Growing up, chili was never important to me and I don’t recall it ever being the center of attention with any of my family members or friends. I guess that’s because in New Orleans we’d all rather fill a pot with the likes of gumbo, beans or smothered something or other. Over the past few years, however, I’ve had this weird fixation with chili. My preoccupation stems from this fun-filled chili cook-off my girlfriend used to hold at her annual Super Bowl party. All her guests knew I loved to cook and they constantly bugged me about entering the “competition.” Little did they know, I had no competition. As of that first invite back in 2005 (give or take a year), I had never made nor did I have any interest in making chili. That all changed after tasting and voting on the creative bowls of my buddies. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of indulging in the fine flavors of red chili, green chili, white turkey chili, Lone-Star-State-inspired chili con carne, vegetarian chili, Cincinnati chili, black bean chili and so on. They all left me craving more. So I started working on my own style. I wanted to develop a chili recipe that was hearty and versatile; one that could serve as a meal and just as successfully kick up one of my favorite football finger foods like nachos or chili cheese fries. I also wanted to create a chili that stayed true to its roots but had a little regional flair.
Since chili is all about the chiles, I decided that the best way to keep this dish real was to forgo the jarred chile/chili powders and build my version on a foundation of fresh peppers and reconstituted dried chile peppers. For the fresh, I paired the very-Creole sweet green bell pepper (regional stamp #1) with the fruity and addictively spicy jalapeno. On the dry end, I picked up what was available at the grocery store: Californias and New Mexico Reds. These two chiles, which make frequent appearances in chili recipes, are quite similar. The New Mexico Reds, aka New Mexicans, are sunny, earthy and faintly sweet. The Californias (dried Anaheims) contribute similar flavors but with a little more heat. If I had my choice, I would have picked a spicier option like chiles de arbol in place of one of those. But this combo worked out fine.
On the meat end, I stuck with the traditional ground beef but gave South Louisiana a strong presence with the addition of bacon, ground pork, andouille sausage and tasso (regional stamp #2). The bacon and ground pork add some much needed fat in the best way possible, while the andouille and tasso lend curious elements of taste and texture. To bring all those flavors together, I relied on fire-roasted tomatoes and the dark, caramely goodness of an Abita Turbo Dog (regional stamp #3). I finished the pot with a bit of controversy–beans. Not just any beans, but red kidney beans–which I chose for their citywide significance (regional stamp #4). And if that wasn’t enough to proclaim this chili New Orleans-worthy, I named this recipe after the most devoted football fans in the country, the New Orleans Saints Who Dat Nation (regional stamp #5). It joyfully reminds me of how this whole chili-making journey got started and keeps me tethered to my home team. But please know that you don’t have to be a Saints fan to enjoy this recipe. And you won’t hurt my feelings if you make it to cheer on another team or choose to leave out the beans!
Who Dat Chili Recipe
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 dried California chiles
4 dried New Mexico chiles
2 cups chicken stock or broth, divided
4 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces andouille sausage, casing removed and crumbled
4 ounces tasso, diced small
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1 28-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1 12-ounce bottle Abita Turbo Dog beer (or other dark brown ale)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Grated sharp cheddar cheese, chopped onions, sliced green onions, chopped tomatoes, pickled jalapeno peppers and sour cream, for garnish
Corn chips, for serving
FOR THE SEASONING MIX. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine seasoning mix; set aside.
FOR THE CHILES. Break the stems off and shake out the seeds. With kitchen shears, cut down the length of each chile and flatten out. Working in batches, lay the chiles in a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat and toast pressing down with a spatula until they are lightly blistered and tan spots appear, about 30-40 seconds per side. Do not over-toast the chiles or they will turn bitter. Transfer toasted chiles to a large bowl and fill with hot tap water. Place a plate on top of chiles to keep submerged. Let soak for 30 minutes. Drain chiles, discarding soaking liquid. Place in a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup chicken stock and puree until smooth; set aside.
FOR THE CHILI. In a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, fry the bacon until browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a stack of paper towels to drain. Add andouille and tasso to the rendered bacon fat and cook until browned. Transfer to paper towels to drain with the bacon. Add onions, bell peppers and jalapeno peppers to pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add ground beef and pork and 1 tablespoon seasoning mix. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Stir in reserved chili puree, 1 cup chicken stock, browned bacon, andouille and tasso and seasoning mix. Stir in crushed tomatoes, beer, tomato paste, brown sugar and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 1/2 hours. Stir in beans and cook an additional 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with desired garnishes and corn chips for dipping or crushing on top. Makes 8-10 servings.