Wednesday, February 6, 2008

[The Wisdom of a Distracted Mind] Dan's Happy Chili.

I think there are only a few things that can make a blizzard marginally enjoyable. Hot chocolate usually helps. Whiskey is always a great anti-freeze. But, I don't think anything tops a good bucket of spicy chili to warm the head when snow and ice are piling on top of more snow and ice, and the glacier is slowly moving into your back yard.

So, I'll share the recipe for my standard chili with you (Plus, Gaz asked, and Gaz is a cool, English bloke who strikes me as someone who needs a good chili recipe because I think chili in England is an oddity).

This is actually a pretty versatile and malleable concoction. For example, you can eat it by the bowl and be perfectly happy with it. Or, have it on a bun. You can also easily adjust the spiciness by either adding more peppers or adding more sugar. You can even add some cream to it to create a real ultra-rich head-scratcher of a bolognese sauce to put on pasta. It also freezes really well.

You will need (sorry Gaz, but my metric skills are too weak. So, you'll have to convert on your own):
  • 3 lbs. of ground chuck
  • 1 slice of bacon (chopped)
  • 1/2 pound Chorizo sausage (casing removed if it's got one)
  • 1 good sized white onion (diced)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or minced)
  • 3 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes (drained)
  • 1 14 oz. can of refried beans (I use refried black beans)
  • 1 can light red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans (drained and rinse these too, duh)
  • 1 7oz. can(s) of green chiles (I use La Victoria)
  • 1 jar of sliced Jalepenos (Optional)
  • 1-2 Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce (sliced)
  • 1/4 Cup of chili powder (Or less. Or more. Or not at all. I use it mostly for color)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried red chile pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. hot paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. of dried cumin
  • 1/2-1 tsp. (or less) dried cayenne pepper
  • several dried red pepper flakes
  • Dash or two or three or four of habanero sauce (or you can use a bit of fresh Habanero. It's optional as this evil bastard is one freakin' hot pepper that tends to dominate a dish and kill all the other flavors)
  • Various other peppers if you've got them lying around if you wish (I don't recommend bell peppers though)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. dried cilantro
  • 2-3 Bay leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Red Wine
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Cocoa (I use Hershey's Dutch processed, but any cocoa powder should work --I've not tried a bar of chocolate yet, but I'm sure I will before too long)
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • B-V Broth (or a beef bullion cube if you can't find B-V)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Juice of half a lemon
I think that's everything in the ingredient department. There are so many options in this list that I can't even think of them all. For example, you can use three pounds of diced sirloin instead of the ground chuck. Or, you can use a combination of any sort of ground beef. Or, you can throw a chuck roast into the food processor and just chop it all to hell on your own (which might actually taste better and bring a better texture).

The peppers are something you can back off of or add more of as you need them. About the only thing that is vital is the can or two of green chiles. You can buy them in varying degrees of hotness. I use the mild because I like to be able to control the heat with other things.

Now, let's get to putting this collection of stuff together into something more edible.

You're gonna need a big stock pot, tub, or cauldron as this recipe makes enough chili to last the winter, and believe me; I've tried to scale this recipe back, but it just doesn't work as well.

Now, before you begin cooking, create a nice mise en place by chopping up your onions and putting them in a bowl (or some other bowl-like container), then peel and chop up the garlic and put that in a different bowl. Trust me on this. You'll find it a lot easier going if you chop and dice things and open cans before you start. You may dirty more dishes, but you won't be frantically spinning, whirling and waving a knife around madly as you're trying to cook.

Thankfully, since this is a chili, don't worry about measuring the dried spices so much since you can get away with eye-balling them straight out of the bottle and add more if you need to as you go along. But, the onions and garlic and chipotles and stuff really should be broken down and cut upahead of time.

Anyway, put a large stock pot on the stove (the pot should be at least six quarts in size), pour in a bit of olive oil, and brown the ground beef.


Stir some more... Break up some of the big chunks if you feel like it.

Stop stirring.

It's okay if there's some pink left in spots.

Once you've achieved sufficient browness (or grayness), dump the ground beef into a colander or strainer that's large enough to hold three pounds of ground meat (if the strainer has big holes that may allow passage of precious meat, put a paper towel in there first).

Now, you're making chili... Try not to nibble too much of the browned meat, by the way. It looks yummy, it smells yummy, and it may even be calling to you from the sink. But, don't give into temptation. Trust me on this. The meat needs something. But, you know, try a taste if you wish.

So, what's inside your stock pot at this point?

