EDISON, NJ - I really like chili and I really enjoy making it a couple times each year during the cool and cold weather months. I love the spiciness of it and I love the fact that you can add a bit of this and a bit of that and e or too inventive with the spice selections.
Many people prefer their chili simply cooked with dried spices, dried chili pepper powder, and ground beef. Living in Texas for some time, I became well acquainted with this approach and while I like it, I don’t love it. I much prefer beans in my chili and I certainly like the taste and health benefits they bring. The beans, coupled with vegetables such as onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes make chili better for you and certainly more filling. I typically couple the chili with corn bread and a small salad or some sort. I almost always garnish with some grated cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, sour cream, and sometimes cilantro (though I didn’t use cilantro as a garnish here).
I basically made a straight forward chili recipe but I did one thing different and I really liked the end result. Instead of using chili powder as the main seasoning, I used whole dried chili peppers that I reconstituted in piping hot water and then ground them into a paste using a food processor. As a result, the chili had a very deep chili flavor and a very deep crimson brown chili color. I used both ancho and guajillo peppers, both of which are a mild to mild/spicy varieties. I added a bit of cayenne pepper at the end to bring a bit more heat as I prefer a hotter chili. I reserved the water that I reconstituted the peppers in so that I could add a bit of the flavored water as the chili simmered away. Generally, I prefer my chili to be on the looser side rather than very thick. I think the cheese and the sour cream end up adding thickness and body to the dish at the very end, so I tend to allow it to be not soupy, but sort of soupy if that makes sense. Of note with using the dried chilis in this manner is that it mitigated the dried powdery, paste-y taste that chili can sometime have due to all the powdered spices typically used.
Also of note, I used ground chuck and I ground the meat myself using a grinder attachment to our mixer. I simply purchased a small chuck roast, cut it up into about 1 inch pieces, and then ran it through the grinder using the coarse grinder setting. If you have the grinder attachment or a regular grinder, this is the perfect time to use it…it makes a huge difference in the texture and taste of the dish.
1.5 Pounds ground chuck (coarsely ground if possible)
5 Dried ancho chili peppers
5 Dried guajillo chili peppers
2 Medium onions, diced
1 Green bell pepper, diced
2-3 Medium tomatoes, diced
1 Bag of dried pinto beans
3 Fresh bay leaves
2 Tablespoons toasted cumin seeds
2 Tablespoons granulated garlic
2 Tablespoons onion powder
1 Teaspoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
½ Cup tequila
2 Tablespoons honey
½ Teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt as needed
Splash of Apple Cider Vinegar
· Soak the bag of pinto beans overnight, ensuring all the beans are covered with water at least by two inches. The next morning, drain the beans and rinse well.
· Place beans and bay leaves in large pot and cover again with water, ensuring there is at least two inches of water covering all the beans. Place pot on high and bring to boil.
· Reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half or until the beans are al dente (soft but not completely cooked through and soft). Remove beans from heat, drain beans, remove bay leaves, season with a dash of kosher salt. Set aside.
· If you are grinding the beef, grind it using the coarsest setting available. Set beef aside and bring to room temperature, about an hour or so.
· Bring a pot or kettle of water to boil and place both types of chili peppers in a large bowl. Pour water over the chili peppers and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside for around 30 minutes.
· After the chili peppers have reconstituted, place in a food processor with about ½ cup of the water used to rehydrate the peppers. Pulse processor until a smooth paste is achieved (about a minute or so). You may have to add a bit more water as needed to achieve a smooth paste.
· Set chili pepper paste aside.
· Heat a large pot on medium high heat. Add a bit of vegetable oil to the pan and then add then add the toasted cumin seeds. After about 30 seconds, add the ground beef. Add a tablespoon or so of kosher salt.
· Add the onion powder, the granulated garlic, then the remainder of the dried spices, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until the meat and spices are nicely browned.
· Remove beef from the pan. Add a bit more vegetable oil and then add the diced onion and bell pepper. Add a dash of kosher salt. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is nicely browned.
· Turn off heat and add the ½ cup of tequila. Turn the heat back on to medium and allow the tequila to reduce until most of it has evaporated. Gently scape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits that may still remain on the bottom of the pan.
· Add the beef back into the pan. Add the tomatoes to the pan. Gently scrape out the chili paste into the pot and stir to incorporate. Add about 1 cup of the remaining water used to rehydrate the peppers. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low/simmer and cover.
· Allow to simmer for about 2 hours, checking the chili every 20-30 minutes to stir. Add more of the water from the chili peppers as necessary to keep mixture loose (but not soupy).
· After 2 hours of simmering, add the beans to the pot and stir to incorporate. Cook on low/simmer until the beans become soft and tender, about 30 minutes more.
· Taste and once the beans are at your desired level of doneness, slowly add kosher salt one tablespoon at a time, tasting often until you achieve a level of seasoning that you prefer (note that it may take a lot of salt as this will be a very large pot of chili…maybe a cup or so as a general guide). Add a splash of apple cider vinegar (go easy as it’s strong) and the honey. Stir to incorporate. Taste again and adjust seasoning for the final time.
· Turn heat off chili. Grate the cheese and chop the green onions for garnish. Place sour cream in a small serving dish.
To serve, place chili in bowl and garnish as desired. Serve with bread or corn bread and a salad. Eat while warm. Note: as I mentioned, this is a very large pot of chili and will provide several meals of leftovers. Typically I freeze it in 2 or 3 batches and unthaw it when I want a quick meal that is already prepared. The chili freezes very well and should easily last 4-6 months in the freezer.
Craig Thiebaud is a Diplomat of Classic Culinary Arts at the International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) located in SOHO in New York City. After extensive training in the Art of French cooking and professional food preparation in general, he brings his knowledge of food and passion for cooking to us by sharing culinary techniques and creating recipes that mainly use local, seasonal ingredients and can be easily recreated in the home kitchen. Good, wholesome meals for the family can be created quickly with planning, using the best techniques with the best ingredients that are both affordable and available. Let's get back into the kitchen together!