A Tale of Cooking Contest Treachery

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By Jim Fergusson

A Tale of Cooking Contest Treachery

A Tale of Cooking

Contest Treachery



TexMex Black Bean Habanero Chili

Bengali Red Shrimp Habanero Curry

Chicken, Andouille, and Tasso
Habanero Gumbo

“You don’t put beans in chili!”

“Really! Then why do they have chili with beans and chili without beans on all the grocery shelves? It’s a matter of choice. Besides, I like beans.”

Then from the other end of the bar comes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it doesn’t make any difference, beans or no beans. It’s the cut of the meat and what chili powder you use. Never use just ground beef. You gotta cut the meat into little cubes, little cubes and good chili powder and garlic. You gotta have garlic.”

“Aw, c’mon, have the butcher chili grind a chuck roast and a chunk of pork butt.”

“Pork butt! You don’t put pork in chili.”

On and on went the seemingly endless debate at New Orleans’ own Finn McCool’s Irish Pub until owner and Belfast expat Pauline Patterson joined the craic (Irish Gaelic for “chat”) with, “Okay, okay, you guys, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Finn’s will set up a cook-off. We’ll supply tortillas, steamed rice, sour cream, chopped onions, and whatever else you bunch of stool jockeys need. Anyone who wants can enter the contest. Everybody will taste test and vote and it’s winner take all.”

Sign of the Pub



Sign of the Pub


The “all” was to be a twenty-five dollar bar tab, an imperial pint beer glass, and a Golden Druid trophy designed and created by Pauline, who is an accomplished artist. In a city like New Orleans, where people don’t eat to live, but live to eat that was all it took to get 15 entries and 70 or so folks together on a Sunday afternoon for pints of Guinness, Harps and 15 tastes of chili.

The Stool Jockeys Assemble at Finn McCool’s



The Stool Jockeys Assemble at Finn McCool’s


Little did they know that day that I was lurking in the shadows among the regulars. They were not aware that I am the founder of the International Association of Fire Eaters, a group of serious Chileheads identified by the association’s picture ID card and their penchant for a capsaicin- induced endorphin rush! Little did they know that the habanero is the cocaine of the pepper world and that I was a pusher!

You see, my fellow Chileheads, I feel it is my responsibility, indeed my duty, to sneak subtle hints of the fiery pods into just about everything that comes off my cook top. If I can just get them to endure a little of the pain for a few seconds, I can lure them into a second and third bite with the other irresistible flavors of the dish. Then, I’ve got ‘em. They’re hooked. Another Chilehead is born!

It works every time. My TexMex Black Bean Habanero Chili took first place, though I will confess that I deleted the pepper’s name until after the cook-off! The story repeated itself twice in coming weeks with first place wins for my Bengali Red Shrimp Habanero Curry, and my Chicken, Andouille, and Tasso Habanero Gumbo. If you would like to try out the tastes, the recipes are found below. Of course you know your victims better than I, but I would advise that you to leave out any mention of the word habanero until after you have them hooked!

The Winning Chef Admires His Trophies



The Winning Chef Admires His Trophies


TexMex Black Bean Habanero Chili

This is best when made the night before and allowed to mellow out in the fridge. Serve with chopped raw onions, crisp fried tortillas, and sour cream. Magnifico!

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 3 pounds beef chuck, trimmed (get the butcher to trim and coarse or chili grind)

  • 1 pound pork, trimmed and coarsely ground

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 6 heaping tablespoons dark chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

  • 2 heaping tablespoons dried parsley

  • 3 packets Goya Sazon con cilantro y achiote

  • 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped

  • 3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

  • ½ large red bell pepper, chopped

  • ½ large yellow bell pepper, chopped

  • ½ large green bell pepper, chopped

  • 3 good sized yellow habanero chiles (Mine were frozen from last year’s crop), seeds and stems removed, minced

  • 10 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 can Rotel Tomatoes with chili peppers

  • 1 can crushed tomatoes

  • 4 ounces Guinness Draft

  • 7 good shakes Worcestershire Sauce

  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 3 cans black beans

  • 3 tablespoons masa harina

Add the tablespoon of oil to an 8 quart heavy pot and heat it up. Drop in the meat with a little salt and black pepper and sauté it on high heat until it is gray. Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, dried parsley, and Goya Sazon and reduce heat to medium. Continue to sauté stirring often. The meat will gradually turn a dark reddish brown and will be fully coated with the spices. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, habaneros, and garlic. Stir this mixture until the vegetables begin to soften then add the tomatoes with chiles, the crushed tomatoes, the Guinness and the Worcestershire Sauce. Add the ground cloves. Simmer this mixture, adding more liquid if necessary, on low heat until the meat is tender, about an hour.

Add the canned black beans. Cook for another 35 to 45 minutes until all is married up, then turn the heat up to high and stir in the masa harina mixed with a little water. This will “soften” the mixture and slightly thicken. If you need to thin it out during this last step, just add a little water, beef broth, or a little more Guinness!

Yield: 10 or more servings

Heat Scale: Hot

Bengali Red Shrimp Habanero Curry

The term “16-18 count fresh shrimp” refers to the size of fresh shrimp. In this case the shrimp would be medium sized, or it would take 16-18 of them with the shells and heads on to make a pound. All of the ingredients in this recipe can be found in major supermarkets. Serve this curry over cooked basmati rice.

