This Colombo chilli doesn’t need ‘just more thing’

A selection of ingredients used to make Johnny Cash Chilli

So, when you invite a few friends around for a mid-week dinner in the middle of gloomy February, you might expect guests may offer a bottle of wine, a few bottles of beer, some flowers or even a chocolate selection to finish the evening off sweetly. But a tub of crème fraîche? Well, probably not. But then it’s not every mid-week dinner that you’re cooking up a Johnny Cash Chilli. Better known for his haunting county music songs and ground breaking albums recorded in two of the toughest American jails, San Quentin and Folsom, Cash was also an accomplished home cook. Published (out on February 20, 2018) this new book by food writer, film archivist, DJ, singer (talented or what) … in a new book titled ‘Cooking with Colombo’, includes over fifty recipes including from Colombo actor Peter Falk himself and other stars who appeared in the show’s various episodes including Billy Connolly’s Stuffed Trout, Rod Steiger’s Chicken Grand Marnier and Vincent Price’s Hollandaise sauce.

Sage, one of the key ingredients for Johnny Cash Chilli

Apparently, one of Cash’s favourite dishes was chilli and reading the recipe it’s clear he knows about flavours and is not afraid to mix up spices using fresh and perhaps his favourite brand of pre-mixed spices. Unusually Cash recommends using three prepared mixes, which adds a gloriously hot kick to the chilli.

Cooking the chilli was a good reason to invite friends for a meal, and throw in my lot in a competition posted on Intsagram by Jenny Hammerton of

Competition rules were simple … ‘Cook a Johnny Cash Chilli, send photos or a link to your blog and wait for the ‘prize draw after the book launch and there are lots of goodies to be won.’

Johnny Cash Chilli with a hefty spoon of Crème fraÎche

Below is the original chilli recipe I referenced for the evening. It was served with buttered French beans sprinkled with fennel seeds and brown rice. No starter, and pudding was baked Granny Smith apples lathered in The Lemon Grove’s Lemon & Lime marmalade, and tray baked rhubarb with orange zest and juice and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Comments about the chilli on the night included ‘it’s delicious, Bruce … You must give me the recipe’ (honestly!) to ‘I’m enjoying the addition of black beans’. Others said this would encourage them to experiment with their traditional kidney-bean recipes and include more unusual ingredients to alter taste or change texture. Others said the dish was spicier than they expected and hence that tub of crème fraîche was scrapped clean. The the addition of venison mince added a richness and earthiness that they hadn’t experienced before, but would incorporate the meat in other similar dishes such as lasagne and burgers.


All of us gathered around the table grew up watching Columbo gathered around the TV with the family and it was great fun reminiscing some of the detectives most famous lines … ‘ and THAT, sir, … gives me GREAT PLEASURE INDEED, Sir!!!” from the Murder, Smoke, And Shadows episode and ‘Oh don’t mind that, that’s just my lunch, that doesn’t mean anything,’ from An Exercise In Fatality.

Good, tasty times.

Cooking with Columbo: Supper With The Shambling Slueth: Episode Guides and recipes from the kitchen of Peter Falk and many of his Columbo co-stars, by Jenny Hammerton is available to buy from Amazon.


Johnny Cash Chilli (adpated from this website)

450g ground venison (if available) or ground beef (chuck or sirloin)
225 g pound venison steaks (if available) or beef steaks, such as sirloin, or a rump roast cut into bite sized pieces
1 large sweet onion
1 tablespoons rapeseed oil
Two 400g cans whole tomatoes
2 large green bell peppers
1/2 large red bell pepper
2.5 jalapeno peppers diced (optional)
1/2 habanero pepper (optional)
1 packets chili seasoning (your favorite brand. Dad always used McCormick’s mild. He used this only for his base, and if you like you can just use more of the following instead – to taste.)
Salt and black pepper
16g chili powder (New Mexico chili powder, if available)
10g cumin
1/2 tbs sage
3/4 tsp oregano
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
One 400 g can black beans
One 400 g can cans pinto beans
One 400 g can cans kidney beans
Half 400 g can chili beans
170 mlbottle beer
25g cup sugar
A handful of self-rising cornmeal

Chop the steak into relatively large pieces, but not too big. Chop the onion finely. Separate the garlic cloves and peel and chop them, too. This is to your taste. You may choose not to use as much garlic as suggested.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the steak in the oil in batches, draining off some of the fat if necessary. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a separate skillet brown the ground meat over medium-high heat. Drain off the fat and set aside.
With the oil remaining in the pot, brown half the onions and garlic over medium heat until they are caramelized. Now add the well-drained ground beef and steak. Stir and heat it all up. Add the cans of tomatoes, the bell peppers, hot peppers, if using, and the remainder of the onions and garlic. Heat to a brisk simmer, stirring often.
Now it’s time for the spices. Dad would normally put in the chili packets, followed by the salt and black pepper, chili powder, cumin, sage, oregano, and cayenne pepper. This is the time to begin tasting your chili. Once it is to your liking, drain the cans of beans and add to the mixture. Now taste again, as you will likely want to add some more spices because the beans mellow their flavor. Once the chili tastes right, pour in the bottle of beer. Stir well. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar to taste, but be careful not to use too much. Chili becomes something else entirely if too sweet. Simmer, covered, for at least another 30 minutes, making sure to stir so it does not burn. Now grab that handful of cornmeal, uncover the chili, and throw the cornmeal at the pot, not being too careful. And if some does scatter around the stove, that is fine. Stir it in.
Follow the recipe exactly, and you will get a good pot of chili. Change it to suit your own taste, and you will have a marvelous pot of chili. Serve with saltine crackers or corn bread (Southern style only, none of that sweet stuff).

Note: If self-rising cornmeal is unavailable, you can make it yourself. Just combine 1 cup of cornmeal, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Put the leftover mix in a sealed container and save for the next batch of chili.

Cooking with Columbo: Supper With The Shambling Slueth: Episode Guides and recipes from the kitchen of Peter Falk and many of his Columbo co-stars, by Jenny Hammerton is available to buy from Amazon.

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.

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