Monday, October 8, 2012

White Bean Chili, or The Art of the Lost Jalapeno

The jalapeno was simply gone. It was with me when I left the store, and undeniably Not There when its fateful moment came and it was time to be finely minced and welcomed to the pot. I was working on a Chicken and White Bean Chili, after the fashion of the fabulous Susan Brown and completely without benefit of any recipe. Following my usual theory that cooking is more art than science except when baking is involved, I figured I could use Susan's delicious example as an inspiration and make most of it up as I went along. This often works well, but at its heart is a sort of experimental approach to cooking, with hypotheses, one or two of which are bound to end up on the lab, er, kitchen floor now and then. But I digress.

Without said jalapeno, I considered the datil peppers in the garden. Datils are small peppers, well known in northeastern Florida for their excellent flavor and heat. When datils are added outright to food (often in things like purlo - we can debate the spelling later - or chowders and soups) one or two of the peppers are dropped intact into the pot and removed before serving, with the amount dictated by the desired degree of heat and corresponding flavor and the quantity in the cook's pot. Considered. Rejected. The peppers on my plants are small, and I was worried I might leave a pepper for some unsuspecting palate to experience in one fateful bite. I soldiered on, pepper-less.

I chopped sweet peppers and onions and sauteed them in olive oil with chopped garlic. Boneless skinless chicken breasts were dredged in seasoned flour and pan fried in a mixture of olive and vegetable oil, following my usual recipe. Oh, except without that jalapeno, I thought, I'd better compensate with a little more cayenne pepper than usual. (This is dangerous. I know this. I only mention it here because of the price I'd have to pay later; you know, as a sort of cautionary note. Eat Here Eatery and all that.) Out came the crisp, lovely chicken, and into the skillet went a bit of the seasoned flour to brown and make a roux. When that was a rich velvet brown color, I deglazed the skillet with some white wine and added chicken broth and a can of that staple of Southern cooking, Ro-tel tomatoes, which are chopped tomatoes and green chiles, thinking about Julia Child and cast iron skillets. And then, as the whole aromatic thing married and simmered, I tasted it for the first time. I should mention that some of The people who eat at Eat Here enjoy the occasional spicy morsel or dish. The general fare, however, allows for the addition of Texas Pete or datil pepper vinegar AFTER cooking is complete, but has a milder nature. This delicious concoction, however, was NOT in the "milder nature" category at ALL. It brought a tear to my eye, immediately followed by the thought that Chicken and White Bean Chili was about to become a much larger batch of Chicken and White Bean Something, almost certainly Soup.

Considerably more broth was added until that was gone and desperation drove me to add a can of cream of chicken soup. After a long simmer, tender chunks of pan-friend chicken, white beans and even some diced potatoes went into the pot. My Dear Old Person suggested the serving solution and poured over brown and white basmati rice, the whole thing was perfectly delicious. Not glamorous, I know, but delicious with a salad of fresh guacamole on the side. All in all, I thought, a successful experiment, even without benefit of the lost jalapeno.

After a nice beach walk this morning, I threw a load of clothes into the washing machine, and rescued the load that had been left in the dryer the night before. This was mostly a load of towels that needed folding, but I'd thrown in some of our reusable grocery bags, as well. They can get smelly and even become rather bacteria-laden if you don't remember to wash them now and then. Besides, you never know: you may reach into the dryer and pull out a slightly bruised jalapeno,completely clean and ready for your pot of White Bean Chili.


  1. Experimentation such as this is where great discoveries are made. MY WIFE could tell you about a birthday cake I made for her. Halfway through mixing ingredients, I found I was without cocoa for the recipe. I substituted two packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast, chocolate flavor. The cake was yummy as hell, albeit about twice as loaded with calories :-)

  2. Suldog, thank you as always for your reliably thoughtful read, and your reliably hilarious commentary. My whole family got a laugh out of this one. When the laughter died down, I noted a distinct glimmer in the eye of my 21 year old son. I fully expect to be served a cake on my next birthday with a Secret Ingredient and twice the usual number of calories.

    As I write this, TS or Hurricane Sandy, or whatever it calls itself...The Storm is passing along our coast and moving toward y'all. Please know you're in my thoughts along with all our pals in the northeast. May it brush past with a bit of inconvenience and some welcome rain, and do not one bit of harm to you and yours.


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