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Jim Coleman: A crockpot of chicken chili, heavily seasoned with lore

Q: Do you have any good chicken chili recipes for a crockpot? - Michael C. A: I was trying to guess why you would want a chili recipe specifically for a crockpot or slow cooker, and I came up with the following:

Q: Do you have any good chicken chili recipes for a crockpot?

- Michael C.

A: I was trying to guess why you would want a chili recipe specifically for a crockpot or slow cooker, and I came up with the following:

1. You don't want to be bothered during the weekend football games, so you want to start the chili before the games begin, forget about it during the first and second games and eat before the late game.

2. You're a guy - possibly single - so maybe your house doesn't smell the way it should. Using a slow cooker will turn your Saturday night beer aroma into a home-sweet-home perfume.

3. Using a crockpot means you aren't going to have a sink full of prep dishes to clean up. However, if

you're single, you probably don't have a bunch of pots anyway.

4. There isn't much chance of screwing up a slow-cooker recipe.

5. Then again, if it doesn't turn out, you can always blame it on the slow cooker (which is fine with me, since I'm normally the one who gets blamed).

Any of the above theories may or may not be true - kind of like the many stories about the origins of chili. There are always heated arguments about where the first bowl of chili was made and by whom, not to mention the raging debate over whose chili recipe is the best.

Most food historians will agree that the following information is true.

FACT: To keep things straight or to prevent us from losing our minds: The word chile refers to the actual pepper, while chili refers to the dish.

FACT: Jesse James (1847-1882), the famous outlaw, refused to rob a bank in a town just north of Fort Worth, Texas, because that was where his favorite chili parlor was located. He was quoted as saying, "Anyplace that has a chili joint like this just ought to be treated better."

FACT: True cowboys were thought of as the first "chili heads" because when they traveled, they would carry "chili bricks" with them. These homemade kits contained everything needed to make chili except for the liquid, including diced dried beef, a fat of some sort, chile peppers, wild onions, garlic and other ingredients.

When it came time to make the chili, they would add water to these "bricks" in the slow cooker of the day, a cast-iron Dutch oven.

FACT: One of the things that contributed to chili's growing popularity was Spanish priests' belief that chile peppers were aphrodisiacs. They sermonized against this "soup of the devil."

FACT: Some trail cooks on cattle drives kept records of planting peppers, oregano, onions, garlic and other spices along the route so that they could harvest these ingredients on future drives.

FACT: The famous Chili Queens of San Antonio sold a stew they called chili (this may be the first time that this term was used) that was a similar concoction to the dish we know today. They went around in their colorful chili wagons selling to the public at open markets until the late 1930s, when they were put out of business because they wouldn't conform to sanitation laws.

FACT: From around the turn of the century until the late 1930s, chili joints popped up all over the Southwest. There was barely a town that didn't have at least one chili parlor. These places were often nothing more than a shack with buckets or boxes for stools and a blanket strung on a rope that separated the kitchen from the dining area.

They weren't fancy but they were very important during the Depression because chili was cheap. It has been said that chili saved more people from starvation during the Depression than the Red Cross.

The last issue about any chili recipe is the argument over beans. Though the recipe I'm sharing with you has beans as an option, here are a couple of lines from what has become known as the anthem for chili heads, a 1976 song credited to Texas singer/songwriter Ken Finlay:

" . . . You can throw in some onions to make it smell good.

"You can even add tomatoes, if you feel like you should.

"But if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans.

"If you know beans about chili, you know it didn't come from Mexico.

"Chili was God's gift to Texas (Or maybe it came from down below).

" And chili doesn't go with macaroni, and dammed Yankees don't go with chili queens;

" and if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans."



3 tablespoons oil

2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces

1 very large red onion, peeled and chopped

1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, chopped

5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

Two 14.5-ounce cans Mexican stewed tomatoes or canned, diced tomatoes

Two 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles

1 tablespoon chile powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Kosher salt and black pepper

to taste (between 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of each)

Optional: 1 large can pinto or

red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium high to high heat until hot. When hot, saute the chicken with the red onion, red pepper, jalapeno peppers and garlic until the onion and peppers are soft, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Transfer the chicken mixture to a slow cooker and add all the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours or up to 8 hours.

You can serve this with rice. I like to have my chili over large corn chips with shredded cheese, spicy picante sauce, guacamole and sour cream.

This recipe will serve 2 to 3 guys during a football game - or 6 normal people.

Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and hosts two nationally syndicated shows: "A Chef's Table," noon Saturdays on WHYY (91-FM); and "Flavors of America," 1 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 12, and 4:30 p.m. weekdays on CN8. He and his wife, writer Candace Hagan, will answer questions.