Award-Winning Chili Recipe for When It Is Chilly
By Bri Van Scotter
What do U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and I have in common? Well, it happens to be our love for chili—and not just any chili, but venison chili in particular. Johnson’s famed favorite dish became known as Pedernales River Chili, which he aptly named after his favorite Texas ranch. It is also said to be so delicious that Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady, had her husband’s beloved dish printed on recipe cards that were mailed out to the thousands of people who requested it from the White House. Texas has always held that chili originated in San Antonio, Texas. A man by the name of J.C. Clopper was one of the first to write a description of the famed dish after his visit to San Antonio in 1828. This almost peasant-like dish was the most popular dish in the Roaring 20s! During the 20s, Chili Parlors were all the rage. Chili also was the dish that kept many people alive during the Great Depression due to the low cost. Chili was cheap, and crackers were free.
Chili certainly has American roots but is said to have some Mexican DNA as well. Being that it was developed in a state so close to the Mexican border, one can only assume that the spicy dish must have been inspired in one way or another by Mexican cuisine.
In recent times, chili has become as complex and diverse as Bar-B-Que. This beloved dish now has competitions—cook-offs as they are commonly called. Did you know that the first modern-day chili cook-off was held in October 1952 at the Texas State Fair? I would think that these cook-offs came about because chili is just so damn good, but it was actually created by Joe E. Cooper to help market and sell his then-new book called With or Without Beans, a book dedicated to the making of chili. Sadly Mr.Cooper died and never got the chance to see his book become a best seller. Why is this important? Well Mr. Cooper’s book is to this day considered to be holy grail on chili history and lore. This book is still referenced by many chili enthusiasts around the world.
That first chili cook-off had 55 participants, and Mrs. F.G. Ventura of Dallas, Texas, who walked away with the title of Chili Champion. What made her recipe worth the title? Well her recipe was surprisingly simple. I as a professional chef, can understand and appreciate the beauty of a simple dish, because often times the simple dishes are the hardest to get right.
Here Mrs.Ventura’s Famed Chili recipe:
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 tsp. shortening
- 2 tsp. ground cumin seed
- 1 Small bottle of chili powder
- 4 Tbsp. chopped garlic
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 3 cups water
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
All these ingredients were stewed together for a minimum of 35 minutes and up to 3 hours.
I find this recipe highly interesting because it brings up a question, Where are the Beans?
Beans or No Beans, has become quite the debate in chili competitions! Most modern day chilis contain beans and at times contain more than one type of bean. Beans are said to have been added to chili in later creations. I prefer chili with beans, plus it’s a great way to add bulk and really make this stewed concoction hearty.
Now that we have fully geeked out on chili, I’ll tell you about my experience as a winning contestant of a chili cook-off. I am that person who dives right into something and becomes obsessed with it until it’s perfect. Chili was one of those things. If I was going to enter a chili cook-off, I had to make sure what I was delivering truly rocked. I tested batches of chili for days, some with beans, others with no beans. I tried different meats and even different meat grinds. I tried meat combinations and even got as particular as to toast some spices and not others. But just like BBQ competitors have their techniques, so do chili contestants. One technique that I discovered makes a difference is to Dump. This method is where all your spices are divided into several portions and added at different times during the cooking process. Take garlic for instance; many people add garlic in the beginning. But it doesn’t take much heat to burn garlic, and burnt garlic results in a bitter taste. So, I finely chop my garlic and mash it. Mashing allows the garlic to cook quickly in the heat of the chili, but adding it towards the end guarantees zero burnt garlic but tons of umami flavor.
I would say the two things that I really focused on with my chili were the dump and my chili powder. After all, the chili powder is basically what this dish is focused around. But did you know that the common chili powder that we buy off the grocery store shelves is actually a blend of spices? Yes, that’s right, it has spices such as cumin, oregano, and garlic. So, what you are buying is not a pure chili powder. With that, I choose Chile Molido instead. This chile can be found at a Hispanic supermarket or on Amazon.
To really set my chili apart, because I am an avid hunter, I just about always use venison in my chili. Not only do I use it because I have a massive freezer full, I believe that the game from the venison helps to add more dimension to the chili. In my opinion, beef can sometimes get muddled in the strong flavors of chili. But venison, on the other hand, holds its own, and you can still taste the beautiful flavor of the meat against all the other competing spices. This is the magic that I used to actually win my First National Chili Competition.
Now that I have hyped you up to make a batch of chili, it would only be fair if I included the recipe that won me a title! So here it is, Chef Bri’s personal award-winning chili! Enjoy y’all!
Chef Bri’s Winning Venison Chili
- 2 lbs. ground venison or ground beef
- 2 onions, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 Tbsp. jalapeno, small diced
- 1 Poblano chili, charred and diced
- 8 oz. Hatch chilies, diced
- 14 oz. San Marzano tomatoes, diced (can buy canned)
- 8 oz. tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp. Cumin
- 2 Tbsp. Chile Molido or Chili Powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
- ½ tsp. smoked Paprika
- 4 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1 cup Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard Beans, soaked overnight (or 1 8-oz. can black beans)
- 1 cup Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Heirloom Beans, soaked overnight (or 1 8-oz. can kidney beans)
- 2 cups venison stock or beef stock
- Season with salt and pepper
In a large cast-iron Dutch Oven set over medium high heat, add about 3 tablespoons of Avocado Oil. Add the onions, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt (this helps to draw out water in the onions). Cook until the onions are just about translucent, then add the ground venison or beef. Cook until the meat is nicely browned, breaking the meat up into pieces as it’s cooking. Then add the bell pepper, jalapeno, poblano, and hatch chilies. Let cook for about 10 minutes, stirring about every minute.
Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder, salt, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, beans, and stock. Let simmer for a minimum of 45 minutes or up to 2 hours. I prefer simmering it for at least 1.5 hours.
Serve with toppings such as cheddar cheese, sour cream, avocado, and green onions.