You can take your passion for chili just so far, but C. V. (Woody) Wood, originator of the chili that has been on the menu of the Rangoon Racquet Club in Beverly Hills since 1973, has surpassed the limits. Ask his actress wife, Joanne Dru. She'll tell you: "I'm chili-ed out." And her husband's reaction? "Our chili kitchen (he pronounces it chee-lee) at home cost more than the house. That should tell you something," admits Wood sheepishly.
Still, his passion has paid off in more ways than one. C.V. Wood's Championship Chili has helped raise $10 million for numerous charities (Kidney Foundation, Boy Scouts, the heart and lung associations, among others) over a period of 24 years. And he's not through yet.
Wood's fondness for cooking chili began while he was growing up in Amarillo, Tex., and he's been perfecting the formula ever since.
There were some odd discoveries in the process. You'll never guess, for instance, the secret ingredient that sets Wood's chili apart from others. Pepsi.
That's right. Pepsi Cola, or whatever carbonated beverage you choose to use, whether it's beer or club soda. "I don't know what it is about the carbonation but it sure does something good to the chili," said Wood, president of Recreation Enterprises at Warner Bros.
Make sure you understand the difference between chili with an "i" and chile with an "e."
"It has always bothered me when a recipe calls for chili powder. Do they mean chili powder, which is a blend of oregano, cumin, garlic, salt and powdered chile peppers, or do they mean chile powder, which is just plain powdered chiles?" So if you use Wood's recipe, make sure the powdered pepper is chile with an "e." OK?
There is another thing you have to understand about chiles, according to Wood. Taste and intensity of chiles in powdered form will differ from time to time, depending on the type used. "There are two basic groups of chiles--mild and hot--and the amount of heat in each can vary in hotness on the scale from 1 to 100. Even Anaheim (chiles) can vary from a 2 to 25 in their hotness," said Wood. That's why he suggests sampling the powder before you use it. And for that you'll need a well-developed "lickin' finger." Tap the powder and taste. And you'll know. Wood uses New Mexican Big Jim chiles (Anaheim) whose fiery intensity is a mild 3, compared to 100 for habanero and tabasco, the hottest chiles available.
Then there's the kind of meat you use. "That's important," he said. "You gotta have a piece of meat that an old boy with false teeth can eat." Wood uses fillet of beef, provided the chili is consumed within three days. If chili is reheated frequently, with chances of the meat in it overcooking, a less tender cut, such as flank (the kind served at Rangoon Racquet Club), will not break down as fast as filet mignon.
This extra-large recipe can be trimmed to serve fewer people. But, as Wood would say, "Why bother for a small amount? You can always use part of it and freeze the remainder for another day."
C.V. WOOD'S RACQUET
1/2 pound beef kidney suet or 8 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 stalks celery, diced
7 cups chopped peeled ripe tomatoes (about 6 large tomatoes) or 3 (14-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
3 Anaheim green or New Mexico chiles or 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 teaspoons ground oregano
5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon finely cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons chile powder (use unblended chile powder)
1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro
8 ounces cola beverage, good light beer or club soda
5 pounds thin-cut center pork chops, trimmed of fat and bone and cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 quart chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 pounds filet mignon or flanken, trimmed of fat and cut in 3/8-inch cubes
2 medium white onions, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
2 green peppers, cut in 3/8-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 pound Jack cheese, optional
Additional shredded Jack cheese
Additional diced white onions
If using kidney suet, render in large saucepan to make 6 to 8 tablespoons rendered fat. Discard kidney suet and reserve rendered fat.
Heat 4 to 6 tablespoons fat in Dutch oven. Add celery, tomatoes and sugar. Simmer over very low heat about 1 hour or until tomato mixture is thickened.
Roast chiles over flame until scorched. Place in plastic bag to cool, then peel off skins. Remove seeds and cut chiles in 1/4-inch squares.
Combine oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, unblended chile powder, diced chiles and cilantro in bowl. Add cola and stir until lumps are dissolved. Let stand 15 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon fat in skillet and brown pork, batch at time. (Do not overcook.) Add chicken broth to tomato mixture along with beer mixture and garlic. Bring to boil, stirring. Add cooked pork and simmer 30 minutes.
Brown beef in remaining 1 tablespoon rendered fat. Add to chili and cook, covered, over low heat 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add onions, green peppers and thyme, and simmer 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes. (Meat should be tender but not falling apart.) Adjust seasonings.
Cool chili 1 hour, then refrigerate 24 hours to allow spices to blend.
Reheat as needed over low heat. (Freeze any remaining chili until needed.) If desired, just before serving, add Jack cheese to chili, stirring with wooden spoon until dissolved.
To serve, squeeze lime over chili and stir to mix. Serve with soup crackers or with shredded Jack cheese and chopped onions on side. Makes 6 quarts.
Note: Recipe may be cut in half. To make chicken broth from scratch, cook 1 (3-pound) cut-up stewing chicken in water, covered, 2 hours until very tender. Cool, then strain. Reserve broth and use chicken as needed for later use.
If commercial blend of chile powder is used, use 8 tablespoons but omit oregano and cumin.