(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
The frost is on the pumpkin, and you know what that means. It’s chili time in America. Time to cook up a big pot of some serious chili.
Let’s do this on Sunday afternoon, so the chili will be bubbling and ready at just about the time Sunday Night Football comes on.
Put on some music, starting with Guy Clark’s “Texas Cookin’,” and move on to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Taste the Pain,” Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning,” NRBQ’s “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” Tom Waits’ “Nighthawks at the Diner,” the Ohio Express’ “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” Joe Diffie’s “Cold Budweiser and a Sweet Tater,” Jimmy Buffett’s “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever,” Bob Dylan’s “Country Pie,” Monty Python’s “Spam,” Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” the Kentucky Headhunters’ “Big Mexican Dinner,” the Texas Tornados’ “Guacamole,” Little Feat’s “Hamburger Midnight,” Charley Pride’s “Burger and Fries,” Johnny Paycheck’s “Fifteen Beers,” Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” ZZ Top’s “TV Dinners” and “Bar-B-Q,” Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Sangria Wine,” Paycheck’s “Colorado Kool Aid,” Beausoleil’s “Hot Chili Mama,” Buckwheat Zydeco’s “Hot Tamale Baby,” Wet Willie’s “Red Hot Chili,” ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” Red Steagall’s “Lone Star Beer & Bob Wills Music,” Bob Wills’ “Bubbles in my Beer,” and Johnny Russell’s “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer.”
And just to say a fond goodbye to summer, add Guy Clark’s “Homegrown Tomatoes.”
Pop a cold one. And start fixing a big pot of Chet’s Tennessee Velvet Chili. I like hot chili, but to me, it seems pointless to take chili beyond the dimension where you can actually enjoy the many flavors and textures that make up a good chili. Burning your mouth is not the point of making chili. Accordingly, my little recipe is not about heat levels but about taste and character.
Start preparations about three hours before kickoff. Take about two pounds of sirloin steak and cut away almost all the fat, leaving a small amount for flavor. Slice the steak down to cubes no larger than a half-inch across. Brown the cubes in olive oil in a pot on low-medium heat. I like to use my Le Creuset heavy cast iron pot for chili and soups and sauces because the heat radiates evenly throughout the pot — vertically as well as laterally.
As the steak cubes brown, toss in a minced garlic clove and a chopped large white onion and a dash or two or three of salt. When the meat is browned and the onions are starting to turn translucent, add a 26-ounce box of Parmalat Pomi chopped tomatoes. You can use canned tomatoes if you want, but the Pomi tomatoes are far less acidic and much lower in sodium than the canned variety. Then stir in six ounces of a good tomato paste. Get the mix to a light boil.
Add five tablespoons of chili powder, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of oregano and a teaspoon of paprika. Fill the six-ounce tomato paste can with water and stir that in.
As the mixture coheres, add a dusting of cocoa powder and a couple of small squares of dark chocolate (I had Ghirardelli on hand).
Add a dash or two of Secret Ingredient. I’m not disclosing my Secret Ingredient. You should experiment to find yours.
After all ingredients are added, take it down to a bubbling simmer.
Note: there are no beans in this chili, and there never will be. I like to cook a separate pot of pinto beans as a nice side dish, but Real Chili does not lie down with beans of any variety. Especially kidney beans.
Simmer for roughly two hours or so, until the meat is thoroughly tender and the chili assumes a velvety texture. Add salt to taste and a dash of beer every now and then to keep the mixture aerated and to let the hint of barley and hops invigorate the chili. (The alcohol cooks off, so the chili is alcohol-free, although you may not be. I like adding Michelob. Different beers impart different tastes.)
Fix some cast-iron skillet cornbread. You can cook from an original recipe although I kind of like the Martha White quick-fix packages.
About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve the chili, stir a heaping tablespoon of masa flour into about a third of a cup of warm water and add to the pot, stirring thoroughly. This will bind the chili. Let it simmer another five minutes or so. Turn the heat off and let the chili rest for a minute or three.
Serve with pinto beans, cornbread, crackers, corn chips, green onions, jalepenos and bowls of chopped onion, grated sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream and plain yogurt for toppings. And cold beer.
Meanwhile, if you’re lucky, your significant other has gone to Hazel Smith’s Hot Dish recipe page on CMT.com and has whipped up a Grated Apple Pie and popped it into the oven.
After a steaming bowl of Chet’s Tennessee Velvet Chili, get that apple pie out of the oven, cut a generous slice of pie and cover it with a big scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, get in the recliner, kick back and enjoy the game. This is what God intended for you.
See the new Hot Dish recipe: Grated Apple Pie.