As I was thinking about the upcoming Super Bowl, almost undeniably the most American event of the year, I couldn’t help myself but think about the food that goes along with the event. From hot dogs to buffalo wings, pastas to steaks, BBQ to burgers, I’ve been to Super Bowl parties that have had it all. However, if we are talking about the most “American” of events than what are the most “American” foods? After hours of pondering I couldn’t get past two foods that are still imbedded in our culture today, cornbread and chili.
Let’s start with cornbread. One could make the argument that cornbread is the oldest American food that is still commonly consumed today. After all, no “civilized” man or woman even knew what corn was until European settlers came to America. It was the Native Americans who gave them the seeds and taught them to harvest the crop. Native Americans have been utilizing corn and its various resulting products for thousands of years. They developed the process of nixtamalization, soaking corn grains in alkaline salt baths to loosen the hulls and increase the nutritional value of the grain. The process is essential to making hominy, grits, and other corn byproducts. It did not take long for European settlers to start milling corn grain and utilizing it as they did the grains they grew up with.
Today cornbread has many forms. It’s baked, fried, and even steamed. There are corn muffins, corn cakes, hushpuppies, pones, and johnnycakes. The many forms spark many strong opinions about the “right” way to make cornbread. Some say it should have eggs, some say it shouldn’t. Some use milk, others use buttermilk. Some say there should be sugar in the recipe, some say that is blasphemous! Such opinions are only the result of long lasting dishes with deep roots across many regions. In the north, cornbread is typically made with sugar and a mix of cornmeal and flour. In the south, they use little to no sugar or flour. In Texas, with stronger Mexican influences, they add some fresh creamed corn and jalapenos to the batter. There is no “right” way to make cornbread, it is entirely preferential. It is comfort food, the best recipe being the one that takes you back to the simplicity, comfort, and joy of childhood.
The recipe I am giving you is representative of my life’s culinary experiences. It touches on my time in the South and the North and attempts to embrace all that I love from both cultures. It also comes a bit from childhood memories of cooking with my mother. It is simple and delicious, at least I think so. Please give it a try and see what you think!
Cornbread: Makes one 10×15 inch standard baking dish
- 2/3 Lb Butter
- 1 Cup Honey
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 2 Cups Buttermilk
- 2 Cups Cornmeal
- 2 Cups Flour
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
- 3 Eggs
- Two generous pinches of salt and 20-30 turns of black pepper
Preheat Oven to 350F
Melt the butter slowly with the honey and sugar and set aside. Beat the eggs in with the buttermilk. Mix the remaining dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Fold the buttermilk and egg mixture in with the dry ingredients until smooth. Fold in the butter, sugar, and honey mixture.
Grease your baking dish with butter and lightly dust with flour. Pour in the cornbread batter and bake at 350F until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Dip a knife into the cornbread and remove, if there is no batter on the knife that your cornbread is ready. Let rest for 10 minutes and then portion.
Now that you have your cornbread, and its history lesson, why not pair it with a delicious bowl of chili. Sounds like a perfect Super Bowl treat to me. Just like cornbread, there is no “right” way to make chili. It is also a comfort food that each region will defend until their last breath. Texans call it “red”, the folks in Cincinnati use cocoa and spaghetti (I know, it’s just weird), New Mexicans keep it loose and more about the green chile. Beans were added to stretch this cheap dish even further. I have had many delicious chilis that are all fundamentally different yet still fundamentally chili.
Chili, or traditionally Chili con Carne, is an undeniably American food despite its Hispanic name. It is a representation of our hard working, culturally diverse population that spans back hundreds of years. With its deep roots nestled in the Southwest, most notably Texas, it is commonly misunderstood to be a part of Central or South American cuisine. I, as will many Hispanics, assure you it is not. The dish is 100% American, first titled and sold as “Chili” at the 1893 San Antonio World Fair. The technique, however, is not uniquely American. Boiled down to its foundation, chili is simply stewed meat and peppers, a process that can be found in ancient cuisines all around the world. From there each regional culture implements its own flavor and design.
There seems to be a link to immigrants from the Canary Islands settling in Texas in the early 18th century as they collected local spices and peppers to recreate dishes from their homeland. Southwestern ranchers would have taken to this technique as it creates a tremendous amount of flavor in a cheap fashion. As writer J.C. Clopper wrote in his Journal and Book of Memoranda for 1828; “When they have to lay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family; it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat… this all stewed together.” They can thank Don Juan de Onate for bringing the green chile pepper with him during his explorations of the American southwest as early as 1598 where the pepper still thrives 400 years later. As the dish grew in popularity with the ranchers it made its way off the trails and into the towns. There are legends of the “Chili Queens” in San Antonio’s Military Plaza serving bowls of “red” through the night. While the food “Queens” of Military Market sold their cuisine for over a hundred years, “red” was not the dish of choice until the late nineteenth century. They lead the charge to San Antonio Chili being sold at the World Fair for the first time in 1893.
