There are as many ways to make chili as there are cooks who prepare it. Chili con carne is basically meat slowly simmered in a chili-spiced liquid. Conventionally, the meat is beef, pork or poultry alone or in combination, ground or shredded; more exotically it can be venison or wild boar. And while Texans insist that chili can never be made with beans, it frequently is –– again with one or several kinds. (The penultimate would be Anne Rosenzweig’s Arcadian Eight-Bean Chili with dried kidney, white, pink, black, red, pinto, cranberry and navy beans.) There are even some surprisingly successful chili mixes, such as Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Chili Kit.
An unquestioned star in this mammoth galaxy is Chris Cogan’s “Military Mess Hall Chili,” one of the dishes featured at the recent “Men Who Cook” fundraiser for the Asolo Rep. Chris’ isn’t the easiest recipe in the genre; you need to know your way around the supermarket to find all the ingredients and it takes a couple of hours of watchful prep and cooking. The result is well worth it, enormously tasty, strong and subtle at the same time. As with most braises, the chili is better after it sits in the refrigerator for a day or two.
Chris Cogan was born in Louisville, Ky., perhaps accounting for the unusual inclusion of okra in his chili. One of nine children, he learned to cook in quantity, ergo the recipe’s military name. With an entrepreneurial bent inherited from his parents, he founded his first company at age 18 and after moving to Florida in 1984, he spent a couple of decades as a bachelor building software companies. He married Aimee in 2004 and they have a 4-year-old daughter, Caragh Bella. Chris and Aimee Cogan are founding members of the Bellwether Group at Morgan Stanley; they are committed to advancing the arts, higher education and entrepreneurialism in Florida. Chris enjoys cooking several times a week and says he would “rather guess how something is made than refer to a cookbook.”
Chris was recruited to Men Who Cook by the event’s founder, Beverly Bartner. She and her husband, Bob, hosted the Cogans at their table and accoutered it with camo shirts and hats and on-message gifts — Nerf guns for the gents and high-end water pistols for the ladies.
Cogan’s ‘Military Mess Hall’ Chili
• 1 pork tenderloin (total 1 to 1.5 pounds)
• 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 3/4 to 1 pound ground chuck
• 1/2 can chili beans (with juice)
• 1/2 can great northern beans (drained)
• 1/2 can navy beans (drained)
• 1 large can whole peeled tomatoes (with juice)
• 1/2 bottle of pilsner beer
• 1/2 large sweet onion
• 3 peppers (one red, one green, one yellow)
• 5 to 10 pickled okra spears
• 5 to 10 large green Spanish pimento-stuffed olives
• 2 tablespoons ground chili powder
• 1/2 tablespoon paprika
• 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
• 2 tablespoons ground cumin
• 1/2 tablespoon dried, ground oregano
• 1 1/2 tablespoons corn masa flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
• Olive oil
• Stubbs or similar chicken or pork marinade sauce
Start with an 8-quart pot (with lid) and at least one large skillet.
Lightly cover bottom of pot and skillet with olive oil.
Dice the onion and peppers and add to pot on low to medium heat. When onion begins to turn translucent, add ground chuck and stir/ chop regularly until meat is browned. Reduce heat to simmer.
Add salt to pot.
Cut tenderloin in half then slice it long-ways into quarters such that you have four long strips.
Add 1/4 cup of marinade sauce to olive oil in skillet, turn on medium heat and add tenderloin strips, brown until medium, remove to cutting board.
Cut chicken breasts length-ways into ½ inch wide strips and repeat directions in step #6 until chicken is cooked.
Shred/chop chicken and pork and add to pot with browned ground chuck, onions and peppers.
Stir pot regularly and begin using lid, keeping heat at simmer to low.
Add ground chili powder, oregano and paprika to pot.
Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground cumin and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to pot, leaving balance of each for later upon tasting.
Trim both ends from the pickled okra spears and slice spears into 1/4 inch thin slices and add to pot.
Finely chop olives and add to pot.
Gently pour bottle of beer down a spoon into pot to avoid foaming.
Cut whole tomatoes into halves or thirds and add to pot. Heat may need to be dialed up slightly momentarily but be careful not to boil, reduce heat when simmer is re-established.
At this point the pot should have been simmering for about two hours, allow to simmer for another 30 minutes then, add the beans and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes.
Add the remainder of the cumin and cayenne pepper (to taste) along with 1to 1 ½ Tablespoons of corn masa flour to desired thickness and taste.
Allow all ingredients to simmer together for 30 minutes (a total of at least 3 hours), then turn off heat and allow to cool. Best if reheated and served the next day or at least after a few hours of resting. Additional masa corn flour may be added upon reheating, depending on desired thickness and taste.
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