Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili

Serendipity. This is what happened when Corey, a new faculty member, happened to mention his past experience starting a BBQ club at school, to Mike, a hardcore Q-er. Mike mentioned it to me, and we hatched the idea of doing a smaller test of the idea at school -- a chili cook off at Homecoming.

I talked to a few other fellow foodies, including Kate, whose Amish friendship bread gets a lot of hits on this site, and Julia who's been featured here several times. Before you knew it, we had a full-fledged cook off planned, including a logo, nicknames, and a lot of smack talk among the six contenders.

The good lookin' chili crew with aprons made with a logo designed by Julia, who has been a guest blogger here. Check out her post on galley cooking. Photo credit: Jeorge Yankura.

For my first cook off, I decided to use my new, favorite toy.

Can you guess?

The Big. Green. Egg.

The Big Green Egg
By cooking my regular multi-chile chili in the Big Green Egg, I added the flavor of mesquite smoke and the memory of many a campfire over which the old cowboys cooked their chili.

I won ... by a mere two votes, and the chilis were all within five votes of each other. Second place went to Corey, who created an intriguing sausage veggie chili with a little maple syrup to act as a counterpoint to the heat of chili powder.

All the chilis were excellent. Kate used TVP to make a vegetarian chili, so that most people didn't know it was meatless. Julia used Mexican cinnamon as her secret ingredient. Desiree created the best texture I've ever noted in chili by browning her meat cubes in flour, like beef stew. Mike, whose cooking mind works very similarly to my own, softened dried chili pods in hot water and then pureed them. He also made use of chilis from Penzey's Spices, of which I'm a big fan.

I like a chili that is deep and flavorful, with layered flavor components. It's taken me years to get my chili where it is now, and I'm sure it will keep evolving. That said, there are certain constants for me in chili:

1) Beef. Maybe I'll get to making other meat chilis, but beef is it for me. Sometimes I cube it. Sometimes I use ground beef. It depends how lazy I'm feeling. Cubed is more authentic but ground beef is definitely more convenient. My friend, Andy Pforzheimer who owns the Barcelona chain (this is a must-try restaurant if you haven't been there), has a friend who uses short ribs as his chili meat.

2) Smoky, deep, rich undertones. I use bacon, Guinness beer, beef broth, coffee, and semisweet chocolate to complement the dried chilis. Sometimes, I don't use all of these, depending on what I have in the pantry, but I believe these ingredients are why people ask for my chili recipe. If this were music, this chili is definitely in the bass section, no question.

3) Tomatoes and acidic components. If I use ingredients to bring out the smoky flavors of the chili, I firmly believe in the importance of the acidic to provide contrast. I know traditionalists don't use tomatoes, but I do, both diced and crushed, and depending on how the chili is going, I've been known to add Ortega's diced green chilies, Frank's red hot sauce, salsa, Trader Joe's salsa verde or even ketchup to brighten up the chili. Acid is what makes chili 3-dimensional and sassy.

4) A combination of fresh and dried chili peppers and spices. I'm still learning about chili peppers, so this is where it gets fun. I like a medium-spicy chili that has a slow, mellow heat and have been experimenting with different peppers to obtain that.

Before I talk about what I'm doing, I want to say that I believe you can make a perfectly decent chili with the 2-Alarm Chili packets or other packets they sell in the grocery store, if you add the bacon, Guinness beer and chocolate. However, I like to use a combination of dried and fresh chili peppers in my chili. If I use chili powder, I like to know that it's as fresh as it can be, which is why I buy Penzey's spices in small lots.

In this chili, my foundation is Penzey's regular chili powder, cumin, and oregano. To that, I add diced fresh chilis like poblano, jalapeno, and serrano peppers, which I saute with the onions and garlic. Fresh chilis add a fresh, grassy flavor to the chili, and they are also a little acidic.

I also like to add some chipotle in adobo. These are definitely smoky and rich, and a little goes a long way.

After that, I pick from a growing collection of dried chili peppers in my cabinet -- arbol (spicy, acidic), New Mexico (earthy), guajillo (fruity, piney), cascabel (nutty, tannic) -- and depending on what I'm doing, I'll either soak them in hot water or coffee, puree them, and add them to the chili, or I'll let them cook in the chili whole and pull them out. I always remove the seeds first, for both fresh and dried peppers, so that the chili is not too spicy for my family.

