A Different Pot of Beans

16 Oct

I have to start by apologizing because, when I hear Puerto Vallarta, I think of the Love Boat.  I feel bad about that, because I’m sure that Puerto Vallarta has a lot of great things for which it is better known, and I’m hoping someone visiting my blog can tell me about those things.  For now, however, I am going to confirm my reservation for that special-room-in-hell-for-backward-people by telling you all about my family recipe for chili…which is called Chili Puerto Vallarta.

STOP!  I hear the primal screams of chili aficionados around the country rising in my ears.  As any chili cook well knows, the mere mention of this dish immediately invites a throw-down in just about any part of the nation.  Entire feature articles have been written about the various types of chili that are made (with great success) across the U.S.A.  I’m going to come out right now and say that I have no wish to participate in a throw-down.  In fact, I don’t think I really could.  The fact is, based on my observation, Chili Puerto Vallarta is not even really a chili. Calm yourselves, settle your beans, and read on.

Okay, so here’s the scoop.  As long as I can remember, my Mom has been making this meal, and we never, ever get tired of it.  But it turns out that she actually got it from my Aunt Jane, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin and has been teaching art history at the university there since 1963.

Aunt Jane…prior to Chili Puerto Vallarta

Mom had remembered that Aunt Jane got this recipe from a colleague at the university, but an e-mail to Aunt Jane revealed that, in fact, she cut it out of some type of newspaper supplement in the sixties.  She doesn’t recall which newspaper, but conjectures that it might have been the Washington Post or the Milwaukee Journal. Some years later, in the early seventies, she passed the recipe on to my mom.

Chili Puerto Vallarta made an especially big splash when we were living in Hamburg, Germany, apparently.  My father was transferred there with the Air Force for the unusual purpose of attending the Fuehrungsakademie der Bundeswehr (which, for those of you who don’t understand German,  is sort of like Air War College).  We lived on the economy among Germans and, upon meeting one of Dad’s future classmates, my Mom was instantly asked “Mrs. Hutchison, do you cook Mexican?” Well, I’m sure the Mexicans would be horrified to hear that my Mom had everyone over and served them Chili Puerto Vallarta.  The Germans, however, were delighted.  Apparently, the meal went over so well that before my parents could get a bowl for themselves, the pot had been scraped clean. Mom likened it to a plague of locusts.

Mom and Dad in Germany – early 70’s

Upon returning to the States, this chili-of-dubious-authenticity simply became a family staple.  I do remember Mom serving it at big dinner parties and people always asking her for the recipe.  When I moved out on my own after college, I learned to make it myself.  As with her goulasch and chicken and sherry recipes, it soon became apparent why we had it so much.  Not only was it delicious, but it was easy to make and it was pretty cheap.

Without asking my busy Aunt Jane to scan the recipe for me, I can’t see the original instructions.  But my Mom reports that, over the years, she cut the meat and added a lot more beans.  By the time I was making it in the nineties, health was an even greater concern for food.  I think I may have cut the meat even more.  I’m going to give you the recipe, now, but just know that the main ingredients can be adjusted to your own taste.  Make Chili Puerto Vallarta your own!

Chili Puerto Vallarta

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

a splash of cooking oil (olive or otherwise)

3/4 lb. of lean ground beef

at least 1/2 lb. of sliced or quartered button mushrooms (I use 1 lb.)

1 Tb. salt

1 Tb. chili powder

1/4 C water

1/4 C ketchup

1 can Beef Consomme (or Consomme Beef – I use Campbells)

3 T cornstarch

2 14-ounce cans dark red kidney beans, drained

cayenne pepper, tabasco, worcestershire sauce to taste

white rice (as much as you want to make)

Chop up your onions to an edible size.

Sort of like this…

You won’t even notice the onions in the final product.  Also chop up your garlic.  Heat enough oil in your pot to cover the bottom.  You will want a pretty big stockpot for this.

