My family is big on chili. Growing up, my parents and I often took little weekend trips up to St. Louis to visit my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother. More often than not our weekend would include a pilgrimage to St. Louis Union Station which at the time had only recently been transformed from a derelict turn of the century train station, into a vibrant hotel and shopping mall complete with the city's first Banana Republic, back when they sold pith helmets.
For lunch, my grandmother in tow, we'd head to O.T. Hodge's Chili Parlor, a famous old St. Louis institution that had been a favorite of my father's when he worked downtown, before we moved down to southeast Missouri. The wait was long and the tables crammed close together. Every time we'd order the same thing - my mom and grandmother would get tamales (canned) slathering in chili, no beans. (O.T.Hodges gave customers the choice as to whether they wanted their chili with or without beans) I would get a very simple bowl of chili which I would use as a vehicle for eating dozens of cellophane wrapped packets of oyster crackers. And then there was my father. He would feast on what I thought was a nauseating concoction consisting of two pieces of toast topped with two hamburger patties, hash browns, and two fried eggs, all of which was drowned with chili, his with beans, and then sprinkled with grated cheese and chopped onion. It was called a "slinger."
Occasionally to my horror, on the mornings after we'd have spaghetti for dinner, he'd make his own version of the slinger for breakfast. A smile would creep across his face as he broke the yolk of the egg and mixed it in with the meaty chili and onion and then shake on some Tabasco. It was enough to make me barf in my Corn Chex. Nowadays, I have to admit, it sort of sounds good.
I was reminded of the whole O.T. Hodges experience recently when I was looking through some cookbooks I'd gotten from the library. I was in the mood for pork and this recipe, in an interesting cookbook called Town Country, by New York chef Geoffrey Zakarian, sort of struck a chord. It's his version of a recipe by Bobby Flay, which explains the presence of ancho chile powder. My version is a little different from Mr. Zakarian. I added black beans, because to me, chili HAS to have beans, otherwise, it's like eating a bowl of ground meat. And then thinking back to the slingers that my dad loved so much, I added an egg and cheese, however, my eggs are poached and the cheese is salty, pungent Roquefort, rather than shredded bright orange cheddar. I think my dad would approve.
(For the chili)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds ground pork (from the shoulder)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon green Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 to 3 cups low sodium beef stock
6 canned tomatoes, chopped (I used fire roasted)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed off
(For the poached egg)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 egg per person
1/4 to 1/2 pound crumbled Roquefort cheese, (or a similarly crumbly blue cheese)
2 or 3 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
Pour the olive oil into a large pot or dutch oven. Heat over medium high heat. Add the pork, season with salt and pepper and cook until nicely browned. Be careful not to overcrowd the pot. Also, try not to stir it a lot. Stirring it a lot prevents it from getting a really nice brown color and it tends to break the meat down into very small pieces. Once the meat is brown, spoon it out and let it drain in a colander (Isn't that an interesting step?) Because of the amount of meat, it's likely you will have to do this in several batches. I did it in four.
Once all the meat is browned, add the chopped onion to the pot, season with a little salt and pepper and cook for 6 minutes, until soft, stirring frequently so any brown bits still in the bottom of the pot get scraped up. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Next add the chili powder and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, stock, tomatoes, and tomato paste, stirring to combine everything. Adjust the heat to bring everything to a gentle simmer. Return the browned pork to the pot and cook for about 35 minutes, until some of the liquid has reduced and the flavors have combined.
Add the black beans and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes. Now would be a good time to poach the eggs.
In a large shallow saute pan, bring about 1 inch of water to a boil. Reduce the heat so the water drops to a very gentle simmer, with practically no bubbles breaking the surface. Pour in the vinegar then crack 1 egg into a very small heatproof bowl.
Let's take a little time and talk about poaching eggs. Some people say to create a whirlpool effect in the pan by stirring the water. Supposedly this helps the egg whites stay around the yolk. I have to admit, I've not had luck with that method. Nor have I had luck simply sliding the egg from the bowl directly into the water. The whites tend to bleed out and the egg winds up looking like a ghostly mess.
So here's my trick. Place the egg AND the bowl directly in the water (That's why it's important that the bowl be heat-proof) After 1 minute, a white ring will form around the edge of the bowl. See?
Using a pair of tongs (because the bowl will be very hot) tilt the bowl up and slide the egg into the water. The egg should keep a sort of compact, round shape.
Continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the whites have set, making sure not to overcook it. You don't want rubbery egg whites. Using a slotted spoon, gently lift the egg out of the water and transfer to a plate to drain, while you continue poaching.
It's that pretty? Because it's a little bit of a juggling act and the yolks are delicate, I'd suggest not poaching more than 2 or 3 eggs at a time. However, the good thing is the eggs can be poached in advance and then stored for several days in the refrigerator on a plate covered in cling film. Then to reheat them, bring 1 inch of water to a gentle simmer and then gently place the egg in the water for a little over a minute. However, if all of this seems overly fussy, you could just fry an egg.
To serve, ladle some of the chili into a wide, shallow bowl. Top with a poached egg, scatter with some of the crumbled Roquefort and sliced scallions, a little salt and freshly ground pepper and perhaps a few more dashes of Tabasco.
This is a really nice, sort of basic chili, but with a few little twists that sort of elevate it from ordinary to interesting. First of all, using pork gives it a sort of lighter texture, while the beef stock, the Worcestershire sauce and the ancho chile powder adds an unexpected depth of flavor. As Zakarian explains in the book, "anchos are a dried form of poblanos, which are among the sweeter, fruitier peppers and are generally mild to moderately spicy." The scallions and green Tabasco reflect go well with the lightness of the pork, while the egg, runny yolk and salty, strong Roquefort give the dish some richness, but not too much.
The first night I served this I didn't use the egg. The next day is when I got inspired to try it out and I'm really glad I did. It just kind of finishes it off. Now I know why Nancy Silverton is always plopping an egg on everything she cooks. I wonder if she's been to O.T. Hodges.