RE: Chili In Los Angeles
Thu, 08/4/05 4:46 PM
I was another Southerner/SouthWesterner who moved to L of A and constantly lived on the hunt for Southern Eatz/comfort fewd.
Well, since I was born in New Orleans (and no, we DON'T say "Nawlins". Its "Noo ORE-lenz", thank y'all very much.)and raised in and around Texas, Chili is something we can only live with for a matter of days before we die of blandness. And good chili, REAL chili, is a LOT more than just HOT! Its savory, tomato-y, slightly sweet and has a good Cumin kick and it SHOULD have a spoonful of Masa Harina (Mexican cornmeal) mixed in. And never, never, never BEANS!!!
If you've GOT to have something that will give you greasy gas, eat a bowl of pintos on the side. If you do eat beans in your chili, please sit down wind from the rest of us, please. Okay, now, with that said, you CANNOT get a good bowl of Texas Red in LA. Just can't be done. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't get hooked on Chili John's in Burbank. Yes, its Yankee chili, and it basically some sort of hot, greasy meat sauce. It's almost black and really finely ground. Probably doesn't have cumin in it and it's basically a BIG BOWL OF BEANS!!! If you want it mild, they dump you a bowlful of pinto beans then drop on two of three SPOONFULS of their "chili". If you want it hot, they give you the same bowl of beans and add another spoonful or two of chili. You're supposed to mix it together. Okay, it doesn't hit my chili spot, but you know, I kind of got addicted to the strange taste. It's mostly HOT. And I started liking it. I still never liked the beans in it. So, I'd buy a frozen pound of the meat sauce/chili and microwave it and eat it straight at home. It cost TEN DOLLARS and a pound is the size of a can of vegetables. It isn't a big bowlful. But, oddly, it's worth it. Chili John's bizarre meat sauce does grow on you. But, the search for chili, real chili goes on.
Which led me to "Chili-My-Soul" (in Encino)...whatever that's supposed to mean. A nice Jewish guy used to run it and he was very proud of his chilis, of which there are several millions kinds, from mish to mash. And I tried as many as I could stand over several months. It's overpriced out the wazoo! And it lacks almost everything that makes chili taste like chili, except for chili powder. I don't know how this place stays in business, but I suspect it's because his well-to-do customers in the valley wouldn't know chili if they stepped in it. It's surprisingly tasteless, no matter what kind I ordered. I spent over a hundred bucks there trying to find something that tasted good. It was money shucked down a rat hole. Por nada. Even his sides are puzzling. Ummm, nothing like an order of carrot sticks to bring out the best in a bowl of chili. ??? So, I'd say if this guy would leave chili alone, about which he obviously knows nothing, I'll leave matzo ball soup alone. I reckon we all might oughta stick to our own heritages, but again, bless his little pointed head, he tries. Unfortunately he sells false hope to folks like me at a premium price!!! And that sux.
Okay, so the search leads to this. Go to Ralphs Supermarket. Buy one of those little brown sacks of Carroll Shelby's Chili Makin's. (Shelby's a former racecar driver who created the famous "Shelby Cobra" hot rod!) Buy some extra cumin. Buy a packet of Pasilla Chili powder. Buy a can of tomato sauce. If you've got a little dab of brown sugar at home you don't need to buy any more. The seasoning sack has enough Masa Meal in it, so you don't need to buy more. Go home, brown up a pound or two of ground beef, maybe one pound of beef and one pound of ground pork. Toss all Chili Makin's in the pan as per package directions. Add the extra cumin and the extra chili powder. Toss in a teaspoon of brown sugar, maybe more if you like. Simmer is all together and during the last twenty minutes add the Masa meal (put it in a cup and slowly stir water into it until it becomes a thick but pourable paste) and add it to the pan. NOW HEAR THIS, Y'ALL: I don't care what your Momma from Minnesota used to do, DO NOT put in GREEN (BELL) PEPPERS! NO CELERY. NO MUSHROOMS. NO CARROTS. NO CALIFLOWER. NO ASPARAGAS. NO BROCCOLI. AND NO OREGANO (this ain't Italy, son!) NOTHING ELSE!!! PLEASE!!! AND I'D BEG YOU TO NOT BE COOL AND POUR A CAN OF BEER IN THE CHILI. If you like beer, drink a couple while you make the chili and have a couple while you eat it. Chili is a minimalist thing. Real Chuck Wagon cooks didn't have much to put in their trail chili. Just beef, dried chiles (red) and maybe some hot red peppers, cumin seeds (Crushed with a rifle butt) and they probably didn't use tomatoes. Their chili turned red from the Chiles as they cooked into the meat. And branch water. And salt and a pinch of raw sugar, maybe. Nothing else. And their chili was probably so strong and so gut-punchin' we fat and lazy city slickers probably couldn't handle it. So...that's all I got to say about that.
Then, toppin's: If you're from Louisiana, make a pot of rice. You know what to do with it (ladle the chili over the rice). If you're from Texas, don't. You might cook up a pan of cornbread. Mmmm. Dice up some yeller onions. Open a can of chopped Chiles. Grate some rat trap cheese. A splat of sour cream. And leave the beans in the can in the cupboard! Only Yankees who eat that soup they call chili in diners in Racine, Wisconsin eat crackers on it. Gross.
So, if you think you're going to find chili in LA, you're not going to. And if you think you remember Chasen's chili as being the best in the world, your memory ain't so hot. It was full of beans and bell peppers. (And Italian seasons! Gag!) It might have been (like Chili John's) a good meat sauce, but, chili?...it wasn't. Hell, if Elizabeth Taylor adored it, there must have been something wrong with it.
Go to the store, do what I told you. Go home and make it yourself. After you make it a few times, you'll throw the Carroll Shelby Chili Makin's away and start doin' it yourself. You'll tinker with it and sooner or later, like everybody else...your's will be "The Best Chili" in the world! (Yeah, like everybody's a 1/4 Cherokee!) LOL!!!
See Y'all in the kitchen!