A Dish of Epic Proportions

Despite my endless rhetoric on the difficulties with cold weather, winter does allow me to indulge in some of my favorites: hot tea, fuzzy socks, curling up by a fireplace, and of course, rich and hearty stews. When I decided to invite some friends over for dinner, it just so happened to be one of those bone-chilling evenings that begged for a rich meal. I had been dying to make a seriously good chili for a while, and this was the golden opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the godfather of all chilies: Slow Braised Chili con Carne.
Chili con carne (chili pepper with meat) is a stew meant to be thick and hearty. Most standard chilies use ground beef, but this one calls for whole chuck. The difference is undeniable, and the payoff is unbeatable. For the “chili” part, there were no less than THREE different varieties, all pureed into a sinfully spicy mix that is added to the pot at one’s own discretion (my personal taste used practically all of it).
While the standard ingredients were phenomenal, it was the two “B’s” and “C’s” of the recipe that set this chili apart: Bacon and Beer, Coffee and Chocolate. For those of you thinking that I’m utterly insane, I cannot emphasize how much you will fall in love with the chili. The bacon is an obvious plus (everything’s better with it), while the beer helps to tenderize the chuck. The coffee intensifies the meat’s flavor (yet is indiscernible itself), while the chocolate (added at the very end) provides a beautiful depth. The result is one of the richest, most delicious chilies you will ever try (there were no leftovers, not even a bite) – click HERE to see how to make this epic stew.
As I mentioned earlier, this is an epic chili. It embodies a number of flavors, yet manages to transform them into an intoxicating whole. This immediately called to mind the term Gesamtkunstwerk, German for “total work of art.” This was an aesthetic pioneered in opera by the German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner embraced the rich textures and harmonies of  large-scale works, coupling visual and dramatic elements with his music to augment the overall experience. For this particular dish, I chose the Ouverture from Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer – an opera based on the legend of a man doomed to sail the oceans for all eternity until he finds true love. Like the legend, this dish requires a great deal of patience and time – its richness also perfectly complements the complexities of Wagner’s scoring for the work. The recording I’ve included is with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under direction of Sir Georg Solti – enjoy!


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