Everyone has their own ideas about chili. A wide variety of dishes fall under the general heading of “chili.” Some think this dish should be only beef slow cooked in chili sauce. Others use a wide variety of meats—chicken, pork, turkey—in their chili. Still others say that it should include beans as well. Vegetarians get rid of the meat all together and still call it “chili.”
I had a hankering for chili this Saturday. I dug out my mother’s recipe and I was amazed to find that her “chili” did not actually include any chili! I remember enjoying this dish as a child, but I find I cannot really consider it a “chili” anymore, it was beef and beans with some tomato.
A defining ingredient of “chili” is the blend of spices that flavors the sauce. While there is some agreement about which spices this blend should contain, the amount of each is a matter for debate. This is not improved by the linguistic confusion between “chili powder”—as a blend of spices—and “chili powder”—as in the various powdered dried chilies—that may be used in those blends.
Some mild chili powder recipes use only sweet paprika and a dash of cayenne. Other recipes call for several different dried chilies of varying heats and flavors. In addition to the basic ingredients, some add other herbs and spices and still call it “chili powder.”
America’s Test Kitchen recently sent me a link to an episode where they tested dry vs. canned beans. Their surprising result was that canned beans are better. Unless you have a source for “fresh” dried beans, you do not know how long the ones you find in the store have been sitting there. On the other hand, canned beans were more carefully sorted and cooked in the field at their peak of flavor. Who knew? The choice to use canned beans really speeds up the process of making chili.
Note: However, not all canned beans were better. Their top choice was Goya brand.
The next choice is meat. Do I use big chunks of meat that take a long time to cook or ground beef? I really wanted something in between, I wanted substantial bits of meat, but I did not want to braise them for hours to make them tender. Fortunately for me, my local Chavez Market sells what they call “taco meat.” This is beef that has been sliced into ¼ by ½ inch diamonds. The meat has not been mashed through a grinder and are still clearly bit of beef.
To enhance the umami flavor, I decided to marinate the beef in soy sauce. I though some baking soda would help tenderize the meat and help in maintaining its moisture during the cooking process. Finally, I added a blend of chili and spices and marinated the meat for an hour before using another ATK trick of frying the meat in a big patty.
My mother’s chili only had only onions and tomatoes as the vegetables in the dish. I try to work in more, so that there is a better balance between meat, starch and vegetables. As well as fresh roasted Pasadilla chilies and bell pepper, I added some celery.
Karl’s Quick Beef Chili with Beans
3 Tbs. Karl’s Quick Chili Powder, separate uses
1 Tbs. ancho chili powder
½ Tbs. paprika
½ Tbs. cumin, ground
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbs. soy sauce
½ tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 Tbs. water
¼ tsp. sugar
1 lb. chopped beef (Chavez Market taco meat)
2 Poblano chiles
1 large green bell pepper
2 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 Tbs. corn oil (or vegetable oil)
1 cup large yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Jalapeño chili, minced
½ cup cilantro stems
1 bottle (12 oz.) dark Mexican beer (like Negra Modelo)
1 can (1 lb. 13 oz.) Goya pinto beans
(optional) 1-2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbs. cold water
2-3 tortillas per person
½ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
½ cup cheddar cheese, course grated
½ cup onion, diced finely
1. Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix.
Tip: For a complete blend put the ingredients in a spice grinder and process for 30 seconds.
2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the chili powder over the meat and mix well.
3. Mix the soy sauce, baking soda, water and sugar in a small cup and pour it over the meat.
4. Mix the sauce into the meat and let it marinade for 30 minutes.
Tip: If you are watching your fat intake, you may remove some of the chunks of pure lard in the mix.
5. While the meat is marinating, cut the chilies and bell pepper in half and remove the veins and seeds.
Tip: Many recipes call for you to roast the chilies whole and to then remove the seeds from the hot floppy vegetables. Removing the seeds first is easier and you also do not need to turn them while you are roasting the chilies.
6. Cut the tomatoes in half across the equator and scrape the seeds and jelly into a sieve placed over a small bowl.
Tip: Press the jelly through the sieve and reserve the liquid. Discard the seeds.
7. Roast the chilies, pepper and tomatoes 5 inches from the broiling element for 10-15 minutes.
Tip: Remove the tomatoes after 5 minutes.
8. After the tomatoes have cooled, remove and discard the skins and coarsely chop them.
Tip: Reserve the chopped tomatoes in the bowl with the tomato jelly.
9. When the skins of the peppers are blistered put them in a sealed plastic bag to cool.
Tip: The heat of the roasted peppers will continue to steam them, making it even easier to remove the skins.
10. Skin and coarsely chop the chilies and bell peppers. Reserve them for later.
11. Put the oil in a Dutch oven and heat it until shimmering over medium high heat.
12. Form the beef into one large patty about 8 inches across.
Tip: Frying the meat in a large lump allows you to develop a deep rich fond, without overcooking the small bits of meat.
13. Fry the beef in the oil for 6-8 minutes, until well browned.
Tip: The patty—made of chopped bits of beef—is not as stable as ground beef and will tend to break apart while you are trying to turn the meat. Do your best to keep it together.
14. Flip the patty over and fry the second side for 5-6 minutes.
15. Transfer the meat to a plate and remove any excess grease.
Tip: You want to leave about 2 tablespoons of oil in the pot to fry your onions.
16. Add the onions, celery, and salt to the pot and use the liquid released by the vegetables to deglaze the bottom of the Dutch oven.
17. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are starting to caramelize, about 8 minutes.
18. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic, tomato paste and the rest of the chili powder to the hole in the center of the pot.
19. Sauté the mix, stirring constantly, until the tomato paste and spices are beginning to darken, about 2-3 minutes.
20. Add the Jalapeño, cilantro stems, and roasted peppers to the pot and mix them into the vegetables.
21. Continue sautéing the vegetables for 4-5 minutes.
22. Return the beef to the pot and use the beer to rinse any juices off of the plate into the pot.
23. Add the rest of the beer to the pot and bring the pot to a boil.
24. Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pot.
25. Simmer the chili for one hour.
26. Drain the beans, but reserve any liquid.
Tip: If you decide to thicken your chili with corn starch, you may use this liquid instead of water.
27. Stir in the beans and the reserved tomatoes.
28. Continue cooking for 15 minutes, until the beans are heated through and the chili is to your desired thickness.
Note: There are many ways you may thicken your chili. You may crush a quarter cup of the beans, or use corn meal instead of corn starch. Many cooks grind up a corn tortilla and stir it in.
29. Serve the chili warm with corn tortillas and your choice of toppings.