Makin’ Chili

I got into one of those moods to make something in the kitchen yesterday — a rare mood, for which Krissy is thankful, since when I get in the mood to make something in the kitchen, usually the kitchen explodes toward entropy in fairly short order. But what can I say, I had a hankering for chili. I told Krissy I was going to make dinner, and after the near imperceptible emotional war on her face — the “how nice, he’s making dinner so I don’t have to” expression and the “please God let my kitchen survive this” expression going mano a mano for about 15 milliseconds — she said that would be fine. Off I went to the grocery store.

Here’s what you need to make John Scalzi’s Entirely Random Chili:

1. One really big white onion, somewhat coarsely chopped, because, well, I don’t handle kitchen knives all that well.

2. Four large ripe tomatoes, only slightly less coarsely chopped.

3. One small package of Orzo or other small pasta (you want no more than a cup)

4. One pound italian sausage — not ground beef. The sausage should be ground but not in sausage casings.

5. One pound thick-sliced peppered bacon.

6. One regular-sized can of chili beans.

7. One regular-sized can of starter chili sauce (I used the Tabasco brand one)

8. 3-4 cans of basic canned chili, two with beans, two without. You ask, why bother with these cans of chili? Well, if you want to just build out your chili starting from beans and tomato paste, go right ahead. But the reason I do it this way is that even when I’m ambitious, I’m lazy. If there’s a canned chili you find marginally acceptable, why not use it as a base?

All right. First you dump the canned chili, the starter chili sauce and the beans into a bag-ass pot and you let it simmer. You chop up the onions and tomatoes. The tomatoes go directly into the chili. The onion you sauté first in olive oil (this keeps you from having onion breath so insanely powerful that you melt your pets’ hair), adding a very small dash of garlic powder. Once they are lightly cooked, in they go into the chili.

Then you fry up the italian sausage, and make sure that you don’t get any clumps that are too large. Once it’s fully cooked, put it into the chili. Chop up the bacon into smallish chunks and fry up in two batches. I like my bacon fully cooked but not crumbly crisp, but, you know, do what you want. Drain the fat but don’t be obsessive about draining every last drop; dump into the chili.

Lastly, add in the orzo and mix throughly. Let the chili continue to simmer for the suggested cooking time of the Orzo. Now, eat. It serves, God, at least eight. Garnish each bowl with cheese, sour cream and pepper/peppers to taste.

This chili is not particularly hot, since I’m not a huge fan of chili that tries to assassinate your tongue on it’s way toward the stomach, but if you are then I suppose adding in the chilies of your choice would not be a bad thing at all. For me, this chili has two things going for it: One, it’s got a lot of savory meat (the Italian sausage and peppered bacon plus the base “meat” from the canned chili), and two, it’s a really thick chili — the orzo really helps with that. Chili can have either the consistency of a soup or a stew, but I have a hard time with soup-like chilis. I think a good chili needs to have a substantial portion of the chili stick on a spoon when you turn the spoon upside down. Otherwise, you’re just doing it wrong.

I don’t know if this recipe qualifies as “true” chili, or just a weird-random chili-like stew. But one, ask me if I care, and two, whatever it is, it’s good eatin’.

Best of all, I did not destroy the kitchen making it. Score one point for me.

20 Comments on “Makin’ Chili”

  1. Not how I do it, but who cares what I do?

    But if you’re making a big pot of chili and planning to store it in the fridge, it will keep longer if you leave out the beans. Keep the beans on the side or whatever and add them into the bowl.

    A little grated bittersweet chocolate is nice, too. I understand that’s how they make it in Cincinnati.

  2. Sounds like my kind of chili (meaty, allows for laziness). The next (well, okay, first) time I make chili, this’ll be it. I do tend to be a spice wimp, though, so we’ll see how it goes.

  3. I like spices.

    My favorite canned Chili is Dennison’s, but I don’t think I would ever use that as a base for my own chili because it is so radically different from how home-made chili [in my mind] tastes.

    I agree with you about the Italian Sausage versus ground beef.

  4. John, I suggest, next time, instead of sauteing the onion in olive oil, fry up the bacon first, then saute the onion in the bacon fat. Waste not, want not, I say, especially when it comes to bacon fat. The idea of adding bittersweet chocolate is a good one too – that’s what I do when I make chilli. People don’t get enough credit these days for mixing meat and chocolate.

  5. My chili is more of a vegetarian tomato stew. Lots of canned tomato based products, it’s for people even lazier than John. Such as myself.

    My Midwesern mom called it chili as I was growing up and, while mine is much spicier than Mom’s, it’s still pretty much the same recipe. So I call it chili.

    It tastes great when mixed with saffron rice.

  6. Any honest chili is good chili.

    As far as Cincinnnati chili goes, I got the scoop from two reliable sources. One, a female friend who dated one of the Skyline Chili descendants, and another who’s father went to school with the founders.

    This comes from spicing of traditional Greek stews, adapted to American chili.

    Start with ground meat (beef to be authentic, turkey to be healthy), stir it into room temp water until it dissolves. Add very finely diced onion. Turn the stove on.

    Add tomato sauce
    Broth with MSG
    chili powder (lots)
    cumin (a bit)
    hot pepper (be cautious)
    garlic (fresh and powdered)
    oregano (all spices powdered)
    cinnamon (little goes a long way)
    cocoa powder
    creamy peanut putter
    *hint* of anise powder
    salt and pepper
    all to taste

    Cook until thickly soupy. Refrigerate overnight, take out solid fat, heat and serve.

    Serve over pasta with finely shredded cheddar cheese or over hot dogs covered with finely minced onion and finely shredded cheddar cheese. Hot sauce of choice. Oyster crackers poked open and filled with hot sauce optional.

    =mark, in New Orleans and missing Skyline

  7. Anyone who uses the “Cincinnati” and “Chili” in the same sentence should have their mouth washed out with soap. The “stuff” the serve in Cincinnati is spaghetti sauce with cinnamon in it.

    FYI, John, “Real Chili”, i.e. the Texas kind, doesn’t have any tomatoes in it. Just meat, beans, chilis, and spices.

    For Texas style chili recipes, take a look at

    (No I’m not a Texan, just know my chili)

  8. Oh, John, John, John….garlic POWDER?

    I guess if my sensibilities are going to be offended at WHATEVER, it’s telling that it happens on such a minor point. Personally, I think your onions would serve you better with a touch of minced garlic, which can be bought all ready, in a jar. It’s just as convenient as garlic powder, but is close enough to fresh to make a world of difference.

  9. Found out by accident (trying to fill a “flavor hole” one chili-making adventure) that an airline bottle or two of tequila makes a great chili better! The alcohol cooks out (if you’re worried about the kiddies), but the unique flavor of tequila just feels right rolling around in your mouth with all those other SW flavors.

  10. There is no “real” chilli, only good chilli and meh chilli. And meh chilli is still pretty good. Kind of like sex, though given the choice between chilli and sex…

    As for what they serve in Cincinnati, it’s NOT spaghetti sauce. It doesn’t even remotely taste like spaghetti sauce. It’s actually Greek meat sauce, but it’s kinda hard to sell it as that, isn’t it? So they call it chilli. And not too many people seem to care, just as long as their four-ways come with what they asked for: Onions or beans. Get that part wrong, and there’ll be a fight.

  11. Jim, you wouldn’t want to get the chilli and the sex mixed up, that’s for sure. That’d bring tears to your eyes.

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