Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Chili Cook-Off R&D


As data scientists, the obvious first step in preparation for a friendly Chili Cook-Off is to conduct a survey.  Hypothetically, we should be able to optimize the recipe by robustly maximizing an estimator of vote probability.

The feedback from coworkers indicate:
 - Meat is generally expected.
 - Texas-style meat + gravy isn't enough.
 - Spices should be strong, but not hot.
 - Veggies and beans are acceptable in modest quantities.

Next, we reviewed previous chili championship recipes:

Competition chili is typically meat and gravy (which isn't enough)... but the flavors are well-proven winners.  This will serve as a roadmap for our chili, with a healthy dose of  veggies and/or beans.

All recipes begin with 3-4 lbs of beef (ground or finely chopped tri-tip/sirloin).  Augment with the appropriate amount of fat to fry the bottom layer.


Brown the meat.

We used ground beef and needed to remove some fat afterwards.  The meat should be lightly coated without much on the bottom of the pan.


Our gravy will use a combination of:
 - 1 can of tomato sauce (spicy or regular)
 - 1/2 box of beef stock
 - 6-8 oz of V8 juice

Bring the mixture to a boil and stir.

Next, we develop the flavor package.  Here, we used:
 - 1 tbsp Mexican chili powder
 - 1 tbsp regular chili powder
 - 1 tbsp paprika
 - 1 tbsp garlic powder
 - 1 tbsp cumin
 - 1 tbsp ground black pepper
 - 3 tbsp onion powder
 - 1/2 tbsp salt
 - 2 bay leaves



If you want more spice, slice open a jalapeno or two.  Drop them in the pot.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 - 2 hours.


After removing the bay leaves and jalapenos, mix in cornstarch until you reach the desired gravy viscosity.  With a few minutes of simmering, this is Variant #1:  Texas-Style Chili.

Variant #2:  Bean Chili

Begin with a can of beans.

Mix in the beef + gravy mixture and simmer for atleast 1 hour.  The flavor will transfer to the beans.

Variant #3:  Mushrooms & Zucchini

Cook down some chopped mushrooms and zucchini.  Once the veggies have softened, mix in the beef + gravy mixture and simmer for atleast 30 minutes.

Serve with cornbread, polenta, rice, or as-is.

As predicted, Variant #2 & #3 received positive feedback from the taste-testers.  Future experiments might include turkey, bell peppers, and red beans.  Since our target is not "true" competition chili, it may be worthwhile to convert the garlic/onion from powder to fresh veggies.

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