Posted: Tuesday January 31, 2012, 11:55 AM
What's In Chili?: It depends on who's cooking it
By Kara Yorio of The Record

Come over for the game and some chili, the voice over the phone invites.

Sure, but what exactly will be served?

Chili seems to take many forms. It's not just hot or mild. Ground beef or cubed? Pork, turkey, vegetarian? Beans? Red or green? Thick or soupy?

What can be called chili?

Fair Lawn's John Ferrentino struggled with that very issue as he started a new food business. He needed to decide if what he was making was actually chili.

"Does it have to have a kidney bean to call it chili?" he asked himself while developing Homespun Chili, a line of four flavors of chili that he sells at the Ramsey Farmers' Market. "'No,' I said. I'm going to put a fresh spin on chili. I'm going to make a Thai one and it's not going to have beans in it, but it's going to have the consistency of chili and I'm going to call it chili. There is chili paste in there, so it has something to do with chili. It might not be chili as you know it in the traditional form."

Traditional (competition) red chili does not have ground beef and beans. Red chili is cubes of beef and red chili peppers. Chili verde is cubes of beef and green chili peppers. Check the rules for the International Chili Society's cook-offs and home cooks will quickly learn what they can do with those beans.

The ICS defines red chili as "any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA, which are strictly forbidden."

Strictly forbidden. In chili verde, too. By definition, if there are beans, it is not chili to those who know best.

But Chef Central Culinary Director Jim Edwards, a former Culinary Institute of America chili cook-off champion and judge of the Chef Central chili cook-off, offers another category.

"Homestyle chili," he says of the ground beef and beans variety. "For me, even though I have competed and I know what chili is, I would say 95 percent of the time I'm making homestyle chili. I really don't think there's anything wrong with that. It has its place, it's a great dish, it's just not a dish you're going to win a chili cook-off with."

Robert Szklany, executive chef at Encore Catering and another former CIA chili cook-off winner, agrees.

"It's evolved so much, it includes a lot of subgenres," he says of chili. "So there's traditional chili and then there's a lot of different types that are chili. [At Encore], we use ground beef, beans, peppers, onions, bacon, andouille sausage, [and a tomato base]. It's great. It's got great flavor, people love it. The concept of chili has changed over the years."

One thing that hasn't changed is the dish's appeal, particularly for a party. It can be made in large quantities and in advance and the flavors are enhanced over time. It is great in cold weather. Edwards used to do a chili demo at Chef Central and often timed it to right before Super Bowl Sunday.

"It's comfort food and everybody relates to it," Edwards says, explaining the perfect combination of big game and big pot of chili.

But, Edwards warns, to do up a proper, official chili is pretty costly. Maybe it's time for a little of the homestyle stuff, a sure crowd pleaser, no matter the score of the game.

Email: yoriok@northjersey.com


Impress your guests with this serious chili from the celebrity chef.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large red onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon pasilla chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 bottle dark beer
  • 5 cups homemade chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth, or water
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained and puréed
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle pepper purée
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.

Season the beef with salt and pepper, and sauté until browned on all sides.

Transfer the meat to a plate and remove all but 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ancho chili powder, pasilla chili powder, and cumin and cook an additional 2 minutes.

Add the beer and cook until completely reduced.

Return the beef to the pot, add the chicken stock, broth or water, tomatoes, chipotle purée, and honey, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the beans and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lime juice, and adjust seasonings.

Serve with a dollop of Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado Relish.


  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 cup Mexican crema or creme fraiche
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the cumin in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Toast until lightly golden brown.

Place in a small bowl.

Stir in the crema and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place in a squeeze bottle.


  • 2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano chili, finely diced
  • Lime juice
  • Chopped cilantro leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Recipe courtesy foodnetwork.com

Get some

  • WHO: John Ferrentino
  • WHAT: Homespun Chili
  • WHERE: Ramsey Farmers' Winter Market, Ramsey train station at Erie Plaza off Main Street.
  • WHEN: Sunday and March 4.
  • FOR MORE INFO: ramseyfarmersmarket.org, homespunchili.com