IT TAKES SEVEN different peppers and three hours to make Christopher Ruck's winning chili. "Rebel Roulette" is no fly-by-night chili: It has won this 12-year-old the honor of representing Virginia in the Chili Appreciation Society's world chili cook-off this year, scheduled for November in Terlingua, Tex.
"It's seven if you count the powdered black and red pepper," he said, stirring this prize-winning pot at the second annual War Between the States chili cook-off, a fund-raiser for the Kidney Foundation held recently on the Alexandria waterfront.
But Navy Cmdr. Sergei Kowalchik doesn't think five fresh peppers are enough, so he adds a sixth variety of fresh hot pepper -- proof positive that what's in with chili this year is hot. Kowalchik was touting his recipe, "Survival Chili," just across the Potomac at Fort McNair in the seventh annual Chili Bull, a fund-raiser for Children's Hospital on the same chilly fall Saturday.
Kowalchik is representing Virginia in yet another world chili cook-off this month -- this one in California. While he stands to win $25,000 from the International Chili Society, Ruck, can expect just a "congratulations. You won," from the Texas event according to Bob McGuire, organizer of the Alexandria cook-off. "It's considered to be a much more pristine event. There's no commercialism at all."
But neither of these world contenders came close to winning here on the banks of the Potomac River. John Kramer's "Damn Good Chili" at the Chili Bull and Walter Gross' "Gross National Product" at the War Between the States impressed the judges.
It was Kramer's second Chili Bull win in as many years, beating the record of presidential press secretary Jim Brady, who had won the contest three times, but never simultaneously. "I don't know what happened," joked Brady about his lost title, "maybe I lost my touch." But he insisted that everyone try his recipe anyway, because it was the only "perfect chili" there that day.
Kramer, who won a weekend for two in Miami this year from this event, said he uses dried red peppers for the fire in his chili. But he didn't attribute his win to the peppers. The secret is putting in the garlic at the last minute and cubing the meat, he said.
Walter Gross, who ironically placed second to Christopher Ruck at the Chili Appreciation Society's Virginia finals, said it's Chinese hot chili paste with garlic that gives kick to his recipe; lemon juice and vinegar give it distinctive flavor. "My own feeling is if you make it too hot you're not going to win. You want an initial burn, but one that doesn't last."
"It shouldn't be so hot that it blows your doors off," said Lee Ruck, the proud father of Christopher, who said he taught his son everything he knows. But it should be hot. "On a scale of one to 10 where 10 is hottest the winners are coming in at around eight and nine. Last year sixes and sevens were winning."
Lee Ruck was the 1981 first-place representative of Virginia in the Chili Appreciation Society's contest at Terlingua, Tex. There were 10 trophies awarded. He says he came in 11th along with the other 94 chili heads who lost. But this year, Christopher's chili is hotter and a "more pure" Texas chili than his own -- and that's what's winning -- so he'll be assisting Christopher in the great Southwest.
Lee Ruck has made a science of pepper combinations. After 25 years he's learned that some peppers are good for their initial burn, others explode later. He buys whatever hot peppers are available in the grocery store two days before he and his son begin cooking their chili. After tasting, they decide which to use and in what combination. For the War Between the States cook-off they used hot hungarian banana chilies, anaheims and jalapenos for an initial burn; dried hot red peppers and anchos were used for the aftertaste or second burning. Cayenne, "which has a crisp hotness and rich redness," and serranos, "which blend in as nicely as jalapenos," are also among their favorite peppers.
Christopher said no two chili recipes are alike. Even more important, said his father, no two peppers are alike. What's hottest depends on the individual pepper. "Today's jalapeno may be a different story tomorrow. We always taste before deciding how much of what to use," he said. "We are at the whim of produce shippers."
The major part of a trip to the grocery store for chili ingredients centers around the pepper selection, he said. "It is difficult to find at any given time a number of good peppers in this area. It's not like the Southwest, where you can go in and find 10 fresh or reasonably dried peppers . . . If I see an unusual pepper, I'll buy some, cut them and freeze them. But that doesn't work at the chili cook-off because you're supposed to do all the cutting of ingredients on site."
The other "fairly important" trick to making an outstanding final product, Lee Ruck claimed, is to consider length of cooking time, how much fire you are planning to use and how you want the meat to break down (which comes from stirring as you cook).
As the peppers cook, their heat permeates the chili, he said. "Some of it tends to go away at about 1 1/2 hours; then as you reach 2 1/2 to 3 hours the fire comes back again. If you let it sit, it gets hotter the second day." This, he said, is important to keep in mind when choosing a recipe for a chili contest. For cook-offs such as the War Between the States, where you have to cook on-site and the chili can't develop overnight, use more peppers.
"You have to use the KISS theory when it comes to making good chili. 'Keep It Simple, Stupid'," Lee Ruck explained, adding that he got into chili-making to defend Virginia against all the "damn Texans" moving into the area. His chili used to have too much stuff in it -- "cinnamon, chocolate, booze and beer" -- to compete with Texas type. But the influence of all the new, pure Texas recipes flooding the area convinced him to turn to "traditional Texas chili" for his own recipe.