There are so many peppers that it's interesting to try them out and see what happens. I found a list of dried chili pepper descriptions at the Cook's Thesaurus if you want to get an idea of what's out there.

5) No beans. My husband doesn't eat carbs, so there are no beans in my chili. But if I did put beans, they'd be black beans or red pinto beans. I don't like kidney beans.

6) Thickener. I've never used flour, or the more traditional thickener of masa, in my chili, but after having Desiree's chili, I may have to change my mind. Using a starch to thicken the chili liquid creates a smooth, silky texture, and yet another taste sensation. If you can't find masa, I'm sure that taking two corn tortillas, soaking or simmering them in some chili liquor to soften, blending it in a blender, and then adding it back (some or all of it depending on how thick you want the chili), would do the job.

7) Season with salt at each stage and fry the spices.

Those are my thoughts on making a great chili. I should add my chili is never the same. I wrote down what I did today, which is the recipe below, but depending on my mood and what I have in my kitchen, my chili is always different. That said, it must be layered and flavorful, smoky and tangy, rich and memorable.

Chili with cubed beef instead of ground beef and with the addition of softened and pureed corn tortillas to thicken it up and get a silky texture.

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili
2 ½-3 lbs. ground beef or beef chuck hand cut into small 3/8"-1/2" chunks
7 slices of bacon, cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 medium onions or 1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves minced
2 tbs. cumin
1 tbs. oregano
4 tbs. chili powder (ideally one like Penzey’s which is ancho chile and new Mexican chile or you can grind your own in a coffee grinder)
Green chiles in small can (e.g, Ortega brand)
1/2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (or more if you dare; you can freeze the rest of the can in spoonful-sized portions for future use)
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 poblano chilis, seeded and diced
1-2 serrano chili, seeded and diced
1 dried cascabel chilis (seeded) (optional)
1 dried guajillo pepper (optional)
1 cup coffee (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (put 1/2 a can first and see if it's enough)
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably Rotel)
1 11.2 fl. oz. bottle of Guinness beer
1 tsp beef concentrate or 1 cup beef broth
1 block of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (Baker’s chocolate comes in blocks)
1 can of kidney, red pinto, or black beans (optional)
1 corn tortilla (optional)

Before you start to cook, combine onions, poblano, jalapeno and serrano together. Also, mix the chili powder, cumin, and oregano together in a bowl. Puree the chipotle in adobo with a little water.

Render bacon until crisp in dutch oven; set bacon aside.

Brown meat cubes in bacon fat in batches, setting aside when browned. Salt and pepper meat to season. If using ground beef, brown meat in bacon fat and then drain. Salt and pepper to season. Set aside.

Add some vegetable oil to the dutch oven, and when hot, add onions, poblanos, jalapeno, and serrano peppers and cook until translucent(5 minutes); add garlic for a minute, being careful not to burn it.

Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano mixture to onions and fry for a couple minutes to release flavors.

Add beef to onions and spices. Mix together and cook for a few minutes.

Add the Guiness beer and pureed chipotle in adobo and bring to a simmer. Let cook for five minutes.

Add tomatoes, and beef concentrate or broth. If you have a cascabel chile, add it; if you don’t, don’t worry about it. Stir everything together.

Bring to a simmer and cook for one hour.

While the chili is simmering, simmer the guajillos in hot water or coffee to cover. When the guajillos are soft, puree in blender.

After one hour, add the piece of chocolate. Add guajillo mixture to taste (you want to taste; if your chili is too spicy for you already, then you don't want to add that much). Simmer another hour or until meat is softened. If you’re adding beans, add them 15 minutes before you finish cooking. Pull out cascabel chili before serving.

Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you feel it needs something to brighten it up, you can add a couple tablespoons of salsa and/or a squirt of ketchup. Serve alone, or with rice, nacho chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce.


  1. Oh, très magnifique recette jolie, très jolies photos!

  2. magnifique blog ravie de le découvrir
    à bientôt jolie photos

  3. Woah, this is a serious bowl of chili. Look at all those ingredients!!