Monday, December 8, 2008

And the Winner Is...

I'm sure you've all been eagerly anticipating the follow-up to my chili experimentation. The suspense is killing you, no doubt. So, please excuse me as I momentarily brush modesty aside to toot my own horn and say... I did it! Jerk chicken chili was the surprise winner, capturing the title of Tastiest Chili for the Fifth Annual Shimoji Chili Cook-Off, ousting the former champion (who had won for at a least a couple years running, and still won Saturday's Hottest Chili prize). I am now the proud owner of a beautiful poppy red Le Creuset stockpot, the prize for the winning chili. Thanks, Tony and Heather!

Fourteen chilis made it to the competition (plus a fifteenth that missed the voting), and they were really all quite good; I honestly did not expect to win (although - is this bad? - I ended up voting for my own chili, too, but only because at the end of the day it really was my favorite one).

So, without further ado, here is my recipe:

Ruth Ann's Jerk Chicken Chili
(yeah, I'm not bragging or anything)

for the jerk seasoning paste:
1 T allspice berries
1/2 t grated nutmeg
6 large cloves garlic, chopped
2" piece chopped ginger
4 large green onions, thinly sliced
2 habanero peppers, minced
2 T brown sugar
2 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme
salt to taste

for the chili:
approx. 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, excess fat removed
cooking oil as needed
1 medium/large onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 T minced or grated ginger
2 28 oz cans chopped tomatoes (I used San Marzano from Italy - believe it or not, this can make a difference)
1/4 packed brown sugar
~1 C chicken broth
1/4-1/2 C dark rum
3 or 4 14 oz cans black beans
1 14 oz can coconut milk
generous pinch nutmeg
salt to taste

To make the jerk seasoning paste, crush the allspice berries with the nutmeg in a large mortar and pestle. Add the chopped garlic, ginger, green onions, habanero peppers, brown sugar, thyme, and salt one at a time, mashing the paste with the pestle after each addition. You will probably have at least a couple of table spoons of leftover paste after following this recipe.*

Mix the chicken with two to three tablespoons of the jerk paste overnight in a larger covered bowl.

To make the chili, saute the shopped onions, garlic, and ginger on low heat for about 15 minutes until soft. Add two to three tablespoons of the jerk paste and saute for another five or ten minutes. Add the cans of crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, and a half cup of chicken broth and simmer gently for about an hour, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have completely broken down. You may choose to add more chicken broth and cook the sauce down further if you like.

Meanwhile, saute the marinated chicken thighs until barely cooked through, then remove them to a platter. Deglaze the pan with the rum and a quarter cup of chicken broth, and simmer until reduced by half. Pour the reduced liquid into the tomato sauce, being sure to scrape in the browned chicken bits from the pan. Add the black beans to the pot with the sauce and continue to simmer.

When cool enough to handle, tear the chicken into chunks. Add it to the tomato and bean mixture along with the can of coconut milk. Simmer until somewhat thickened and heated all the way through. Add salt to taste. Add up to a quarter cup more rum to add depth of flavor, and a good pinch of nutmeg.

*For people who like their chili hot, give them an extra spoonful of paste. Habaneros may be small, but they are HOT. Be very careful when cutting them or touching the inner part of the pepper. In general, it's best to handle them as little as possible, and DO NOT touch any part of your face before washing your hands thoroughly. This paste, on its own, is very hot, but this recipe will make only a moderately spicy chili, nothing that would be too hot for most.

Note: When I made this chili, I made no measurements, so the only measurements listed that are absolutely accurate are the canned items, since they were already measured for me. As always, you should adjust things to your own taste and available ingredients.

Also, chili tastes best when made a day or two ahead of time. It will also thicken over time, so don't worry if it seems a little bit thin when you first make it.

Finally, while this recipe is one that I (to the best of my knowledge) uniquely created, I did get the ingredient list for the jerk seasoning paste from an online website. Unfortunately, I don't recall where I found it, I did alter it slightly, and the mortar and pestle is also my own way of doing it - but I highly recommend a mortar and pestle for this task!

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