Why such a big stockpot?  The mushrooms!  Anyone who cooks with mushrooms knows they are full of water.  They will cook down quite small, but they start off taking up a ton of room.  You want them all in the pot at once, if possible, so make the pot big.

I like to have my mushrooms in quarters, but you can buy them sliced if you’re short on time.  If the mushrooms are very big, make them more like eighths.  Brush any visible debris off the mushroom (I think rinsing makes them soggy and many would agree with me) with a little brush or a paper towel and cut them to quarters or eighths depending on how huge they are to start with.

William the Sous Chef

When you have cut up all your mushrooms, you’re ready to start cooking.

Put the onions in the warm oil – don’t make it spittin’ hot, or the onions will burn.  When in doubt, start with the heat lower and raise it if the onions aren’t cooking.  Let them simmer away in the oil for a few minutes.  When they are becoming soft and translucent, put in the garlic.  Let it cook the same way for about 2 min.

Next, put in your ground beef.  Stir everything up and let it brown.  This will probably take about five minutes.  You may need to raise the heat a little.

When the beef is brown, take a look and make sure that there isn’t too much fat in there.  If it’s a lot, you can drain a little bit out.  If it’s not, I usually just leave it.  Throw in the mushrooms.

2lbs. of mushrooms – double recipe!

Sprinkle the salt over the mushrooms in the pot and stir everything up.  Let the mushrooms cook down until they’ve released most of their liquid.  This could take as much as 10 min.  Stir frequently so that nothing burns and sticks to the bottom.

Blend the chili powder with 2 Tb. of the water.  Add it to the pot along with the ketchup and the consomme.  Blend the remaining water and cornstarch together (this is to make sure the cornstarch doesn’t clump, so stir it up well) and add it to the pot.  You can skip this step, but the cornstarch adds nice body and sheen to the dish.  Simmer for 15 min.

Add your drained beans.   As many as you want.  To be honest, I use even more than the two cans recommended.  I love lots of beans and they’re healthy!  Simmer until warm – about 10 min.

Saucy Accomplices

At this point, my recommendation is to turn off the heat and cool the chili so you can taste it without scalding your mouth.  When it’s not too hot, start adding tabasco, worcestershire, and cayenne to taste.  You probably will add more of each than you anticipate, but start small.  You can’t go back if you over-season!  This is also a good time to mention that this dish is usually served over rice, so the flavor will be dispersed.  But if you want to eat it without rice, be even more conservative.

When it tastes right, you’re done.

Chili Puerto Vallarta – All Aboard!

I usually serve about 1/2 cup of rice per bowl, with a generous ladle of chili over it.

Another gorgeous thing about this recipe – it freezes like a dream and is just as good reheated.  You can seriously make this the day before a dinner party and heat it up and nobody would know.  The rice is ideally made fresh, but I still freeze it, rice and all,  for Dan’s lunches and he takes them to work.  Such a satisfying winter meal! Portions without rice can be frozen and then reheated and put over fresh rice for evening meals.  I always make a double recipe and we are never sorry.

This also goes great with a crisp, green salad and some cornbread.

One thing I really need to warn you about is the scornful looks you are going to get when you reveal that your chili has a beef consomme base and contains mushrooms.  People will think you’re nuts.  I’m telling you, though, you don’t keep a recipe for forty years unless it’s got merit.  It may not be chili.  It may not be Mexican.  But it’s damn good.

Thanks for clipping, Auntie.

Aunt Jane and Me

Postcript on November 8, 2010 – I tried this chili over brown rice and it was just as great!  So that’s a wonderful option for those of you who are health conscious…


18 Responses to “A Different Pot of Beans”

  1. thecompletecookbook October 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    How special for you to share such a treasured recipe – thanks to you and your Aunt Jane! It sounds delicious!
    🙂 Mandy

  2. patissonne October 18, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    Sounds and looks delicious 🙂

  3. mealsbysheri October 18, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    I am in love with your family’s recipe for Chili Puerto vallarata! Anyone who, as you said, keeps a recipe from a clipping for over 40 years…it must be wonderful! I am, more in love with it’s wonderful history you have shared! I have a friend who always adds macaroni to her chili like her mom did (she had 8 children to feed) I like the idea of using rice too! What a way to stretch a buck! Happy Cookin!

