National Chili Month begins on October 14th and who doesn’t love chili? Plenty of classic movie stars certainly did, and many of them shared their personal recipes with fans via magazines, newspapers and cookbook collections.
The trend probably began with those good old lasso-flinging, chaps-wearing, spurs-jangling cowboys. Will Rogers, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter all offered up their own special way of making this signature dish. I like to imagine all three of them sitting around a campfire scraping up the last of their chili and beans from metal plates, then having a right old singsong.
Chili was also often the meal of choice for those typically cast in tough-guy roles, like Barton MacLane, George Raft and Victor McLaglen. It’s probably no surprise therefore, to learn that beautiful bad boy beefcake Robert Mitchum was a huge chili head.
Mitchum was a judge at the International Chili Society’s legendary championship cook-offs in 1975, 1980 and 1992. He was well qualified for this task, as he often stated how much he loved chili, claiming the hot stuff could cure all ills, particularly influenza.
Chili wasn’t just a spectator sport for Mitchum either—he made his own, too. Definitely an accomplished cook, in 1970 he was interviewed by the legendary food writer Johna Blinn. He recounted how on location in Ireland for the film Ryan’s Daughter he regularly cooked for as many as 30 cast and crew. Describing himself as the “company slavey,” Mitchum never had less than seven or eight for dinner, cooking up steaks and elaborate stews and washing up afterwards. He shared two favorite recipes with Blinn, one for “Mitchum’s Border Hash,” the other “Robert Mitchum’s Chili Wonder.” The latter is here for you to rustle up sometime this month. The thing that makes this chili so good? Chocolate…
Robert Mitchum’s Chili Wonder
4 strips bacon (or olive oil)
2 onions, peeled, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Seasoned flour: 2 parts chili powder to 1 part flour
3 lbs lean beef (top round) cut in 3/4-inch cubes
About 1 quart beef stock (or water)
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 large tomatoes, peeled, chopped, optional
2-4 tablespoons chili powder, mixed with a little water until smooth
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, optional
Dash sugar, optional
1/2 oz bitter chocolate, shaved
Pinto or kidney beans and onion to serve (optional)
Cook bacon in large stock pot until crisp and brown. Lift out bacon, pour off excess fat so only 3 tablespoons remain (or use olive oil). Brown onions slowly in fat until soft; lift out.
Shake cubed beef in seasoned flour; brown quickly on all sides in onion-flavored grease (add more olive oil if necessary). Add browned onions, garlic, beef stock, vinegar, tomatoes, chili powder, water mixture, bay leaves, cumin seeds, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Bring to boil. Simmer slowly for 3-4 hours. Add chocolate during last half hour.
Taste to adjust seasonings. Add more liquid during cooking if needed, stir often to prevent sticking. Serve with cooked pinto (or kidney beans) on the side. Top with chopped sweet onion if desired.
Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters.