Making Scoville Proud

by wjw on October 25, 2019


Tonight’s culinary odyssey was courtesy of our hunter friend Kyle, who laid some ground venison on us.  We could have made venison burgers, I suppose, but I decided to be a little more adventurous and make venison chili.  Kathy had bought a ton of freshly-roasted green chile back in August, and this seemed another chance to make use of New Mexico’s most celebrated ingredient.

First, some definitions.  “Chili” is a meat stew that originated in Texas.  It isn’t Mexican food, it isn’t Tex-Mex, in fact it’s more American than apple pie, because pie wasn’t invented here.

“Chile” is a vegetable and condiment the effectiveness of which is measured in Scoville units.

“Chilli” is some damn thing they have in Britain, where they spell funny.

This was the first chili I’ve made since Bruce Sterling and I combined our culinary talents at a workshop roughly thirty years ago.  It’s been so long that I made an elementary mistake.

That package of venison didn’t look all that large to me, and in order to make a meal of it, I thought I should stretch it with beans.  Whether chili should have beans or not is one of those things endlessly debated by chili aficionados, often at the point of a gun, but I am personally indifferent to all their arguments, I am all right with legumes if they’re the right legumes. and if the weight of the beans does not threaten to exceed the weight of the meat.

(Just for the record, kidney beans are not the right legumes.)

I bought a can of black beans at the supermarket.  It’s empty now, and if you care all that much, you are welcome to use the can for target practice.

Venison is a very lean meat, and often doesn’t have a ton of flavor, so I figured I’d have to build up the flavor by adding a lot of other ingredients and then stewing the shit out of them.

I started by stir-frying an onion and some garlic in a saucepan.  Then I added the meat and realized there was a lot more venison than I’d expected.  Once the meat was nicely browned, I added the beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, some smoked paprika (for the smoky flavor), some cumin, salt, pepper, and the chile.

I didn’t use red chile powder, I used fresh New Mexico roasted green chile.  I kept adding more, tasting, then adding more until I used up all the chile that was in the house.  The result was somewhat fierce, but we’ve been in New Mexico a long time, and we know how to handle our Scoville units.

Bruce Sterling would have added a square of unsweetened chocolate, which adds surprising depth to the flavor.  I thought we had unsweetened chocolate but we didn’t, so I added piece of dark chocolate Dove candy.  (I mean, what the hell, y’know?)

I simmered it on the stove for about an hour, then added about eight ounces of beer, and drank the remaining four ounces.  Beer takes away the harshness of the chile without removing any of its Scoville units.

Then we simmered a half-hour or so, then ate it with the last of the sweet corn.

Reader, I wanted to marry that chili.

Instead, I’ll have to settle for a brief affaire, and enjoy it for the next several days.

Doug Potter October 26, 2019 at 3:42 pm

Whattayamean kidney beans ain’t right? !!
I applaud your going all in with green chile and no red. I haven’t committed to that yet, but I do use Chimayo.
These days I would make that recipe with either lamb or tofu.


John F. MacMichael October 26, 2019 at 4:01 pm

The delicious smell of roasting green chilis is one of the many seasonal pleasures that keeps drawing me back to our local Farmers Market. Alas, this is probably the last weekend this year that they will be available.

pecooper October 27, 2019 at 8:16 am

Love the comment about “Chilli” and British spelling. Perfect when talking about spicy seasonings.

Etaoin Shrdlu October 27, 2019 at 10:25 am

I’m sorry your cat was sick. 🙁

Susan B October 30, 2019 at 8:35 pm

I lived in central Texas for 15 years and my bean of choice is pinto beans. If I start early enough in the day, I’ll cook dried ones, otherwise we keep a can of pintos in the pantry. Had a neighbor back then who was from New Mexico and he showed up one fall with a grocery sack full of Hatch chiles. I fell in love with those chiles, but now I live in Maryland so they are just a fond memory.
Your chili looks really good.

wjw October 31, 2019 at 1:16 am

Pinto beans are good for chili. But I eat them all the time, and thought black beans might make a tasty change.

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