There might be a few small bits of ground beef and a thin little varnish of grease and oil. That's good. But, it's not good enough, is it?

Toss in the bacon (hell yeah I put bacon in my chili!) and stir it kind of quickly around to render the beautiful, wonderful, delicious fat from the bacon. If the bacon starts cooking too quickly, remove the pot from the heat and keep stirring.

The point is not to get the bacon crispy. We just want to melt the fat out of it. So, it should not be smoking.

So, keep at it until you've got a nice coating of bacon grease on the bottom of the pot. Mmmm.... bacon...

Now, you can remove the cooked little bits of bacon if you wish at this point. I don't know why you would, but if you feel it's an important thing to do, take them out and eat them. I leave them in though, and they pretty much disappear into the chili and become strange, chewy, little bacon ghosts.

Anyway, now you dump in your boatload of onions, toss in a healthy pinch of salt and sweat the onions down by stirring.

Smells pretty freaking good doesn't it? Nothing beats the smell of bacon and onions cooking together. Seriously ladies. If you want to win a man over and woo him wildly, all you need to do is fill your house with the scent of bacon and onions. It will lead straight to the bedroom. You won't even need to feed the bastard since he'll be completely under your spell by the intoxicating aroma.

Anyway, once the onions are softened and translucent after their sweat (we're not frying things here people), throw in the garlic and stir... stir... stir...

Yeah... Okay. That whole bacon and onion smell was nice, but once you throw garlic on top of it, your head should be spinning and your arm should be stirring.

Add a few pinches or several grinds of black pepper once the garlic is reasonably cooked (usually a few minutes does the trick). then, toss in the chorizo, and break it up as you go along with your constantly stirring ways.

By the way, this is right about the time you should start occasionally using your elbow to stir. Up until now, you should have been able to handle the onions, bacon, and garlic with nothing more than a simple flick of the wrist. But, now that the chorizo is in there, things should be getting a little heavier (and a whole lot yummier).

Now, the chorizo should be turning everything a nice, threatening shade of red, and it should have almost "melted" down into a thickish paste.

Add the green chiles and chipotles and habanero sauce and stir...

If you'd like to add a few jalapeno slices at this point, go ahead. I tend not to use them, but sometimes I do. In fact, if you're using fresh peppers, this would be a good time to add them.

Anyway, what you're looking for at this point is for things to achieve a consistent temperature throughout before adding more things a little at a time, and the chiles should only take a minute or two to get the BTU's back. You might have a lot of steam, and that's good. After all, steam is water, and at this party, water is sort of the dull, silent wallflower just taking up space on the couch instead of playing naked Twister or whatnots.

So, let it steam for a while if you wish, but keep stirring. And remember: Things shouldn't be getting brown or crispy. They should just be getting mushy.

Now, all those dried herbs and spices like the chili powder, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, thyme, and whatever else you've got lying around?

Dump those in. Let's say a tablespoon of everything except the cayenne. Go easy on that stuff at the moment.

Oh, and don't add the bay leaves, brown sugar or cocoa at this time. That's later...

Now, where the hell are we with this?

Oh yes. Once the spices are added and stirred around for a few minutesto get some of the flavor out of them, add the ground meat you've browned (or grayed). It's the stuff sitting in the strainer in your sink making all that noise about getting cold.

Add a drizzle of the B-V (or pitch in the bullion cube),

Don't stop stirring, dammit. What you want to do now is incorporate that vast collection of flavors into the pile o' meat, and you're going to need to use your elbow. So, get to it.

Now, once everything is worked into the meat, and once it gets up to a temperature reasonably close to hot, add the crushed tomatoes and the diced tomatoes.

Stir again...

Dump in maybe a 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of red wine and a good drizzle of the balsamic vinegar. Tomatoes need alcohol to get the very most out of them. And don't worry. Almost all of the alcohol cooks away once it hits its vapor point of (I believe) 110 degrees and steams away.

Yes, the dull, wallflower water is now going home with the drunkest guy at the party! Woohoo!

Add the bay leaves (use two or three if they're small)...

Stir until everything is worked together and bring to a slight boil.

Now, you could taste it at this point, but I warn you; It will taste like absolute crap. Trust me. It's going to be bland and spicy and nothing but a big confusion of flavors that make no sense together. The party has turned into a flash mob of sorts.

So, once you hit a boil, throw a lid on, reduce the heat and leave it alone for about an hour or two (you might want to drop in to stir now and then to keep things from burning to the bottom. And if things do burn to the bottom, scrape it off with your spoon and work it into the chili. It's good stuff so long as it's not TOO burned, but if you come back and stir early and often, you shouldn't have a problem).

