If cooking is an art, then chili is a Jackson Pollack painting.
There is a game plan, a sense of logic involved, but essentially, making chili is throwing a bunch of ingredients at the canvas - in this case, a pot - and hoping they all work together in the end.
Of course, some chili aficionados would argue the process of making chili is as rigid as creating a geometric painting. Beans or no beans, tomatoes or absolutely no tomatoes - those are things that chili mavens can debate for hours.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Andy Gray
This chili gets its heat from two kinds of ground peppers, and the heat is counter-balanced by the chunks of pork, crushed tomatoes and a little beer.
I've been cooking chili for about as long as I've been cooking. I used to make chili every year for the Tribune Chronicle's Super Bowl party, and it is a winter staple.
The first cookbook I remember getting is ''Chili Madness'' by Jane Butel, which I'm pretty sure I got when I was in college. It has about 40 different chili recipes, and I've tried several of them, although I seldom make any recipe exactly as written or the same way twice.
I use beef or pork, usually a mix of both, and more often than not, I'll find a way to get some bacon in there. I'm cool with beans in my chili, and when cooking for a crowd, it's a little more economical than creating a strictly meat stew. But I regularly leave them out.
Mex-ed Up Pork Chili
5 tablespoons lard or oil
4 pounds pork, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons of flour
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
7 tablespoons ground hot red chile
4 tablespoons ground mild red chile
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
2 12-oz. bottles or cans of lager-style beer.
6 cups stewed pinto beans, fresh or canned
Melt lard or add oil to heavy pot over medium heat. Coat the pork cubes with flour by shaking them in a paper bag or in a mixing bowl with a tight lid. Add the pork to the pot, stir frequently and cook until browned evenly.
Add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent.
Take the pot off of the heat. Stir in the hot and mild chili until all of the pork is coated. Add the remaining seasoning, one can of tomatoes and one bottle of beer. Let cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the other can of tomatoes and bottle of beer and let cook for another hour or so until the meat is tender and the flavors meld. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve the chili over the beans in a bowl or eat it without.
I've tossed green peppers, mushrooms, cinnamon, tequila and even chocolate into the pot (not in the same pot), depending on the whim.
We've made a vegetarian version of Skyline-style, Cincinnati chili that we've poured over spaghetti, and my wife makes a great vegetarian chili that is perfect on its own.
This recipes draws basic proportions from Santa Clara Chili in ''Chili Madness.'' But I had some cubed pork in the freezer from the Berkshire pig we bought in the spring, so I substituted pork for beef. And when I decided to double the recipe, I cut up some western style pork rib meat to slow-cook in the spices.
The recipe also called for beef broth, which didn't make sense if I was using pork, so I got some liquid into the mix with crushed tomatoes and beer.
I always use beer in chili, especially if the recipe calls for water. The beverage that pairs best with chili also pairs well in it. And in honor of its arrival in Ohio this month, I used Yuengling lager for this batch.
Since this is a New Mexico-style chili, I decided to buy some New Mexico ground chile peppers from Urban Herbs at the West Side Market in Cleveland. And I also picked up some Mexican oregano there, which supposedly has a slightly different flavor (hints of citrus and mild licorice, according to one website) compared with the Mediterranean variety. It seems like all of the recipes in ''Chili Madness'' recommended Mexican oregano, but it's not a necessity.
One element I did keep was serving the chili over pinto beans instead of mixing the beans into the brew.
I soaked a bag of pinto beans overnight, rinsed them, replaced the water and then slow-cooked them for several hours with a couple bay leaves, a couple chipotle peppers from our garden and a teaspoon or so of the Mexican oregano. Canned beans will work and are a lot faster.
The pork gives this chili a slightly sweeter flavor than if it was made with beef, but there's still plenty of heat from the amount of chile pepper. The beans help mute the fire for those who want a milder bowl, and those who want to amp up the heat can use just one can of tomatoes.
Since I made significant changes in the original recipe, I'm calling this Mex-ed Up Pork Chili. Give it a try as written or have fun Mex-ing it up yourself.