• ,

Food Porn Friday: Chilly? CHILI.

Chili

Everything is better with Fritos

It should probably come as no surprise that I have a significant history when it comes to chili.  Ah, yes, good ole chili, a big "bowl of red," is one of the finest single-bowl menu items on this side of creation.  Growing up in New Orleans, there were always satisfying soups and stews to be enjoyed in the Gold house, from dark roux gumbo with chicken and sausage to a classic turtle soup au sherry made in the Galatoire's fashion (hint: it's more about the veal stock than the turtle) and everything in between.  And, of course, there was occasionally chili.

I didn't give chili much thought as a youngster in NOLA.  It just seemed like something mom could throw together cheaply and quickly to feed a family of three boys and a hungry husband on the days she didn't feel like spending numerous hours in the kitchen.  Chili was  always good, but generally unremarkable, especially compared to other dishes that Mama Gold was known for, like her inimitable crawfish etouffee, and a chicken Marsala that, to this day, I have yet to find an equal.

As I became an adult -- and then a food writer -- chili somehow took on a larger place in my heart and my life.  Especially on cold days, and having lived in the Midwest and Northeast for many years, I've had my fair share of those.  It began with a chili cook-off, that most American of competitions.  My friend, Matt Timms, started having amateur chili battles at his house, which eventually grew into a huge event.  These days, Matt hosts his Takedowns across the country, and even has Hormel as a sponsor for his bacon cook-offs.  One fateful year, Matt asked me to be a chili judge, and then a year after that.

Judging a chili cook-off is not an easy task.  One must be fair and wise and discerning, making sure not to give preferential treatment to friends and acquaintances, and to ensure that all chilis are adequately and accurately judged by their merits or lack thereof.  Also, a hearty appetite is important.  And beer.  Definitely beer.

Helping Matt conduct his massive Brooklyn Chili Takedown got me pondering  the nature of chili itself.  As we've come to know and love it, chili -- or chili con carne, rather -- is actually an American invention.  It's not easy to find a quality bowl of the stuff elsewhere, and when you do, it's rarely the heady, spicy, complex bowl of rich, meaty goodness that chili afficionados know to be the real deal.

There's also the matter of meat and/or beans.  I generally prefer my chili in the Texas style, very meaty and without using beans as a filler.  I will acknowledge the existence of vegetarian chilis, but that's about as far as I'll go on that score.  To me, chili means meat.  Most veggie chilis I've encountered are little more than spicy bean and tomato soup, more minestrone then good ole 'Murican chili.

Then, of course, there are the extras.  A great bowl of chili shouldn't need anything extra piled on top to make it satisfying, but lets be honest: Fritos pretty much make everything better.  Not to mention sour cream, green onions, shredded cheddar, and an extra hit or two from the hot sauce bottle.  Chili also makes an outstanding breakfast.  Throw a couple of fried or poached eggs on top of your Texas red, and boom: You've got a killer start to the morning, whether you're headed off on rustle some cattle or just on your way to a desk job.

It's a magnificent thing.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.