There’s an old story about a farmer from Texas visiting Ireland. When he got to his three storey hotel, he tipped back his ten gallon hat and remarked that in Texas they had hotels that reached the sky. He went on a bus tour of Connemara and when he saw the mountains, he said that the mountains in Texas were at least ten times bigger. Just outside Lisdoonvarna, the tour bus broke down and the Texan had to walk into town. On the way, he met a farmer leaning on a gate. They fell into conversation. The proud Texan asked the local how big was his farm. The Connemara man pointed his briar stick to a tree in the mid distance and said “If you go to that tree and turn left, walk until you come to the river, turn left again and walk until you come to that ditch then walk back here, that’s my farm. And, fierce proud of it I am.” The Texan stood back in amazement and said “Paddy, back in Texas, I could get into my truck after breakfast, drive all day until sundown and still not reach the end of my spread.”
With a twinkle in his eye, the Connemara man replied “Sure, didn’t we had a truck like that, but we had to get rid of it.”
Up until very recently, that’s how I might have viewed all Texans. Big, brash and so full of their own Texan bigness to care much about the rest of the world. That is until I came across Richard McGary on his REM Cooks blog. Richard has a great sense of humour, he can cook too. He also has a sense of fun. So, when an unexpected package arrived from Dallas-Fort Worth, containing a range of dried and pickled chilis I was slightly taken aback. The package contained some pretty exotic stuff from that part of the world.
There were 7 different dried chilis: New Mexico Sandia (mild, hot, and XX-hot), Pasilla Negro, Guajillo, Ancho, and Chipotle. There were also three jars with other fire-breathing delights made by Richard. These were; pickled chipotles, pickled jalapeños and a dangerous looking ancho chili rub.
The package came with a letter that contained a specific challenge. “Now I know you love to cook and try different things, so, if you are up to it, I have a challenge for you with this basket full of ingredients. You MUST use a MINIMUM of 5 of the items in the basket to prepare 1 entrée with any protein or veggie of your choosing. As an FYI, I have prepared a similar basket for Stefan with a similar challenge.”
Of course, I had no choice but to take up the challenge. Stefan over at Stefan Gourmet in Amsterdam is a very accomplished cook with far greater skills than me. We had the pleasure of staying and dining with Stefan and Kees earlier this year. Relations between our respective households are excellent. At least they were until the McGary package arrived. At first, I was flattered and thankful for the food parcel from America.
However, I found myself wondering;
“What will Stefan do?”
“How many different chilis will he use in his?”
“What if he uses more than me, will I be letting Ireland down?”
“I can’t let Ireland down, not in front of the Americans. Not in front of the Dutch.”
Was this the McGary plan all along? Has he been trying to drive a chili shaped wedge into the heart of our European culinary activity. I couldn’t allow this to happen. I had to try to beat the Texan at his own game. I had to cook a Tex-Mex feast that would silence any Texan talk of cooking greatness. So my response to the McGary Chili Challenge is to cook Three Chili Chicken with Lime, Chili Corn Bread and Jalapeno Guacamole served with Two Chili Mango and Lime Lassi. That’s seven chilis in the entrée, if one counts the lassi as part thereof. That should keep Ireland’s end up. I had better split this up into sections. First, the Three Chili Chicken with Lime.
For this I used;
- 1 free range chicken
- 2 red onions
- 1 clove of garlic
- 3 limes
- 1 New Mexico Sandia (hot)
- 1 Ancho
- 1 Chipotle
- A small amount of olive oil
First thing I did was to soak the chilis in hot water for an hour. While this was going on, I spatchcocked the chicken. I have another post written on this but it will have to wait while the combined European defence to the McGary Chili Challenge is mounted.
Then I drained the chilis.
Then I chopped the chilis.
These were added to the blender along with the garlic, onions, juice of a lime and some olive oil to form a paste.
After blending, the most wonderful colourful paste was formed.
I then added the zest of a lime and rubbed the mixture all over the chicken. This was then left to marinade for a few hours.
The barbecue (gas) was heated and then turned down to minimum temperature. I gave the chicken about 20 minutes a side.
Then the juice of two limes is squeezed over the bird.
Then I let it rest for 10 minutes.
While the chicken was marinading, I prepared the Chili Corn Bread.
The corn bread was pretty straightforward to make. The ingredients list is as follows;
- 375 grammes of flour
- 220 grammes of cornmeal or Polenta flour as we call it in Europe
- 3 teaspoons of baking powder
- 110 grammes of sugar
- 475 ml of milk
- 2 free range eggs
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 100 grammes of melted butter
- As much or as little pickled chipotle as you dare or wish.
All the dry ingredients were sieved.
The remaining ingredients bar the chili were thrown in.
The chili was chopped. I went light on the chipotle.
Then it was stirred in.
The mixture was poured into cake tins.
Then it baked in the oven for 20 minutes at 200º C.
The end result was a pretty impressive looking bread. I have never cooked this or anything like it before. Time for the ‘first slice’ shot.
Next, I got on with the Jalapeno Guacamole. Three avocados gave up their nuts for this dish to happen.
The flesh of the avocado was spooned into a bowl. The chili was choped. Again, I went a little light on the chili, not wanting to overdo things.
This was mixed with a little sea salt to give a very tasty guacamole.
Time to move on to the drinks – Two Chili, Mango and Lime Lassi.I forgot to include the yoghurt in the picture above. I used about a quarter litre. This was a very simple thing to put together. First I soaked the chilis in hot water for an hour and got on with extracting the flesh from four mangos.
Then I squeezed the excess water from the chilis.
Time for a chopped chili shot.
The mango, lime juice, chilis and yoghurt went into the blender and was blended on high for about five minutes.
Then it was placed in the freezer for half an hour and poured into four tall glasses.
With the lassi completed, there was nothing to do but to assemble the diners and serve. I know we went completely over the top with the Tex-Mex table dressing. I hope Richard is not offended. But, a bit of stereotyping can be good fun every now and then.
Thanks to Richard, we have experienced a taste extravaganza. The chicken was beyond delicious. The corn bread was excellent though I would use more chili in the next one. The guacamole was about perfect. The lassi was toothsome but a bit too hot. Next time, I will use a little less chili.
I have risen to the McGary Chili Chalenge. I have complied with the conditions. We have had a fantastic fun, entertaining and adventurous meal. Hopefully, this is the first of many using these fine and surprisingly subtle ingredients. Thank you Richard. No matter what Stefan did (see it here please), we have had a great, big Texas time. Europe remains a harmonious culinary place. If anybody else wants to set us some similar chalenges, we’re game!