Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chili con Carnage & Getting Nervous


Well, the main problem with this issue of Swill is that there are a hell of a lot of interior pages of illustration. Because of this particular mix of story lengths they're necessary to achieve a graceful interior composition. I asked Rob if I could use one of the interior pages to do a set of artist's notes but they were sadly lacking in that Swill touch of obnoxiousness. The following chili recipe is hopefully a bit closer to the mark... If not, I'll just have to try something else.

And I did some more investigation of the agent I want. (Or at least the first in the list of agents that look good to me.) Based on the experiences of the other tall bald guy with glasses in my Monday night writer's group, I assumed that I'd send a query, then if the response was positive I'd follow that up with the first fifty pages.

Instead, he wants a query, first three chapters, synopsis, and bio all at the same time. Sheeee-it. I'll have critiques through the third chapter from both groups by next Monday. Oh, man. I am within weeks of getting all that out to him. I'm not scared but I am... anxious.

Because, after all, if one of the top agents in the business -- to quote from his site, " every one of his authors has had and will have his/her books on the New York Times or Publisher's Weekly bestseller lists; or they are bestselling authors within their genre" -- doesn't immediately jump all over my first novel? I may as well give it up, he bleated plaintively.

But if I can't get this guy, I'll try Neil Gaiman's agent. And then so on down the line...

Anyway, here's my favorite chili recipe, the result of a process of experimentation that began when I was in my teens. These days I make one kind of chili for use on hot dogs that's based on recipes for Cincinnati chili; this one cuts things right down to the bare necessities, then adds just enough lily-gilding to produce perfection.

And let us not forget its miracle healing powers. My first editor, back when I was a cartoon scriptwriter, had a bad case of anemia. I gave her a few pounds of this chili; she startled her doctor by recovering within weeks. The chili got the credit.

From The Swill Kitchen — Chili con Carnage

There are two ways to look at it. Either all chili is good – canned chili, Texas chili, Cincinnati chili, chili size, vegetarian chili, white chili, even the kind your mom makes with hamburger and canned kidney beans – or there’s a right way to make chili. As it happens, I agree with both perspectives. I’ll eat just about any chili you throw at me but there’s only one fucking proper way to make chili. My way.

It takes about a year to make Chili con Carnage. That’s because it starts out as stock. I like my meat the way I like my women – tough and fatty. That kind of flesh needs to be cooked for a long time at low temperatures to be at its best, so when I’m in the mood for a pork shoulder or a chuck steak or the severed head of a local wino (Hey, everyone wave to Horizontal Mike!) I turn to the crock-pot.

But if you simmer meat in plain water you leach all the joy out of it. What I do is make a nice strong stock and then use it over and over again, freezing it between uses. I don’t season it, don’t add vegetables – if there are any off-flavors they tend to accumulate and concentrate and that ain’t no good. The result is stock that tastes more like meat than meat does, stock that adds flavor to whatever you cook in it.

After about a year of this the stock has accumulated enough gelatin to have the texture of vulcanized rubber at fridge temperatures. That’s when it’s time to make chili. Unlike its cousins, the various curries, chili requires the simplest of ingredients; meat, chilies, garlic, salt, and chocolate. Human flesh is best but it’s hard to find someone who needs killing and is worth eating, so you may as well use beef, maybe throw a bit of pork in there. As I said, the cuts you want have a good dose of fat and gristle in them. Chuck, shank, short ribs – that kind of thing. Oxtail is very nice. For chrissakes, don’t use any fucking hamburger. Jesus! If you throw a ham hock or some smoked neck bones in there you will not be weeping bitter tears of regret when you’re all done. I’d love to try mutton in this but where the fuck can you find mutton these days?

Brown your meat on every workable side in a cast iron skillet. Put it in the stock and cook it on Warm in the crock-pot overnight, then put it in the fridge to cool. Now go get some fucking chilies.

Get a good mix of fresh and dried peppers. For the dried ones you want mostly New Mexicos, for the fresh ones mostly Fresnos or Anaheims. But don’t be afraid to use just about every fucking kind of chili you can get your hands on. You know what you like. Get a bunch of red and orange bells for the sweetness. Get some habaneros or Scotch bonnets or Thai bird chilies for heat and fragrance. Get some Serranos, some red and green jalapeƱos, some chipotles. Go wild.

When you get home, pull the hardened fat off the top of the crock-pot and take out the meat and shred it into a great big heavy stockpot. Pull the stems off of the dried chilies and roast ‘em in the oven until some of ‘em have little black spots. Then simmer them in the stock until they’re soft.

While they simmer, cut the stems off the fresh peppers, get out your juicer, and juice them. Be ready to retreat when you’re running the habeneros through – sometimes they emit a corrosive mist. Pour the fresh juice into the meat. Then pour the stock and dried chilies through a sieve, put the stock in with the meat and pepper juice, and run the softened chilies through a food mill. Discard the stems and seeds – as if you fucking needed to be told that – and put the pulp in with the rest.

At this point the chili is going to resemble a soup. Now there are places in the world where they’d add masa harina to the mix in order to tighten it up. Fuck ‘em. Anyone who would do that is a goddamned pervert. What you do is put the chili at a low simmer and boil the excess moisture off.

While that’s going on, peel, chop, and add garlic until you just don’t feel like doing it anymore.

When the chili is nice and thick taste it and add salt. The chili will have a slightly bitter taste at this point. Add unsweetened chocolate until that bitter flavor becomes round and pleasant rather than spiky. Two, three blocks of baker’s chocolate usually does the trick. I know it sounds crazy but it works.

And there you go. Serve it with beans, greens, and cornbread, or frijoles, dirty rice, and a green salad. Three-bean salad goes nicely. It makes a spectacular burrito filling. If you’re feeling self-indulgent, use it to dress a hot dog. And if you made it properly, give some to the cops when they come by and wash the tub out with bleach. Nothin’ like home cooking.


robp said...

The chili sounds great.

The idea that Neil Gaiman's agent is second on yr list is somewhat amusing.

If you want someone to look at synopsis let me know. Where's this chapter 3 you speak of?

And despite the fact that Swill is supposed to be about stories, the last email I sent you asks for more pictures. What you get for being fucking good.

Sean Craven said...

Rob, I'm planning on running the whole submission package through the group. I may even see if I can get Cintra Wilson to take at it.

And as for Gaiman's agent being number two on my list...

There are two reasons for this. First, my work is in some ways more similar to Moore's than to Gaiman's. There's the whole West Coast bohemian/lowlife vibe, for instance.

(On the other hand, there are some ways in which what I do is closer to Gaiman than to Moore -- my stuff is less silly/absurd and is closer to conventionally justified genre material...)

And from my perspective, I've been watching Moore for years and his works stay in print consistently. Practical Demon Keeping came out in '92 and it is still available new.

Most books these days are available for a short period of time before vanishing. I flat-out refuse to have that happen to my stuff. If I have to do on-demand editions when the works go out of print, so be it -- but I'd rather have things work for me the way they do for Moore.

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