After an hour or two, your chili should have taken on a whole new form. Take a taste and adjust the spices as needed. Be delicate about it though since we've still not achieved full Chilidom.

Now, dump in the can of refried beans, increase the heat, and stir until the beans are incorporated and you've reached yet another boil.

Reduce heat to low. Put the lid back on. Leave it alone and stir occasionally while you do other things for another hour or two.

Hey look! An hour's passed. Did you vacuum? I bet the house looks as wonderful as it smells. But, don't forget, you've got a batch of chili on the stove, and now's the time to add the sweet stuff.

Sidle your way up to the cauldron of yummy (You could almost mosey at this point, but I think it's best to keep the moseyin' to a minimum until the chili is finished). Now, it should be looking like a really thick, rich chili. Have a taste and, again, tend to the seasoning (if all else fails, add some more chili powder). You'll notice that the refried beans really do bring something neat to the concoction. They thicken it up (especially once it cools down a bit), and if you use the black beans, you wind up with a nice, deep flavor.

Anyway, at this point, I throw in a handful or two of dark brown sugar (let's say it's about 1/4 cup to a 1/2 a cup), and a 1/4 cup of cocoa (three or four scoops with a soup spoon works). The sugar will dull the teeth of the spices to make the heat less aggressive (but still quite warming), and the cocoa adds a sweet, sweet earthiness.

Now, increase heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, stir... stir... stir..., and put a lid on and leave it alone again. However, now that the sugar is in there, it's important to keep more of an eye on it and stir it a little more often. Sugar likes to burn.

Yes.. yes... Another hour or two has passed, and it's time to pay attention to this neglected little orphan on the stove.

By this point, I'm sure you know the drill. Stir. Taste. Adjust spices (add some cayenne and/or another chipotle if you want more heat). You might need to add more brown sugar. It should have a slight sweet barbecue flavor to it, but it's supposed to be very subtle, and you shouldn't notice it at all until after the heat begins to fade.

Here's the surprising bit.

Don't increase the heat on the stove (unless you really want to. I find that all these consecutive boils do good things to the flavors by breaking down ingredients and whatnots).

All you do now is dump in the kidney beans if you plan to use them (you did remember to strain them and rinse them off, didn't you?), the lemon juice, and the lime juice. Stir (of course). Put the lid on. Let it sit for an hour.

When you come back, you should finally have a batch of good chili. You may need to do a final adjustment of the spices and seasonings before serving, but at this point, it's edible and yummy.

Yeah... I know it's a lot of dorking around and not exactly a low-maintenance dish. It's an all day thing, and it's perfect for those dreary days where the rain or snow is beating down, and the world is just a silent stretch of endless gray.

Personally, if I'm serving this chili, I tend to make it a day ahead of time and let it chill in the fridge overnight. That's when the real magic happens. Next-Day-Chili is always better. The flavors just work things out in the cold depths of the fridge, and it takes on a whole new angle of flavors.

Anyway, I don't know how many of you will make this bucket of madness, but if you do, let me know how it works out for you. It really is a versatile thing, and you can make it as spicy as you please. I've taken a little of the leftover chili and made it crazy spicy by adding extra chipotles and cayenne and whatnots, and it still finishes in the mouth with a nice sweetness. I've also taken a few scoops of the original and sweetened with a little barbecue sauce and ate it like a sloppy joe (or a Made Right to you folks down there in the south). And, as I said, add some cream to a bit of it, and put it on pasta with some parmesan and olive oil, and you get an interesting sauce.

Oh... And it makes a damn good chili dog.

The real trick to making any good chili is to simply taste it often and adjust as needed. A little bit here and a little bit there can really bring a lot over time and get it to where you like it. Just don't be too heavy handed with the spices all at once. Treat it as though you're tuning an old AM radio.



Posted By Dan to The Wisdom of a Distracted Mind at 2/06/2008 05:32:00 AM

1 comment:

  1. Dan, I am not a very good cook but I love my chili. Would like to try to make it but even as a retiree with little or nothing to do I am not sure I would survive the day. Sound like it would feed a group of ten and I do not know that many people I would like to share it with..
    Any chance you can mix up a batch and either invite me for dinner or somehow ship it to me?
    Drinks would be on me but I guess a good beer, or three or four,  would go best with this.
    Have bowl and spoon and will travel. Thanks for sharing this, Bill