The weather is cooling (slightly), and the leaves are starting to turn golden, which means it’s that season again. Yep, tailgating is upon us. As we celebrate the spirit of coming together with friends and family to cheer our team to a win and win the tailgate battle, we decided to consult a pro and do things right by bringing home all the flavors and excitement of game day courtesy of James Beard Award winner and Top Chef Masters contestant, Chef John Currence.
For years Currence has honed his reputation as an expert in outdoor entertaining and cooking at one of the country’s most legendary tailgates –The Grove at Ole Miss. Helping generations of fans go beyond hosting a simple picnic, Currence has adopted the model of preparing tailgaters to “go into battle” and make their table the envy of all others. Before football games on his home turf in Oxford, Mississippi, Currence supplies tailgaters with dishes that go way beyond the expected burgers and hot dogs and blur the lines between fine dining and a backyard BBQ. In his new book Tailgreat: How to Crush it at Tailgating, he makes his case that tailgating food can be so much more than store-bought chips and dips, think...Korean BBQ Wings, Grilled Corn Guacamole, Sweet Mustard Pulled Pork, Spicy Fried Chicken Buttered Popcorn, and NOLA Roast Beef Po’Boy Bites.
Currence kindly shared his White Bean and Chicken Chili, with Cornbread Croutons with Cape Fear Living, that will have you leading your team, or at least your next meal to victory.
I freely admit it: I was a white chili hater. In my opinion, white chili was pinko, commie bullshit, nonsense. You see, I grew up in south Louisiana. My dad was in the oil and gas business, so we naturally spent a good amount of time with brash Texans, who, as a group, are not known for genteel comportment or bottled opinion. As a result, I grew up with the understanding that chili was made with only beef, unless there was ground game meat that needed to be dispensed with. No matter how gamey that meat might be, enough chili powder, cumin, onions, and garlic could mask any less-than-appealing flavors. In the opinion of everyone around me during those formative years, white chili was some hippie health-food abomination. If beans were used, they were pintos . . . or none at all.
Were it not for my passionate craving for white beans, my narrow-minded opinion may never have been swayed. But fifteen years ago, my bride and I were doing an extensive renovation on our house and had to relocate to a little condominium for the duration of the project. As newlyweds, we decided for Thanksgiving to entertain our whole family in our tiny little phone booth of a living space. We jostled each other around the miniscule galley kitchen and managed to pull off a lavish meal together, which produced far too many leftovers. My dad had brought me several pounds of Camellia brand white beans, and between those and the mountain of leftover turkey, this star was born. I recant everything I once thought about white chili and apologize for the tidal wave of aspersions I once spewed.
White Bean and Chicken Chili, with Cornbread Croutons
1 ½ tablespoons bacon fat rendered from 6 to 8 strips of bacon
4 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 tablespoons black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons salt
4 cups buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup butter, melted1 teaspoon salt
½ cup lard or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
3 cups diced yellow onion
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2 ½ cups chopped Anaheim peppers or other mild chiles
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
8 cups chicken stock
3 (14-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can hominy, drained and rinsed
Meat of 2 (3-pound) rotisserie chickens, chopped
Grated zest and juice of 4 limes
½ cup masa harina
3 cups thinly sliced corn tortillas
2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and black pepper
3 cups sliced red or green cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced radishes
2 cups sliced avocados
MAKE THE CORNBREAD CROUTONS
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the bacon fat in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and put the skillet in the oven until ready to bake. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pepper, and salt until well blended. Whisk together the eggs in a medium mixing bowl and add the buttermilk and sour cream, blending well. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and continue stirring until well combined. Remove the skillet from the oven. Pour the cornbread batter into the hot skillet and bake for 30 minutes, or until fully set up (a toothpick or cake tester will come out clean). Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan.
Cut the cornbread into ¾-inch cubes. Place 6 cups in a large mixing bowl and toss with the melted butter and salt. Lay the croutons on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the croutons are slightly crispy on the outside. Remove from the oven and cool.
MAKE THE CHILI
In a large Dutch oven, melt the lard over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeños and sauté until the onion is transparent. Stir in the Anaheim peppers, the cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika, and fresh oregano and blend well. Stir in the chicken stock and white beans and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the beans are very tender. Mash the beans with a potato masher to release their starches. Add the hominy, chicken, lime zest and juice, and masa and simmer for another 25 minutes. Stir in the tortilla strips and cilantro. Season with salt and black pepper. Garnish with the cabbage, sliced radishes, avocados, and the cornbread croutons.
Reprinted from TAILGREAT: How to Crush it at Tailgating. Copyright© 2020 by John Currence.Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.Photographscopyright© 2020 by Peter Frank Edwards.