  4. thesaltedtomato October 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    I don’t eat beef, but this recipe looks delicious- I may try it with turkey or chicken (I know, I’m sorry to do that to what is clearly a treasured family recipe). Have you read “Stuffed: adventures of a restaurant family”? You write fantastically, and remind me so much of Patricia Volk. Thank you for the story and recipe!

    • frazzledfoodie October 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

      I have not read that, but am poised to look it up. I love a good food story! Do not feel at all bad about changing the recipe – in fact, I almost suggested that people could experiment with different types of meat or (gasp) no meat at all. I really have reduced the meat by so much. Try it! Tell me how it goes, please!

  5. Liesl Elder July 8, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    Hi Alicia, Puerto Vallarta is also famous as the location for the filming of John Huston’s “Night of the Iguana” starring Richard Burton. Burton brought Liz Taylor to Mexico for the filming, and their romance and exploits caused quite a stir. Both were married to other people at the time, so Richard bought a house for himself and one for Liz across the street. Because they were hounded by photographers, he had a bridge built between the two homes so they could visit one another in relative privacy — it’s a landmark to this day. They were married (for the first time) shortly thereafter and partly due to the interest generated by their visit, Puerto Vallarta began to develop into the tourist destination it is today.

    P.S. Still love this recipe, 20 years after you first introduced me to it!

    • frazzledfoodie July 8, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      And here I am thinking about the Love Boat. Sheesh. Did we make this in St. Louis Park? Wow! I thought we only made disastrous meals containing Velveeta!

  6. Jackie September 24, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    I love the back story to your “Chili Puerto Vallerta”, your mom cooking “Mexican” in Germany made me laugh out loud, especially upon reading the final recipe. Plus, I’m a fan of anyone who adds photos.

  7. May September 24, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    The inclusion of the photos made this so much fun to read. I especially enjoyed the shot of your mom and dad. Your mom looks as though she adores that man! And the subtitle to Aunt Jane’s early photo cracked me up….as though after this chili things took a turn!

    I plan to give this a try if the heat will ever go away and stay away for a while!

    • Naps Happen September 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      Do give it a try and let me know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Kelli @ No. 7 September 24, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    I love the pictures too! The name of the chili paired with the photos gives it a great “vintage” 70’s vibe… I think I’m allowed to say that because I’m probably just as ‘vintage’ as you are 🙂 This sounds delicious and very similar to the chili my mother used to make on those chilly winter nights right before we sat down to enjoy The LOVE BOAAAT!

    • Naps Happen September 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      I know, right? Or right before the Sunday night double-header of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Wonderful World of Disney? I’d put some vintage naps on Naps Happen, but…I don’t have any.

  9. Katie September 25, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    I love unique recipes like this, and this one sounds amazing. I especially love the back story you provided and those pictures! Your Aunt Jane was a total hottie 🙂 and so were your parents! I’m really intrigued by those mushrooms, too…I’m betting they make the dish!

    Thanks for sharing this great story and linking up!

  10. Karen May 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    My family has used the same recipe for years, and I’ve made some of the same tweaks that FF describes here (less meat, more beans). How fun to find that another family enjoys CPV as much as mine has for forty years or so. I’m betting the source was the Washington Post or a women’s magazine, since my family would not have been reading the Milwaukee Journal.

    Thanks for the memories!

    • Naps Happen May 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      No WAY. That is totally incredible! Just crazy. Thanks for the newspaper info.

      • Karen May 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

        I pulled a container of CPV out of the freezer this morning for dinner tonight!

      • Naps Happen May 8, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

        So cool! Do you also serve it over rice?

  11. Karen May 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    You betcha.

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