Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chilli Con Carne

There are going to be ructions about today’s cook-off, you just wait and see. A lot of people take chilli con carne, (properly in its native Spanish ‘chile con carne’, chilli with meat), very seriously indeed and argue interminably over where it originated, what should go into it (and what shouldn’t) and how it should be served. Should you pre-cook the chillies? Which bean belongs in a chilli? Does any bean belong in a chilli? Should it even contain tomatoes? These and other questions are bandied about by people with far too much time on their hands and ten gallon hats on their heads. And just because we don’t like feeling left out, HMHB and I both have very different recipes for chilli con carne, hence this cook-off. You can decide which one to cook first and which one you prefer! Neither is at all authentic, by the way, so no fears on that front. These are both good old fashioned 1980s vintage ‘Brit Chillis’…

Quite how chilli made the journey to the UK is unknown, but adventurous cooks were bucking the ‘garlic is the fruit of evil’ culture that attacked the post-war English and were actually making stuff as exotic as chilli in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Let us not forget, for instance, that Elizabeth David was creating revolutionary food thinking for Brits by introducing French and Mediterranean food around about then – let alone Mexican mixtures of meat, garlic and *gasp* chilli peppers!

However, and sadly for us as we are of an age, both HMHB and I strongly associate chilli with the 1980s: served up in brown glazed bowls with rice and salad along with a nose-wrinklingly strong garlic bread and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon so deep and potent that it stains yer lips.

It’s generally accepted that chilli comes from Mexico or Texas or even both (hence Tex-Mex), a version or corruption of the ‘meat and beans’ of cowboy fame which would be made up as blocks: just imagine, a yummy stew of dried pemmican and beans. I guess if you wanted to cook up a really genuine ‘real’ cowboy chilli here in the Emirates you could stew up some of that vile-looking biltong that Spinneys sells along with some suet, a handful of beans and some dried chillies. Enjoy.

Purists don’t put beans in chilli. But then purists are boring people in the main. Tinned beans are convenient, some insist on using ‘proper’ dried beans. If you do, then don’t forget to soak them well overnight and then boil them for a good ten minutes before using them: they contain an unpleasant little toxin called phytohaemagglutinin (honestly!) which is minimised by boiling.

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