When making chili, I recommend you look at it as a foundation on which to build your own. If you don’t like spicy, don’t crank up the heat. If you want beans, use beans. If you want to be weird use Spaghetti! (I’m sorry Cincinnati but seriously?) Just make it your own. The recipe that follows is a good starting point that reflects the history of the dish and the flavors we at John Brown like. It is a little sweet on the front and the spice builds on the back. Give it a try and let us know what you think. We hope you enjoy it!
Chili: Makes 8-10 servings
- 2 Lbs Ground Beef
- 1Lb Ground Pork
- 4 Cups Pork or Beef Stock
- ½ Lb Chorizo
- 1 Lb yellow eye beans (soaked in water overnight)
- 2 Medium yellow onions, small dice
- 4 large Cloves Garlic
- 4 Cups (2 cans) whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 Each Fresno pepper and Japaeno pepper, seeded and de-veined, small dice
- 3 Tablespoons whole cumin seed toasted and then ground
- ¼ Cup salt
- 3 Teaspoons Black pepper
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 3 Bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 Teaspoon cayenne
- 2 Tablespoons Sherry vinager
- 2 Tablespoons Apple cider vinager
Soak beans in cold water in the fridge overnight. The next day drain the beans and place in cooking pot, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer until tender. Add 2 tablespoons of salt to beans near the end of cooking.
In a large pot brown all meats, remove from the pot and set aside. In the same pot sauté onions and chilies until onions are translucent, add chopped garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Return meat to the pot and add all spices (but not the salt), stock, and crushed tomatoes. Let simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half. Adjust seasoning with salt and vinegars to your liking. If you like your chili con carne with a kick use 2 each Fresno and Jalapeno pepper. Serve with sour cream, cheddar, and scallions.
Now that you have your Super Bowl foods lined up, let’s talk about libations. I have never been to a Super Bowl party that does not have beer and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Since I have been on a bit of a food history binge, I can’t help but think about the history of wine and cider with sports. The oldest sporting event I know of, the gladiatorial games at the Roman Coliseum, was full of wine, cider, and mead, so why not at least consider them as options today. With that idea in mind I will turn the rest of this post over to our wine and beverage director, Robbie Miller.
Super Bowl Sunday is a time to sit back relax and watch the big game with friends and family. What you choose to drink should reflect that feeling. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t give a couple of suggestions for pairings.
When pairing wine with chili you need something with a lot of texture, whether it’s red or white. Texture is not just about tannin, but also the general mouth-feel of the wine. It is important to choose something that has a generous amount of fruit, not very tannic, and has moderate to low alcohol content. You want something that will play well with the spice and can hold up to the fattiness of the beef and pork and has enough body to carry the wine on your palate.
For reds, I look to Spain because tomatoes figure regularly into their cuisine. The “Seis de Luberri Rioja” ($18.99), that we have on the shelf, fits the bill perfectly. This 100% Tempranillo wine, exhibits bright cherry fruit that is surrounded by spices with a rich mouthfeel that is full of sweet, round fruit and complementary spicy wood tones. If Roija is not your cup of tea, I have a couple selections of French Beaujolais that will be sure to whet your appetite. Gamay is a thin skinned grape low in tannin and tends to make light, more fruit forward wines. Drinking Beaujolais slightly chilled is a pretty baller way to enjoy this appellation because it lessens the sweetness and will allow the spiciness of the chili to show better, and simply because it is delicious!
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about those who love white wine. The Domaine Pfister ($17.99) Pinot Blanc from Alsace will play perfectly with Chili. It has just the right combination of acidity and residual sugar to go along with the dry finish to hold up against the proteins in our chili.
Since we are talking about quintessential American comfort food, it is important to mention the history of cider in this country. Cider was the dinner drink of choice for many of the early settlers of this country. This largely due to the fact that apple trees took to the soil of New England very well whereas barley and other grains were much harder to cultivate. In keeping with that strong tradition, I think Millstone’s “Farmgate” will pair quite well with our chili and cornbread because of its nice apple tartness, strong acidity, and slightly sweet finish. The acidity will allow the cider to play with the meatiness of the chili and the sweet finish will dissipate the heat from the chili.
Finally, for those who like to drink beer while watching the game, I recommend staying away from overly hoppy beers because they will just make the spiciness of the chili even more pronounced. I would instead go with a nice pilsner or lager, such as the Gunpowder Falls Pilsner ($11.99). Gunpowder Falls which has wonderful balance of grassy hop and biscuit like malt.
However you choose to feast while watching the Super Bowl we hope you have a wonderful time. Food is always at the center of our thoughts and seems to always have a place at any event. We hope you continue reading our posts and please let us know if you have any feedback about what we offer.