Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Contests: Judging Chili

My Super Bowl Sunday started hours before the actual festivities. St. John's Episcopal Church asked me to be a judge for the Souper Bowl, a chili and soup contest that was a fund-raising kickoff for their hunger awareness week. Given the enthusiasm people showed when they hit the tables, it will be awhile before anyone who was there will be aware of being hungry.

Luckily, I didn't have to judge all 27 entries, although I did my best to try a ridiculous number of them. Church members paid $1 for samples and voted to narrow the field to the final six. Then the three judges - me, Father Todd Dill from St. Margaret's in Waxhaw, and the senior warden, who paid $80 for privilege - had to narrow those down to the first-, second- and third-place winners.
For a dish that is basically meat, spices and possibly beans, an amazing variety of things go under the name "chili." There was cinnamon-spice chili, wild boar and venison chili, sweet-hot chili, brisket-based chili, beer-flavored chili, vegan chili and your basic chili-chili.

Despite that, the first-place winner wasn't actually a chili. The contest also had been opened to soup, and the pot that blew away the competition was Creamy Chicken Risotto Soup by Michael Ragon. It was as thick and satisfying as a good chili, but it had enough cream to wring out a cow. Ragon was kind enough to send me the recipe. The Super Bowl may be over, but soup season continues on.

Creamy Chicken Risotto Soup

By Michael Ragon, St. John's Episcopal Church

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 cups diced celery

2 cups chopped carrots

1/2 gallon chicken stock

2 cloves chopped garlic

2 tablespoons tarragon

2 tablespoons dillweed

10 black peppercorns

1 large bay leaf

1 quart cream

1 quart sour cream

1/2 stick butter

1 roasted chicken, skin and bones discarded, meat diced

2 cups cooked Arborio rice

Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

HEAT olive oil in a large soup pot and saute onions, carrots and celery until onions are translucent, then add a generous pinch of kosher salt.

ADD chicken stock and garlic. Tie bay leaf, tarragon, dillweed and peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth and add to the soup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bundle.

ADD cream, sour cream, butter, chicken and cooked rice and heat through. (Don't bring back to a boil so the sour cream doesn't curdle.) Serve sprinkled with chopped flatleaf parsley.