chili06 Feb 2013
I thought about writing a new post, but figured I could just update this. In the last ~decade of making chili I’ve since learned some things and tweaked my process, as ever. I mostly still stand by the bulk of this, with a few modifications:
- Chuck roast is fine, but oxtail, shortrib, shank, etc are much, much better. The marrow and rendered connective tissue are just next-level.
- Just sear and braise the meat first to doneness before you even bother with the chili fixins itself. It makes for a longer process, but I think it’s worth it. Why? a) Can better ascertain doneness, b) removing it gives it time to cool and be deboned, c) eliminates chance for it to overcook while the rest of the chili base stews. You just add it back in at the end.
- No need for flour dredging imo.
- Smokey flavor and chili go really well together. You don’t have to go nuts like I did here but even adding some smoked chile flakes can really help. I like to use smoked ghost pepper – it’s not AS hot as you might think, since the smoking mellows it a bit and a little heat and smoke go a long way.
- Something I recommend here for any thicker soup these days: take a cup or so of the finished soup (beans, meat and all) and blend it with an immersion blender, and fold this back into the chili. The starch from the beans can help thicken.
I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t he already post some stupid recipe for chili already? Again with this?” It’s true. I’m gonna write about chili again. Like all true artists, I’ve grown since then. I simply must share my art with the world! (But not the chili.) As I mentioned in that post, I’m no purist. I put beans in my chili. I am not really even sold on something like chili requiring a recipe, per se. I think of making chili more like jazz. Sure, there are general rules, and, if you require it, a general melody to come back to. But otherwise just wing it, and have fun. Every pot of chili I make is the BEST CHILI EVER. Because it’s always a little different.
I grew up with chili, but in the Midwest and the south – and the chili I knew and loved reflected that: it had ground beef, tomatoes, and beans. It had little in common with either traditional Mexican dishes or Texas chili. There was nothing religious about it except that it could be made quickly out of cans and a tube of beef in an hour or so. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I discovered the wonders of a more basic, authentic chili – e.g. chile colorado, which my mom had actually made for me on occasion as a kid as well. You can google around for recipes, but for the uninitiated, it’s basically the essence of chili: not much other than slow-cooked beef and chiles – the combination of which delivers an amazingly complex bouquet of flavors on its own.
Lately I’ve started playing more with this, taking bits and pieces from the different styles I like. This weekend I made a batch of chili that is probably my favorite yet (although I say that every time). A rough recipe below, which this time isn’t written in the style of a drunken idiot:
- 1-2 yellow onions, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
- 9-10 dried New Mexico chiles
- 3-4 dried Ancho (Poblano) chiles
- 1 beef Chuck roast, cut into 1-2” squares. (feel free to use any other cut of meat – I prefer chuck for stewing).
- 2-3 cups of beef stock (I used homemade, storebought is fine, water will work in a pinch)
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- Beans. Yeah, I said it. (optional, and to taste)
- Cumin (to taste)
- Salt (to taste)
The Chiles (not a Mole)
I won’t call this a Mole, because I don’t want a Mexican grandmother reading this and coming after me because I dared to compare what I did in 10 minutes to what takes her hours upon hours and generations of experience. And it’s really not a Mole, but it’s a Mole-like thing. That is, it’s groundup chiles.
- Remove and discard the caps of all the chiles, and remove the seeds by shaking/clearing the pods with your finger. Getting every single seed isn’t necessary – they won’t significantly add to the heat of the dish, but they can make it bitter.
- Put the chiles in a small saucepan and cover with water.
- Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover.
- Let this sit while you prep the rest of the chili and then come back here when you’re ready to mix everything together. They’ll be well hydrated by now.
- Transfer the now-hydrated chiles into a blender or something similar with a small portion of the water they were boiled in. I use a stick blender for a relatively mess-free cleanup. Blend the chiles thoroughly until they form a thick paste.
- (Optional?) Filter the paste through a medium/large-holed colander or sieve. Sometimes the chile peppers, no matter how well hydrated and blended, have little bits of pepper that didn’t blend down. These can be annoying or distasteful to some, or get stuck in your teeth, so filter it out if you want to get rid of them and any stray seeds that made it through.
- Add this to the rest of the prepped ingredients (see below)
- (Optional but unnecessary step): Dredge the cubed beef in flour. Some people do this because they feel it insulates the meat while searing and makes for a better, more flavorful crust even though science says otherwise and they are wrong on both counts. It can help thicken the resulting chili, but my tastebuds and certainly my waistline don’t require the flour.
- Coat a large stockpot with vegetable oil (I used peanut because it’s what I had on-hand), and bring to a medium-high heat.
- Add the beef to the pot when the oil is shimmering (Just kidding. I have no idea what this means, but every recipe I read says it. Shimmering? What is this, Twilight?) Just add the meat to the damn pan when it’s hot.
- Thoroughly brown all of the beef (do it in batches if you have a lot – it’s best to keep the temperature really high here). Remove and set aside.
- Lower the heat (let it cool so you don’t burn anything) and add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, maybe 1-2 minutes.
- Add the beef stock to deglaze, and make sure to scrape up any little delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the beef chunks, the not-Mole chile paste, and if necessary, enough water to cover all the beef.
- Bring everything to a low boil and then adjust to a low simmer.
- Simmer until the beef is cooked and can be easily pulled apart with a fork. In the past, at this point, I’ve painstakingly pulled all the chunks apart with a pair of forks, until I had the GENIUS idea to just grab a potato masher and go to town. Don’t go overboard, though: mash just enough to get a healthy balance of stringy beef incorporated in the dish along with some bigger succulent chunks.
- Add in any canned or pre-soaked beans at this point, and let them cook a bit.
- Add salt and cumin to taste. I am loathe to give specifics about cumin, because I like a lot of cumin. Do what you feel.
- Add the teaspoon of cocoa powder towards the end of cooking.
Et voila! er .. Y aqui! Note that there are no tomatoes in this recipe. After the past few years of experimenting with rehydrated dried chiles and of noting the amazing complexity of the flavors and richness of the color you get, I am now convinced that tomatoes really have no place in chili. So far I think the cocoa powder is a decent addition, but I am not 100% sold on it. It makes sense, given the presence of chocolate in many mole recipes. It stands out noticeably, though and it’s very easy to overdo it. I am not convinced that the crappy Hershey’s cocoa powder I am using is doing justice to the dish.
The result is a beautiful deep red chili, with beans interspersed with delicious chunks of beef. Ground beef could have easily sufficed if browned and added in order to save time. It’s surprisingly unspicey – new mexico and poblano chiles of course are very mild. Had I been making this only for myself, I probably would have added some dried habaneros, but I was happy to supplement my bowl with cayenne powder for kick. Enjoy!