So will Christopher and Lee change the recipe once they get to the home state of the pure pot of chili? "As far as I'm concerned you gotta dance with the guy who brought you," Lee Ruck said. "We're not gonna change anything in Texas. But next year is a different story. I'm gonna fool around with beefalo." CHRISTOPHER RUCK'S REBEL ROULETTE (12 to 16 servings) 2 or 3 bottles Dos Equis beer 1/2 3-ounce can beef bouillon granules 4 large onions, chopped 3 hot hungarian banana peppers 1 anaheim pepper 3 jalapeno peppers 1 ancho pepper 5 dried red hot peppers 4 tablespoons Mexican chili powder 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin 2 tablespoons hungarian hot paprika 2 tablespoons powdered red pepper 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper 1 tablespoon oregano 1 to 2 large cloves garlic (optional) 8-ounce can tomato sauce 2 pounds coarse (number 1) ground beef 1 1/2 pounds fine (number 3) ground pork 1/2 pound fine (number 3) ground veal 3 pounds beef, cut in 1/4 inch cubes
Combine bouillon and 2/3 bottle of beer. Braise chopped onions and peppers in beer mixture until soft. Add spices, garlic and tomato sauce. Brown meat in a separate heavy frying pan. Add to chili. Simmer for 30 minutes and add remaining 1/3 bottle of beer. Cook 2 3/4 hours more, adding remaining 2 bottles of beer, each after an additional 1/2 hour. Stir every 10 to 15 minutes to prevent clumping of spices along side of pan. Add more water if mixture becomes too thick. CMDR. KOWALCHIK'S SURVIVAL CHILI (12 servings) 1/4 cup shortening 4 tablespoons butter 5 scallions, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces 1 very large yellow onion, chopped coarsely 1/2 medium red onion, chopped coarsely 1/2 fresh yellow hot chili, seeded and chopped 2 1/2 fresh medium hot green chilies, seeded and chopped 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped 1/2 large sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped 2 pounds cubed round rump roast 1 pound cubed sirloin tip 1 pound cubed flank steak 1 1/2 pounds coarse grind (number 1) round steak 2 teaspoons coriander seeds 2 tablespoons worcestershire Salt and pepper to taste 5 cloves garlic, chopped fine 3 cups water 2 beef bouillon cubes 28-ounce can whole tomatoes 15-ounce can tomato sauce 12-ounce can tomato paste 3/4 cup dry sherry 1 1/2 small red chilies, seeded and chopped 2 1/2 pickled jalapenos, seeded and chopped 1/4 teaspoon coriander 3 tablespoons chili powder 1 tablespoon cumin 2 tablespoons molasses 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate 18 ounces dark beer 1 tablespoon oregano 6 ounces light beer
In a 20-quart pot melt shortening and butter. Add scallions, onion, yellow chili, green chilies, and 1/2 jalapeno and sweet green pepper.
Mix meats in bowl with coriander, worcestershire, salt, pepper and garlic. Gradually add to vegetable mixture and brown (about 20 minutes). Dissolve bouillon cubes in hot water and add to meat mixture. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sherry, red chilies, pickled jalapenos and coriander. Mix together chili powder, cumin, molasses and unsweetened chocolate. Add 1/2 of this spice mixture and 6 ounces dark beer to the meat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and after 1/2 hour add 6 more ounces dark beer. Boil oregano in light beer for 2 minutes. Let stand 30 minutes, drain and add to chili with remaining spice mixture. After 1/2 hour add remaining 6 ounces of dark beer and remaining molasses mixture. This chili should cook uncovered for at least 2 hours and preferably 3 hours. WALTER GROSS' GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT CHILI 2 pounds bacon, diced 5 medium yellow onions, chopped 4 green peppers, chopped 5 cloves garlic, minced 7 pounds chuck roast, cubed 3 10-ounce cans whole tomatoes and green chilies, drained with liquid reserved 3 tablespoons mild ground chili powder 2 tablespoons cocoa 1 tablespoon cumin 1 tablespoon oregano 2 tablespoons paprika 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar Juice of 1 lemon 6 serrano peppers or 2 jalapenos, chopped 3 small cans chopped green chilies 3 tablespoons Chinese chili with garlic 1/2 bottle beer
Saute bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and drain. Saute' onions, green peppers and garlic in bacon grease and set aside. In a heavy pot saute' meat; set aside and reserve juices. Drain tomato/chili mixture and reserve juice with meat juices. Add all remaining ingredients to pot with 1/2 bottle beer and simmer 3 hours until mixture sets "so the spoon will stand in the pot without falling over." If mixture begins to get too thick add reserved meat/tomato juices. Serve. JIM BRADY'S PERFECT CHILI 3 large onions, chopped 3 to 4 cloves garlic 10-ounce can jalapeno peppers 1 tablespoon oil 2 pounds top sirloin, cut into 1-cubes 1 pound fresh pork, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 tablespoon cumin 1 tablespoon salt 1 tablespoon oregano 1 bottle chili powder 3 bay leaves 1 tablespoon ("at least") red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon brown sugar 30-ounce can Italiam tomatoes, drained with juice reserved 10-ounce can ripe olives, chopped 1 tablespoon Masa Harina mixed with a touch of water
Saute onions, garlic and peppers in 1 tablespoon oil. Add meat and brown. Add cumin, salt, oregano, chili powder, bay leaves, vinegar, sugar, tomatoes and olives and let cook 20 minutes. If mixture is too thick add reserved tomato juices. Stir in Masa Harina, remove bay leaves and serve. JOHN KRAMER'S DAMN GOOD CHILI (6 servings) 3 pounds chuck, cubed in 3/8-inch pieces 1 large onion, chopped fine 1 teaspoon cumin 1 tablespoon oregano 1 tablespoon salt 3 tablespoons chili powder 1 teaspoon black pepper 3-inch dried red pepper, chopped fine 15-ounce can tomato sauce 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 tablespoon Masa Harina, mixed with a little water to thicken
Brown meat and onion in large, heavy pan. Add spices and tomato sauce. Cook 1 hour and 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, cook additional 20 minutes. Stir in Masa Harina in at last minute to thicken slightly.