Thanks to my friend of almost 30 years for sending this wonderful tribute to her mother, and of course, to our dear Dody for leaving us the blueprint for her most marvelous chili.
Submitted by Jennifer Buermann:
“My mom’s chili probably earned its greatest fame outside of our family during the late 80s/early 90s as the favored sustenance for the punk rock bands my sisters would invite to stay over at our house before or after their gigs at City Gardens rock club in Trenton, NJ. Her response to the announcement that The Angry Samoans or Suicidal Tendencies were sleeping over was inevitably, ‘OK, I guess I’ll make chili,’ in a tone I imagine was equal parts bemusement and resignation. I think secretly she was proud when she heard after the show that the band had given her and her chili a shoutout from the stage (which happened quite a few times).
The other notable fact about the chili was really that there was no known recipe for it – our mom had always just….made it, as I think her mother had made it before her. She was a great cook but I don’t remember her ever being very recipe-based. I’m sure at some point she told me how to make it, but for a long time, even though I followed her directions, it never seemed exactly right and I was convinced she had (probably unintentionally) left something out. So I kept refining and remaking on my own until I came up with the recipe here, which I think comes the closest. Now, this is a classic chili con carne – your ground beef, your red kidney beans – nothing fancy or vegetarian or requiring-a-trip-to-Whole Foods about it – if you want something more exotic, there are other places to find that. This is Friday night chili, a warm gently bubbling cast-iron pot on the back of the stove when you get home late from soccer practice or drama club or Mathletes - or with a bunch of Angry Samoans in tow.
A couple of notes: First, my mom did always use really good hot chili powder from the Italian Market in Philadelphia. If you don’t have access to a good spice source, the best grocery-store brand in my opinion in Durkee Hot Chili Powder. Whatever kind you use, make sure it’s the ‘Hot’ version. Second, the bacon (ingredient #1) is my addition; if you’d rather not use bacon, you can use olive oil to brown your meat instead, but I like the smoky flavor added by the bacon fat.”
¼ lb slab bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 lbs ground beef
3 tblsp chopped garlic
¾ tsp ground black pepper
6 tblsp chili powder
1 tblsp crushed dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp celery salt
1 tblsp paprika
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (w/basil leaf if available)
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-oz can kidney beans
1 cup water
salt/pepper to taste
1 tblsp chili paste w/garlic optional
sour cream for garnish
Cook the bacon in a large enameled-cast-iron Dutch oven, until fat is rendered out and bacon is slightly crispy. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat. (Or use 3 tablespoons olive oil if not using bacon).
Add the onion; cook until onion is wilted.
Add the beef and cook until browned through.
Add the garlic and black pepper and stir to blend. Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, celery salt and paprika. Stir and add the vinegar. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt/pepper, and chili paste with garlic if desired. Stir, and add the kidney beans. Stir all ingredients together well, and bring to a boil – then lower heat and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream on top and Saltines on the side.