Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili (Award-winning!)

Serendipity. This is what happened when Corey, a new faculty member, happened to mention his past experience starting a BBQ club at school, to Mike, a hardcore Q-er. Mike mentioned it to me, and we hatched the idea of doing a smaller test of the idea at school -- a chili cook off at Homecoming.

I talked to a few other fellow foodies, including Kate, whose Amish friendship bread gets a lot of hits on this site, and Julia who's been featured here several times. Before you knew it, we had a full-fledged cook off planned, including a logo, nicknames, and a lot of smack talk among the six contenders.

The good lookin' chili crew with aprons made with a logo designed by Julia, who has been a guest blogger here. Check out her post on galley cooking. Photo credit: Jeorge Yankura.

For my first cook off, I decided to use my new, favorite toy.

Can you guess?

The Big. Green. Egg.

The Big Green Egg at work. For more Big Green Egg recipes, click here.

By cooking my regular multi-chile chili in the Big Green Egg, I added the flavor of mesquite smoke and the memory of many a campfire over which the old cowboys cooked their chili.

I won ... by a mere two votes, and the chilis were all within five votes of each other. Second place went to Corey, who created an intriguing sausage veggie chili with a little maple syrup to act as a counterpoint to the heat of chili powder.

All the chilis were excellent. Kate used TVP to make a vegetarian chili, so that most people didn't know it was meatless. Julia used Mexican cinnamon as her secret ingredient. Desiree created a silky and very appealing texture by browning her meat cubes in flour, like beef stew. Mike, whose cooking mind works very similarly to my own, softened dried chili pods in hot water and then pureed them. He also made use of chilis from Penzey's Spices, of which I'm a big fan.

I like a chili that is deep and flavorful, with layered flavor components. It's taken me years to get my chili where it is now, and I'm sure it will keep evolving. That said, there are certain constants for me in chili:

1) Beef. Maybe I'll get to making other meat chilis, but beef is it for me. Sometimes I cube it. Sometimes I use ground beef. It depends how lazy I'm feeling. Cubed is more authentic but ground beef is definitely more convenient. My friend, Andy Pforzheimer who owns the Barcelona chain (this is a must-try restaurant if you haven't been there), has a friend who uses short ribs as his chili meat.

2) Smoky, deep, rich undertones. I use bacon, Guinness beer, beef broth, coffee, and semisweet chocolate to complement the dried chilis. I don't use all of these ingredients all the time -- it depends on what I have in the pantry -- but I believe these ingredients are why people ask for my chili recipe. If this were music, this chili is definitely in the bass section, no question.

3) Tomatoes and acidic components. If I use ingredients to bring out the smoky flavors of the chili, I firmly believe in the importance of the acidic to provide contrast. I know traditionalists don't use tomatoes, but I do, both diced and crushed, and depending on how the chili is going, I've been known to add Ortega's diced green chilies, Frank's red hot sauce, salsa, Trader Joe's salsa verde or even ketchup to brighten up the chili. Acid is what makes chili 3-dimensional and sassy.

4) A combination of fresh and dried chili peppers and spices. I'm still learning about chili peppers, so this is where it gets fun. I like a medium-spicy chili that has a slow-building, even heat and have been experimenting with different peppers to obtain that.

Before I talk about what I'm doing, I want to say that I believe you can make a perfectly decent chili with the 2-Alarm Chili packets or other packets they sell in the grocery store, if you add the bacon, Guinness beer and chocolate. You also can follow the recipe below and use only chili powder and leave out the other peppers, and you'll turn out a fine chili. However, I like to use a combination of dried and fresh chili peppers in my chili. If I use chili powder, I like to know that it's as fresh as it can be, which is why I buy Penzey's spices in small lots.

In this chili, my foundation is Penzey's regular chili powder, cumin, and oregano. To that, I add diced fresh chilis like poblano, jalapeno, and serrano peppers, which I saute with the onions and garlic. Fresh chilis add a fresh, grassy flavor to the chili, and they are also a little acidic.

I also like to add some chipotle in adobo. These are definitely smoky and rich, and a little goes a long way.

After that, I pick from a growing collection of dried chili peppers in my cabinet -- arbol (spicy, acidic), New Mexico (earthy), guajillo (fruity, piney), cascabel (nutty, tannic) -- and depending on what I'm doing, I'll either soak them in hot water or coffee, puree them, and add them to the chili, or I'll let them cook in the chili whole and pull them out. I always remove the seeds first, for both fresh and dried peppers, so that the chili is not too spicy for my family.

There are so many peppers that it's interesting to try them out and see what happens. I found a list of dried chili pepper descriptions at the Cook's Thesaurus if you want to get an idea of what's out there.

5) No beans. My husband doesn't eat carbs, so there are no beans in my chili. But if I did put beans, they'd be black beans or red pinto beans. I don't like kidney beans.

