means. Gameday. Rivalries run deep, team colors abound, and tempers flare (especially if your team is having a terrible season). However, whether you’re a Tiger, a Bulldog or a Volunteer, all football fans should simmer down, take a breath, and focus on what is really most important. Sportsmanship? Nah. Team spirit? Come on. The halftime show? You’ve got to be kidding. In my mind, it’s all about the food.
Well, maybe I overstate just a bit. Winning really is the most important thing, right? Let’s face it, those who say “I really don’t care about the outcome” had probably rather be knitting. Ingrained within a true fan is a deep and burning desire to win! Don’t deny it. However, other than those very-special super-fans who can influence the game telepathically from their recliners by their power of voice and sheer force of will, we really can’t control the game’s outcome. It’s out of our hands. What we can control, though, is the food. And control it we must!
In my home while growing up, nothing – and I mean nothing – signified gameday more than a big pot of homemade chili. Some of my best gameday memories as a kid are the halftimes – a hurriedly-eaten bowl of chili, and just enough time for a front-yard game before the third quarter starts. As an adult I have continued the gameday chili tradition, and in this essay I will tell you how to make it the Wilson way.
What are the prerequisites for a good gameday chili? Well, it has to taste good, obviously – no question about that. There is nothing worse than watching your team lose and having to choke down terrible food. Also, and just as important, it must be fast and painless to make. If you are looking for a complicated and authentic “roast your own chili peppers” kind of chili, then this is not the chili for you. Move on. This is a straightforward and simple 1-2-3 step “I don’t have all day to cook because I’m watching the game” kind of chili. Remember, though: just because it’s quick and easy doesn’t mean it can’t be really good.
1. Avoid the pre-mixed packets. I have used these in the past, and they are not terrible. However, it takes almost no extra time and effort to make a much better chili by using your own spice blend. Four basic spices are required to make my gameday chili: McCormick Chili Powder, Hot Mexican-Style (technically, this is a spice blend in and of itself, but very good), McCormick ground cumin, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
2. Try tomato paste in a tube. There is a difference in the taste between canned tomato paste and tomato paste in a tube. Tubed tomato paste is better. Also, I always seem to throw away half a can. The tube can be resealed and has a long shelf-life in the refrigerator. I like Amore brand, available most everywhere.
3. Try tomatoes in a box. Boxed tomatoes sound a little strange, but I believe Pomi brand chopped Italian tomatoes in a box taste much better and fresher than anything canned from the grocery store. You can of course use either home-canned or frozen tomatoes from the summer garden, but not everyone has access to these. Pomi boxed tomatoes are excellent.
2 lb. ground beef sirloin (must be 90% lean)
Extra-virgin olive oil, 1-2 TBSP
Salt / pepper to taste
Chili powder, 3 TBSP
Cumin, 1 TBSP
Worcestershire sauce, 1 TBSP (Lea & Perrins only!)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped and seeded (optional)
Approx. 1 cup beef broth or stock (canned or boxed)
2-3 cups chopped (boxed) tomatoes (canned will work, too)
2-3 TBSP tomato paste
2 (15-oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1. In a large stainless-steel pot, brown meat over medium-high heat in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Once meat is browned, add Worcestershire sauce.
2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, green bell pepper, garlic and (optional) jalapeño pepper. The vegetables should not brown, only wilt, about five minutes.
3. Add chili powder and cumin. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add beef stock and scrape up any particles stuck to the pot.
4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and kidney beans. Add more stock if necessary to thin. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
5. Bring chili to a bubble, cover, and let simmer on low during the first half. Stir during time-outs and commercial breaks.
HOW TO SERVE
This is a chili both Auburn and Alabama fans can enjoy, and, yes, even some Tennessee fans, though I’m not sure about LSU. I like my chili topped with fresh-grated cheddar cheese and a dollop of real sour cream, with oyster crackers and pickles on the side. Chopped onions and cilantro are also welcome additions. Enjoy, and enjoy the game!