When we owned Dark Horse Books, one fall we went to Chicago for CIROBE (short for the Chicago International Remainders and Overstock Book Expo). It was a wonderful weekend of pouring through stacks and stacks of books, taking in the Art Museum, walking around the Windy City, and checking out some world-class restaurants. One of the dineries we fell in love with was called “Heaven on Seven.” Peter had heard that this nondescript spot, located on the seventh floor of an office building, was a local favorite. We wanted to find out if its walls really were lined with bottles of hundreds of brands of Tobasco sauce (they were) and whether the wait staff truly wore Mardi Gras beads and called everyone “cher” (they did).
When we stepped off the elevator, the sounds of a jazz trio wafted down the hallway — along with the enticing smells of cajun specialties. Yum yum — hot and spicy!
This place, in a word, DELIVERED exactly what we were looking for, exactly what we’d been promised.
We’ve always liked cooking (and eating) foods that rank fairly highly on the Scoville Heat Unit scale (it judges the amount of capsaicin in a particular item). My longterm favorite recipe is called Crocodile Chili. It’s bean-free, doesn’t use Tobasco, and it’s not from New Orleans, but can certainly be made as hot and spicy as you’d like.
A month after we moved to Teton Valley, I created a big pot of it to enter a chili cook-off at the fairgrounds in Driggs — and I won! I wrote about that experience in an essay I wrote, years later, for the Idaho Humanities Council cookbook anthology called Dishrag Soup and Poverty Cake).
This chili has some “legs,” as some might say.
Now this is one of my rare posts that won’t have a photo, but instead includes the full-on tried and true recipe for Crocodile Chili.
A word of caution and a funny memory: one time we were making it and the top came off of the red-chili-pepper bottle, spilling way too many flakes into the chili. We each took a bite and ended up throwing the rest out!
So check the lid on all spices before you shake them in, and enjoy your very own piece of “heaven on seven”!
Crocodile Chili (watch out for the bite!)
2-3 pounds lean pork, cut into bite-size pieces
¼ cup (or so) flour seasoned with cayenne, salt and pepper
2 Tblspns oil
2 Tblspns butter
2 small onions, diced
2 green peppers, diced
2 or 3 cans of diced green chili peppers (we usually use one hot and two mild)
shake of red pepper flakes (optional)
Put the seasoned flour in a brown paper bag and add the pork; shake well to coat. Heat the oil and butter in a big pot on medium heat, and add the flour-covered pork and whatever flour’s left in the bag (probably won’t be much, depending on the size of the pieces of pork.) Stir well; the extra flour will start a roux, which will thicken the chili.
When the meat’s just about browned, throw in the raw vegetables and stir – some of the flour will stick to the vegetables, too. When the onions start to become translucent (not browned), add the chili peppers, red pepper flakes to taste, and enough water to cover everything.
When it starts to bubble, turn the heat down low and keep stirring and tasting as it simmers. If it doesn’t taste hot enough, add a few more red pepper flakes (the taste will intensify as the chili cooks.) If the chili thickens too much before serving, stir in a bit of water. It can cook a long time for richer flavor.
When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and add a dollop of sour cream for garnish (also helps cool the palate between bites.) Serve with warm tortillas. Makes great leftovers to take for lunch at work and a wonderful topping over scrambled eggs for breakfast.