Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chili and more Chili

One of my favorite dishes is Chili. Now I make two versions, depending on my audience. I have a mild -- well mild for me -- that most folks seems to like. The other has been nicknames 'Uranus Buster' and 'Chili from Hell'. Here is the recipe I got off of America's Test Kitchen and made a few tweaks. It's my mild recipe and I am planning to make it next weekend to take into the office for no special reason.

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 2-3 lb chuck roast -- I like chuck because of the flavor and marbling. It's perfect for low and slow.
  • One 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes.
  • 1 can Chipotles in Adobo Sauce
  • 1 medium Onion
  • 4 Jalapenos
  • 3 tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp of Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of Dried Oregano
  • 4 gloves of garlic
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tbs of dark brown sugar
  • Masa flour or corn starch for thickening
Prep work
  • Cut Chuck Roast into 1 inch pieces. Make sure you remove any hard pieces of fat or very large fat deposits.
  • Small dice the onion
  • Core and seed the jalapenos, then finely dice.
  • Seed the chipotles
  • Run the tomatoes and chipotles with the adobo sauce together through the food processor until smooth.
OK, time to build your chili
  • Cut the bacon into 1 inch pieces
  • Crisp the bacon in a dutch oven, rendering all the fat.
  • Remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate and the fat to a bowl.
  • Add back a tablespoon of the fat
  • Brown the meat in 2 or three batches, adding more bacon fat as necessary. It's critical for taste to brown. If you overcrowd the pan, the meat will just steam.
  • Once the meat is done, set it aside
  • Add another tablespoon of bacon fat and then the onion. Cook until softened.
  • Add the jalapenos, cook until you can smell them
  • Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic. By doing this in a relatively dry pan, you can bloom the spices and release the oils.
  • When that is fragrant, add about a cup of water and de-glaze the pan (scrape up any bit from the bottom of the pan, those equal flavor!
  • Add the rest of the water and the tomato/chipotle mixture
  • Return the crisp bacon, beef and any drippings back to the pan.
  • Also add the brown sugar
  • Bring to a simmer and simmer covered for an hour.
  • Then uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes. (Whether or not you need more depends on the meat. At this point it should be ready to fall apart. If it's still tough, give it another 15-30 minutes as an uncovered simmer.
  • Toward the end of cooking (about 5 minutes before you are done), add 2 tablespoons of Masa Harina Flour, or 2 teaspoons of corn starch to a small bowl. I prefer Masa because of the corn taste.
  • Mix in a small amount of cooking liquid and whisk together. This lets you add a thickener without getting any lumps.
  • Mix into the simmering chili and cook for 5 more minutes. You should notice a thickening of the sauce.
That's it, a hearty, meaty chili prepped and cooked in about two hours. I have also done this in a crock pot and cooked on low for about 8 hours. The only thing to be careful of is getting all the goodness from the pan you brown the meat in! Next time I plan my hotter chili, I'll post the recipe. For a teaser it used Spicy Italian Sausage and habanero peppers!

One alternative to Masa or corn starch is crumbled up tortilla chips (corn variety) or corn muffin mix. I haven't tried the crushed tortilla chips, but it was in an episode of Good Eats and might be a fun change. I would watch the salt level on that one. With the corn muffin mix, mix 2 tablespoons in a bowl with a couple of ladle fulls of the cooking liquid to remove the lumps. Whisk until well blended, the microwave for 1 minute. Then stir this into your pot and simmer for another 5 or so minutes. You should see it thickening. I have tried the corn muffin mix and it worked well. Whatever you do, avoid corn meal. It's like sand and not in a good way.

One other note. I have found it's nearly impossible to know just how hot your jalapenos will be. I have had some as spicy as okra and others that I swear rivaled habaneros. So if you are worried about something being too spicy. Add two and see how the liquid tastes after about 30 minutes. You can add more then. If you wait too long, the jalapenos won't break down and add their goodness to the whole pot. That's not a bad thing, because the little bit of raw jalapeno can come across like a garnish.

As for additions. I usually don't add any. But I have used some chopped fresh onion, cilantro, cheese, and even sour cream. Usually one at a time. They can add a little something, but I find it isn't really needed. Crackers are a matter of choice, and I do prefer oyster crackers over saltines. They hold their shape where the saltines dissolve like glue.

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