Sunday, 10 November 2013

Feeding the five thousand, or, chilli for a large number

A local charity I volunteer with, Wherry Yacht Charter, has an annual quiz and supper evening in November. With an eye to winter-warmer-type food, not to mention the practicalities of catering for 40-60 people in a church hall, we usually serve beef or mixed bean chilli over tortilla chips, with cheese and other toppings. A few people opt for baked potatoes through preference or dietary need, but generally we find ourselves with a lot of chilli to cook.

For future reference, and for the possible benefit of others, here's a rundown of what we do, based on this year. It's set out with prices and amounts in terms of shopping for bulk items at a wholesaler such as Makro, although fresh ingredients were bought at local independent shops and some smaller items were purchased at a supermarket (noted as such in the list).

Serves 40
(Approx 32 meat eaters and 8 vegetarians; allows for a handful of tortillas and a ladle and a half of chilli per person; there will be some for seconds/leftovers)

Ingredients - chilli
2 x 2.5kg tins tomatoes (total £3)
1 x 2.5kg tin kidney beans (£2)
8* large spanish onions (£3.60, local greengrocer)
8* large courgettes (£5.30, local greengrocer)
8* large red and orange peppers (£6.30, local greengrocer)
2/3 wholesale box* mushrooms (£3.50, local greengrocer)
5 tbsp hot chilli powder **
5 tbsp ground cumin **
5 tsp chipotle chilli paste **
5 stock cubes (veggie or beef, as appropriate)**
vegetable oil**

For veggie: 2 x 0.8kg tins spicy mixed bean salad (£4)
For meat: 2kg minced beef (£13, local butcher, lean steak mince)
(For comparison, cheapest supermarket minced beef is about £4/kg and supermarket lean steak mince is about £7/kg)

Ingredients - to serve
3 x 750g bags mild/plain tortillas (£6)
2kg grated cheese (£8.50)
4  x 300g soured cream (£4.40, supermarket)
2 x 300g guacamole (£4, supermarket) - squeezy bottles as found with taco kits etc.
1 x 480g jar jalapenos (£1, supermarket) - large jars in world foods section of Tesco (Caribbean, Polish, etc.) much cheaper than small jars found with taco kits etc.

Weights given for tinned and jarred ingredients are as purchased, not drained.
* Vegetables were sold by number rather than weight.
** Taken from my store cupboard. To buy from scratch in a supermarket: £1 chilli powder, £1 ground cumin, £1.90 chipotle paste, £1.20 stock cubes, £1.50 oil, total £6.60 but buys more of all items than is needed for this recipe. Naturally you can add more or less spice depending on who you are catering for!

Total price for 40: about £64, not including anything for store cupboard items. Of this, about £24 is for the tortillas and toppings. This makes a total of £1 per head for the chilli, and 50p for the other items which could be seen as optional. The meat and veggie options differ by only a few pence per head using the spicy mixed beans as above; if you used plain beans and your own spices the vegetarian one would likely be a little cheaper.

What you need
We used 5 very large saucepans (pressure cooker size) plus a large saucepan and large frying pan. We also used a very large cooker! For a normal sized home hob and fewer pans, pre-cook the mushrooms and meat first, and perhaps cook the veggie chilli separately, but of course increase the time needed. Miscellaneous kitchen equipment included bowls, colanders, spoons, etc. You will also need large plastic boxes and a lots of fridge or freezer space for storage.

Allow 2.5-3 hours for 2 people to chop the veg and do all the 'interactive' cooking, i.e. everything except simmering. Allow another half hour at the very least for simmering, but if you can do longer at a low heat, so much the better. If you're not using the chilli straight away, don't forget to allow significant cooling time before you can refrigerate or freeze it (possibly 2-3 hours, although see below for suggestions to speed this up).

Chop all vegetables into 1-2cm chunks/thick slices for mushrooms.
Drain kidney beans and rinse.
Drain mixed beans and reserve spicy sauce.
Drain tomatoes and reserve juice.

Using one separate large pan for vegetarian chilli (1/5 of vegetables and tomatoes, plus mixed beans), and as many other large pans as you need for the meat chilli (rest of ingredients), gently cook the onions in a little oil until translucent. To reduce the amount of oil, start with only a little and top up with tomato liquid as needed to stop the onions sticking. Add the chilli powder, cumin, chilli paste and stock cubes to the onions while cooking.

When the onions are translucent, add the courgettes and peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften. Add a little further tomato liquid to help things along if needed (or spicy sauce, for the veg version), but remember the vegetables will release more moisture as they cook.

Meanwhile, brown and break up the mince in batches, draining any excess fat. Optionally, you can add more chilli powder and/or cumin to the meat at this point. When done, you can deglaze the pan with a little of the tomato juice if there is lots of good stuff left in it. Add the mince and any juices evenly to the meat chilli pans. Add the spicy beans to the vegetable chilli pan.

Divide the drained tomatoes between the various pans. Add some tomato liquid to the meat pans, and spicy bean sauce to the veggie pan, to get the texture you wish. Stir well and leave to simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally.

Cook the mushrooms separately, as they will cook more quickly and retain their flavour. Heat in a lidded pan with a splash of water and a crumbled vegetable stock cube (or simply a pinch of salt), then divide between the large pans.

If you find you have too much liquid, you can try one or more of the following: simmer to reduce; use a ladle to remove liquid and discard it or use for other purposes e.g. soup; add gravy granules to thicken; add flour to thicken. To use flour or gravy granules, mix evenly with a little cold water first, then add some of the hot pan liquid, then return all to the pan and mix well.

Serve the chilli with the listed accompaniments on a help-yourself basis. Await compliments!

Storage and food safety notes
If not using the chilli straight away: When cooked, pour the chilli into large plastic containers or similar. Cool as quickly as possible, e.g. place container in a cool room or in a sink of cold water, or bury freezer packs (inside clean plastic bags) inside. In terms of food safety, the cooling down period is when the food is at optimum bug-breeding temperature, so make it as short as possible. Then chill or freeze depending when you need to serve the chilli. Needless to say, you should then also defrost it evenly and reheat the food until piping hot. These suggestions stem from common sense and are not written from any position of authority on food hygiene.

Note: I detest food waste, but when catering for a large number there can be quite a margin of error, especially when you are keen not to short change people or run out. Personally I would happily save and thoroughly reheat leftovers for myself one more time, including freezing them beforehand if the chilli had not previously been frozen, and I an other volunteers have done this before with no problem. This may not tally with official food hygiene advice but I think everyone should decide on their own level of risk when feeding themselves and their immediate family. Clearly, when feeding others, more caution is needed and risk should be minimised - hence the above suggestions. If in doubt, consult relevant food hygiene regulations or ask someone with a food safety qualification.

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