Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 4:38 am UTC
This 'recipe' is my interpretation of the dish you may know as Chili con carne. In lots of places it's just called Chili, which I like because it has fewer syllables and therefore is easier to say, but also because meat isn't strictly necessary. 'What's this?' 'Chili con carne... only not really, there's no carne.' And Chili sin carne just isn't right. This is an American dish, apparently originating as trail food for the cowboys down in Texas. Like American barbeque, there are a lot of different variations. It can be thick or thin, served in a bowl, served on rice, even served with spaghetti like they do in Cincinatti - they call it chiligetti and it has no beans. The point is, this is a dish that doesn't need a recipe. Just set aside a couple of hours and get cracking.
What are you going to cook this in? Your best bet is a heavy bottomed pot with a lid but you can pretty much use anything.
First, the beans. Red kidney is the standard but I like to use black beans as well, especially if it's a vegetarian chili. Do yourself a favour, get down to your local whole foods store and get some dried red kidney beans and black beans from the whole food bins. Keep them separate. Soak them overnight in heaps of water, rinse them off, then boil them in big pots of water. Should be good in less than an hour - start checking them after half an hour. You want them soft but not too soft. Maybe google this part if you're not sure. The older they are the longer they will take to cook, so if you pulled them out from the cupboard after a couple of years, don't bother. You'll just end up burning them because you got tired of waiting, wandered off and let the water boil dry like I did five times. Chuck those out and grab a can of red kidney beans from the cupboard. If you're desperate because you burned your fancy dried beans, use whatever you have - chick peas, butter beans, whatever. This dish has no rules.
Second, the meat. You don't need it. But if you're the kind of person that must put meat in every single thing you consume, then go to the butcher and buy some proper beef mince. If you really want to guild the lily, get some pork mince too - about 2/3 beef to 1/3 pork. It's pretty good like this. Ok, you need to brown the meat. Pay attention, this bit's important. Don't put too much meat in your pan because it'll lose the heat, the meat juice will fill up the pan and the meat will stew, not brown. Try a cup at a time, taking the browned meat out and putting it in a bowl before adding the next cup. If you want to know why this is important then google the Maillard reaction. Once you've browned all the meat, put it somewhere safe, you won't need it for a while.
Vegetarians, you can now pay attention again. Your base flavours are coming from onion, garlic, carrot and celery, but you can certainly get by with just onion and garlic, or even just onion. Brown onion is the one to use, but shallots are pretty good too. Chop and fry! I usually start with the onion, then the garlic, then lower the heat and add the carrot and celery and fry till soft. But do whatever you feel is appropriate. Just remember you're not looking to brown anything here, just get those onions translucent and ready for the next step.
This is where you can start drinking, because it's time to add some booze. If you're classy, add a glass of red wine. But if you really want to blow some minds, get a bottle of brown or black beer. Don't worry if you don't usually drink the stuff, it'll taste good in your chili. You can find some cheap brown ale, but if you want to get artisinal then go to a decent bottle shop and get a nice porter or stout. The Founder's range is pretty good. If you want to have a taste of your great dark beer, don't drink it straight out of the fridge - take it out and let it warm up a bit. The rest goes in the pan to deglaze all the bits of delicious food you cooked earlier.
Ok, tomato time. I use canned, usually a mixture of peeled and diced plum tomatoes, but you could use passata or get completely wild and blanch and peel your own tomatoes. If you are someone who does this then hats off to you. I never can be bothered. When adding, make sure your pan's not too hot, tomatoes like it low and slow. Not to mention don't burn your onions and garlic. If you can see black bits on anything, you have screwed up a bit. Next time take it easier. But don't worry, if it's not completely charcoaled you can probably keep going. Strictly speaking, tomatoes aren't essential for chili. But unless you have a reason not to eat them, you should definitely use them. They are delicious, especially when cooked low and slow.
Right now you've got a pretty good base for your chili. Or you could get scared and pretend you were making spaghetti sauce all along. If you do this then don't mention you put brown beer in there. Either way you're looking at a pot of red stuff and things are smelling pretty good. It's now time to add some stuff that will turn this dish from spaghetti sauce to chili. By this point you'll be aware that this isn't a real recipe, so what and how much is up to you. Remember that herbs generally like to go in at the end so they don't lose all their flavour, whereas spices want to go in at the start so they have time to mingle. Also, salt and pepper.
Worcester sauce - this is made with anchovies so skip it if you don't want
Dark chocolate (a little)
Cajun spice mix (loads)
Fennel powder or seeds that you toasted and crushed (a little)
Sage (a little)
Flat leaf parsley (medium)
Italian herb mix (medium)
Soy sauce (a little)
Porcini mushroom (soak beforehand and add with the soaking water ie mushroom stock)
The chili part needs a bit of chat. Dried is easiest - chili flakes, chili powder, cayenne pepper. You've probably got this in your cupboard already. But you can use fresh chilies instead of or as well as dried. Traditionally they go in whole but do whatever you like - chopped, deseeded, whatever. And what variety? Whatever you like. Chipotles would be pretty good but I haven't tried it. Also, if you're making two pots side by side, one with meat and one without - remember, the fat from the meat will absorb a lot of the heat so don't add the same amount of chili to each one unless you want to make the vegetarians in your life suffer. I made this mistake once.
Finished experimenting? Ok, let this cook for a while, on a low heat. Don't let it burn, don't let it get too dry. Your end result can be whatever you like - thin and runny, or thick enough to be used as emergency spackle. I like it somewhere in the middle ground. About half an hour to an hour before you can't wait any longer, add the beans and the meat. You can also add chopped mushrooms at this stage - the heat will cook them or you could roast or fry beforehand.
Taste it to make sure it has enough flavour and heat. Getting good at tasting and adjusting is what this dish, and cooking, is all about. Add the herbs, if you're using them, about 15 minutes before the end. They should be lifting and lightening up the flavour a little but not overpowering anything and it should taste good before you add them. Like curry, chili will taste better the next day. You can eat it by the bowlful, on rice, with crusty bread, with a baked potato, with sour cream, with a green salad, or with all of these things. Whatever you like, this dish has no rules. Just stacks of flavour and a pretty forgiving attitude. Enjoy your chili.