Star-Bulletin Features

Chili champ’s secret is a
mix of fresh peppers

By Betty Shimabukuro

Coffee may be his bread and butter, but chili is Ron Montague's passion.

For the third time, Montague, plant manager for Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee, has won the Great Hawaiian Chili Cookoff and is headed to the world championships in Reno, Nev.

Every Memorial Day, Dr. Jack Scaff, trainer of marathoners, hosts a competition for a dozen or so serious chili cooks, sending the winner to the International Chili Society's World Cook Off (top prize: $25,000).

Montague has been entering chili cookoffs for about eight years, winning the Great Hawaiian five years ago and in 2001.

He's never placed in the Top 10 of the international cookoff, but he has made a study of the winning formulas and has refined his recipe to capitalize on that experience.

"One of the things I learned was to use a variety of chilies," he said. His recipe calls for fresh jalapenõs, habañero, poblano and red chile peppers.

It also calls for a mix of chili powders to reach the best blend of flavor and spiciness. He'd rather not give out the exact blend -- have to keep some secrets, after all -- but he does recommend that one of your choices be the Gebhart's brand.

If you're really serious about this, Montague suggests visiting a number of markets and specialty shops, looking over the labels on chili powders. Stick to the ones labeled "mild" or "medium." Make your selections, then taste them all and come up with a signature blend.

He also suggests you go light on salt, adding it at the end, and only as much as you truly need.

Montague's Revenge

2 pounds fresh ground pork
5 to 6 pounds beef chuck
5 medium onions
3 large red bell peppers
1 shallot
1 bunch cilantro
4 EACH fresh jalapenõs, habañero and red chile peppers
1 poblano chile pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
6 tablespoons chicken stock
6 tablespoons diced garlic
3 29-ounce cans tomato sauce
4 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
8 tablespoons assorted chili powders
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Tabasco
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Cut pork and beef into small cubes, removing excess fat. Divide into 4 batches, about 2 pounds each. Finely dice onions, bell peppers and shallot. Chop chile peppers, removing seeds (wear gloves when handling peppers). Mince cilantro, including as few stems as possible.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter; stir in 1/8 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon onion powder. Add 1 batch of meat cubes, browning meat over medium-high heat. When the meat juices reduce by half, add 1 tablespoon chicken stock and 1 tablespoon garlic. Continue to cook until juices reduce by half again. Transfer contents of skillet into large cooking pot. Repeat with remaining batches of meat.

In the same skillet, follow the same procedure with oil, butter, spices and stock to sauté half the onions and bell peppers. Add to pot with meat. Repeat with remaining onions, bell peppers, shallot and all the fresh chilies.

Into cooking pot add cilantro, tomato sauce, diced tomato, chili powders, cayenne, cumin, molasses and hot sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Watch heat carefully and remove cover to thicken if necessary. Add salt to taste. Makes 2 to 2-1/2 gallons, about 40 1-cup servings.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (without added salt to taste): 330 calories, 23 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 650 mg sodium, 14 g carbohydrate, 19 g protein.*

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