Tailgate Chili — Down-Home Comfort
The Southeastern Conference is home to some of the best college football in the country, and with it, some of the most-fervent fans and most-passionate tailgating. Football in the South is a bit like religion. People get really worked up; I mean really worked up. And, to that end, tailgating in the South is extreme as well. At the University of Alabama, fans are allowed to start tailgate setup at 6 p.m. the Thursday before the Saturday game — and dismantled as late as noon the day after! At my alma mater, the University of Georgia, there is Bulldog Park; a luxury RV tailgating facility offers the owners access to a wide range of amenities plus game-day shuttles to the stadium! Foodwise, there’s everything from LSU, where folks have big pots of meaty gumbo bubbling on a propane cooker, to The Grove at Ole Miss, where folks are super-fancy and serve dishes of hors d’oeuvres that you might be more accustomed to seeing at a ladies' luncheon. (The real reason the food is so ladylike is that there’s a limited amount of electricity, and open flames and propane are prohibited — something that might not be a bad idea, considering the amount of alcohol consumed while tailgating!)
Personally, I prefer less work when I get to the stadium, and I suggest slow-cooked dishes prepared ahead of time. The best dishes are those you can cook at home and then add the finishing touches to at the stadium. I think the perfect tailgate food just might be chili. It works well in the fall, because it’s hearty and warms you up in the cool weather.
There are many different kinds of chili. Some recipes use ground beef, and others cubed beef. There are white chilis made with turkey, and chilis made with beans as well as those made without them.
Undoubtedly, one essential ingredient in chili is chili powder. There are two kinds. Chili powder is a seasoning blend made from ground dried chiles and an assortment of other ingredients, such as cumin, garlic and oregano. There is also the kind of powder made solely from dried chiles without any additional aromatics. I most often prefer to use pulverized dried chiles and separately add any other seasonings. A great chili is more than just heat, and those supporting seasonings rounded out the flavor, complementing the peppers without dominating or distracting from them.
Chili is an all-American dish with a rich culinary tradition. The one thing that can be agreed upon is that anyone who loves making chili thinks that theirs is the greatest. Well, that and that their team is the best.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.