Last night at the Lloyd J. Reynolds Memorial Shoestring Theater, we were dishing up chili and lactose-free cornbread when suddenly the film became unexpectedly sinister -- who knew writer's block could be so macabre? In any case, Barton Fink is worth watching, and this chili worth eating.
The evening before it's supposed to rain, run up to Otto's (or the German sausage joint nearest you) and nurse a franciscan hefe as you peruse the glass cases. Select two pounds of ground beef and the last ham hock, which is the last, the butcher tells you, "Because we've been doing so much elk lately." Allow yourself a little sigh for last year this time when you, too, were "doing so much elk." At home, rinse & soak a pound of kidney beans.
About noon on the rainy day you've selected for chili, pour off the bean-soaking water, put the beans in a great big stock pot, and cover with fresh cold water. Simmer them till soft, and then add the ham hock and some canned tomatoes (don't even try buying fresh tomatoes in chili season). The salt from the hock will toughen the bean skins if you add it too early. Coarsely chop a head of garlic and throw that in, too, along with a fistful of chopped dried chilis or chili powder. I like using a lot of mild chilis to lay down the foundational savor, adjusting the heat with the spicier ones later on. Word of Caution #1: Spiciness increases with time. Word of Caution #2: Do not change your diva cup for several hours after chopping chilis. No matter how hard you scrub your hands, that capsaicin will linger on your fingers.
A couple of hours before suppertime, caramelize three onions till pleasantly golden in olive oil. Add some chopped jalapenos, if you like. Splash in some Egri bikaver or other robust red wine, let it cook off, then splash in some more, etc.... Add the onions to the bean pot and check to see if the ham hock is fall-apart tender. If it is, pull it out and let it cool a bit before removing the bone, chopping the meat, and returning it to the soup.
In the now-empty onion skillet, brown the ground beef well, and add that to the chili. Swizzle in some molasses, and do some taste-testing. How's the salty-sweet balance? Probably more molasses will be wanted. The acids and mellows? Tomato paste will help thicken and add acid; so will wine vinegar, and the pork should have contributed plenty of mellow fat. Add some more garlic, this time thinly slivered. Turn off the heat and let it steep some more while you make the cornbread.
Serve with cornbread, sour cream, cheese, and chopped raw onions.