I remember that the beans were just the right shade of soft while the tomatoes were silky and sweet. The ground beef had cooked for exactly the right amount of time so that it was tender and made the whole dish taste rich. The cumin and chili powder and oregano were playing nicely together. The stars were aligned over this pot of chili is basically what I'm saying.
After the dinner party, one of my friends asked for the recipe. I distinctly remember scribbling it down for her and then making a second copy for myself. Because, hey, this was an excellent pot of chili we're talking about here.
Now, every time I want to make chili, I search for this paper. I look in all my usual hiding spots, ignoring the fact that these are the same places that I checked the last time I wanted to make chili. Because maybe, this time, I will find it. I do not find it. I check my old blog. Then I wonder if maybe I shared the recipe over on The Kitchn. I find this one, but just as I'm getting excited, I remember that this recipe is actually a slight variation on The Very Good Chili, which I varied for reasons unknown.
Bottom line: no recipe. It's lost, gone, nowhere to be found. Ultimately, I make up the recipe every time. And every time I think, "Wow, this really IS a very good bowl of chili! I should write the recipe down." Then other things happen and I don't do it. Repeat times infinity.
This ends here, friends. For you, for me, for all of us, here is my recipe for a Very Good Chili.
Makes enough for several adults and plenty of leftovers. It also freezes beautifully.
4 slices of bacon, diced
2 pounds ground beef - however lean or fatty you like it
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced (or if you're feeling industrious, two roasted red peppers.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup amber beer or red wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups (or 2 cans) black beans
1 cup frozen corn
Extras: hot sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream
Warm a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon. Cook until all the fat is rendered and the bacon itself is golden but not yet crispy. Pull out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Drain off all but a teaspoon or two of the bacon fat.
Cook the ground beef in the bacon fat with a teaspoon of salt, breaking it up into bite-sized morsels as you go. Don't stir it overly much and you'll end up with some nice seared spots on your morsels. When all the beef is uniformly brown and seared, scoop it out and set it aside. Pour off all but a teaspoon or so of the fat. (Alternatively, if you used lean meat, you may need to add a teaspoon of oil back into the pan.)
Cook the onions with a half teaspoon of salt until they are soft and beginning to turn brown. Add the peppers and cook until they have also softened. Clear a little space in the middle of the pan and tip your garlic in. Stir it around for a few seconds until it gets fragrant, then stir the garlic into the other vegetables. Sprinkle the seasonings over top.
By this time, a nice sticky dark film should have formed on the bottom of your pan. The French call this the "fond;" I like to call it "delicious." Pour your beer or wine into the pot and scrape away at this brown layer as the beer simmers and bubbles.
Once you've scraped up as much as you can get and the beer has reduced a bit, add the hamburger back into the pot along with the chicken broth. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for a good hour or so until the hamburger tastes tender and succulent. Add more salt or other seasonings if you think the chili needs it.
When the meat is ready, stir in the tomatoes (reserved until now because the acid in them can make the meat take longer to become tender), the beans, the corn, and last but not least, the reserved bacon. Simmer a little longer, maybe another 10 minutes.
Give it a taste and add more of anything you think is missing. If the soup tastes a little flat to you, try giving it a squeeze of lime or lemon juice or a shot of cider vinegar to brighten it up. A little Worcestershire or soy sauce can also add depth if you think that is lacking. Trust your taste buds. They won't lead you wrong.