  • Stick and a half of unsalted butter

  • 12 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

  • 1 large red bell pepper, deveined, seeded, and coarsely chopped

  • 2 medium red onions, diced

  • 3 stalks celery, diced

  • 3 yellow habaneros, seeds and stems removed, finely diced

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder

  • 2 tablespoons imported curry powder

  • 3 tablespoons crushed dried parsley

  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon

  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder

  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes with liquid

  • 4 or 5 good shakes Kikkoman Soy Sauce

  • 4 pounds 16-18 count fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined.

  • ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste

  • 2 packets Goya Sazon con cilantro y achiote

  • 1 good handful cashew nuts

  • 1 can sweetened coconut milk

Slowly melt the ¼ pound stick of butter in an 8-quart pot. Turn the heat up to high but don’t burn the butter. Just as it is about to turn brown, add ½ of the garlic, ½ of the ginger, all of the onion, bell pepper, celery and the habanero. Saute on medium heat until the vegetables are soft then add the turmeric, cumin, curry powder, parsley, tarragon, and cinnamon. Stir over low flame until the mixture is a little dry and the aroma is full and strong. Stir in the two cans of crushed tomatoes with their liquid and the soy sauce. Cover and simmer this mixture for 20 to 30 minutes.

Place the prepared shrimp in a glass bowl and mix in the rest of the ginger, garlic, salt and pepper with the two packets of Goya Sazon. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes while the vegetable mixture continues to cook. In a blender, add enough coconut milk to the cashew nuts to form an easily pour able slurry while pulsing and reserve.

Melt the remaining half stick of butter in a large skillet and quickly sauté the shrimp over high heat, tossing frequently. When they are almost done, add the cashew coconut mixture. Bring the skillet back to a simmer then add to the vegetables. Leave the pot uncovered, stir, and heat on low for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Heat Scale: Hot

Chicken, Andouille, and Tasso Habanero Gumbo

Andouille (On-do-ee) is a sausage very popular here in Louisiana. The lean pork is not ground but cubed. Garlic, onion, herbs and spices are then added and it is stuffed into a larger-diameter casing than most sausages. It is then heavily smoked. I find that the heavy smoking makes the casing a little too al dente so I just peel the casing off before cutting it up to add to the gumbo. Tasso is made of lean thin slices of various cuts of raw pork roast. The slices are then well seasoned with a rub or shake and smoked through. It is great for seasoning beans, greens, soups and gumbos and for the cook’s privilege of sneaking a bite or two while preparing a dish. Serve over steamed white rice with crusty French garlic bread for dipping and a side salad. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

The Chicken:

  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 8 or so good shakes of Kikoman Soy Sauce

  • 4 shakes or so of Worcestershire Sauce.

  • 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley

  • 1 packet Goya Sazon con cilantro y achiote

The Rest:

  • ¼ cup canola oil

  • ¼ cup flour

  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced

  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and minced

  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, deveined and diced

  • 3 good sized yellow habanero peppers, seeds and stems removed, minced

  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, deveined and diced

  • 4 stalks celery, diced

  • 1 can crushed tomatoes

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

  • 3 heaping tablespoons dried parsley

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 packet Goya Sazon con cilantro y achiote

  • 4 cups chicken stock

  • 3 tablespoons Kikkoman Soy Sauce

  • ½ cup red table wine

  • 4 or 5 good shakes Worcestershire Sauce

  • 1 slice bacon

  • 1 pound Andouille sausage with casing removed, cut into ¼” rounds

  • ½ pound Tasso, cut into thin strips

  • 1 pound frozen cut okra

In a non-reactive bowl, combine all the ingredients for the chicken and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight,

Add the equal parts of oil and flour to an 8 quart, heavy pot along with the black pepper. Stir constantly over medium high heat until the mixture turns a medium dark brown. If you burn this roux, throw it away and start over. The burned flour taste will permeate the whole dish. When your roux gets to the perfect shade of brown, add the onion, garlic, peppers, and celery. Sauté over medium flame until the vegetables are softened and have given over most of their moisture to the roux. Add the crushed tomatoes with their liquid. Stir and cook for until smoothed out. Stir in the cumin, parsley, bay leaves, and Goya Sazon. Add the chicken stock slowly and keep stirring as the mixture thickens. Add the soy, red wine and Worcestershire. Just don’t stop stirring and add the liquids slowly so that the roux won’t break.

In a heavy skillet fry one slice bacon, remove and eat the bacon (cook’s privilege). Add the chicken thighs and sear to seal juices. When chicken pieces are lightly browned remove them to a plate to cool sufficiently to handle. Add the Andouille and Tasso to the skillet and very lightly brown. Cut the chicken thighs into bite sized pieces and put the chicken, Andouille and Tasso into the pot with the vegetables. Be sure to scrape all of the pan juices from the meats into the pot also.

Simmer the gumbo covered for 30 to 40 minutes and then add the pound of chopped okra. Continue to cook until the okra is tender and begins to break up. Add water if more liquid is needed. Gumbo, like most soups, is best the second day.

Yield: 10 or more servings

Heat Scale: Medium-Hot

Some Notes…

You will note that I used frozen habaneros from my last year’s back yard crop. If you’ve got fresh reds or yellows, congratulations! Lacking that you can substitute Tabasco’s Habanero Sauce or Melinda’s Original XXX Sauce to your taste. I’d start with at least a tablespoon and go up from there. Remember, they gotta feel a little pain!

And, no, I don’t own stock in Goya. They do make some fine products and I am especially fond of their powdered seasoning mix that contains cilantro and annatto (achiote seed). The packets add a distinctive flavor and great color. Try adding a packet or two to chicken broth when preparing boiled rice.

Finn McCool’s Irish Pub

3701 Banks Street

New Orleans, LA 70119

504-486 – 9080

Owners : Pauline and Steven Patterson

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