6) Thickener. I've never used flour, or the more traditional thickener of masa, in my chili, but after having Desiree's chili, I may have to change my mind. Using a starch to thicken the chili liquid creates a smooth, silky texture, and yet another taste sensation. If you can't find masa, I'm sure that taking two corn tortillas, soaking or simmering them in some chili liquor to soften, blending it in a blender, and then adding it back (some or all of it depending on how thick you want the chili), would do the job.

7) Season with salt at each stage and fry the spices.

Those are my thoughts on making a great chili. I should add my chili is never the same. I wrote down what I did today, which is the recipe below, but depending on my mood and what I have in my kitchen, my chili is always different. That said, it must be layered and flavorful, smoky and tangy, rich and memorable.

Chili shown with cubed beef instead of ground beef and with the addition of softened and pureed corn tortillas to thicken it up and get a silky texture.

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili

2 ½-3 lbs. ground beef or beef chuck hand cut into small 3/8"-1/2" chunks
7 slices of bacon, cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 medium onions or 1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves minced
2 tbs. cumin
1 tbs. oregano
4 tbs. chili powder (ideally one like Penzey’s which is ancho chile and new Mexican chile or you can grind your own in a coffee grinder)
Green chiles in small can (e.g, Ortega brand)
1/2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (or more if you dare; you can freeze the rest of the can in spoonful-sized portions for future use)
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 poblano chilis, seeded and diced
1-2 serrano chili, seeded and diced
1 dried cascabel chilis, seeded (optional)
1-2 dried guajillo peppers, seeded (optional)
1 cup coffee (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (put 1/2 a can first and see if it's enough)
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably Rotel)
1 11.2 fl. oz. bottle of Guinness beer
1 tsp beef concentrate or 1 cup beef broth
1 block of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (Baker’s chocolate comes in blocks)
1 can of kidney, red pinto, or black beans (optional)
1 corn tortilla (optional)

Before you start to cook, combine onions, poblano, jalapeno and serrano together. Also, mix the chili powder, cumin, and oregano together in a bowl. Puree the chipotle in adobo with a little water.

Render bacon until crisp in dutch oven; set bacon aside.

Brown meat cubes in bacon fat in batches, setting aside when browned. Salt and pepper meat to season. If using ground beef, brown meat in bacon fat and then drain. Salt and pepper to season. Set aside.

Add some vegetable oil to the dutch oven, and when hot, add onions, poblanos, jalapeno, and serrano peppers and cook until translucent(5 minutes); add garlic for a minute, being careful not to burn it.

Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano mixture to onions and fry for a couple minutes to release flavors.

Add beef to onions and spices. Mix together and cook for a few minutes.

Add the Guiness beer and pureed chipotle in adobo and bring to a simmer. Let cook for five minutes.

Add tomatoes, and beef concentrate or broth. If you have a cascabel chile, add it; if you don’t, don’t worry about it. Stir everything together.

Bring to a simmer and cook for one hour.

While the chili is simmering, simmer the guajillos in hot water or coffee to cover. When the guajillos are soft, puree in blender.

After one hour, add the piece of chocolate. Add guajillo mixture to taste (you want to taste; if your chili is too spicy for you already, then you don't want to add that much). Simmer another hour or until meat is softened. If you’re adding beans, add them 15 minutes before you finish cooking. Pull out cascabel chili before serving.

Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you feel it needs something to brighten it up, you can add a couple tablespoons of salsa and/or a squirt of ketchup. Serve alone, or with rice, nacho chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce.


La Table De Nana said...

What a great post! Of course I spotted you right away!

Our office makes chili every year for the street fair:) It's given away.. we have so many crock pots full and it's all gone so soon!! I think so many people love chili..Congratulations on your Blue Ribbon :) First prize..
It sounds like you have all the components just right..(I need my beans though..I do I do..I just love them)But I bet if I tasted YOURS..I wouldn't miss a bean:)

Cute photos:) Thanks

Amy said...

This is a great post! I love how you broke down the different elements of the recipe - so informative! And I love that there are no beans...down here (Texas) we don't even think about putting beans in our chili! I will definitely be trying this SOON!! Congrats on first place!


Pam said...

That is one fantastic bowl of chili! The color is amazing - great photos.

Sippity Sup said...

Well I see which side you come down on in the great "Beans or No Beans" debate! I love the addition of bacon and chocolate. Kinda like a mole! GREG

Donalyn said...

That looks so delicious - just ordered some chilis from Pnezey's so I will be in good shape to make this!

Anonymous said...

Love to see the BIG GREEN EGG is back into the picture!!

Fran said...

Looks fabulous! I can almost feel the heat when I look at the picture of the bowl of fire-hot looking chili. I'd love to have some right now! :)

Mike said...

How cool is THAT?! First off, congratulations! Chili is one of those things I have struggled with. I love chili, but I have been unsatisfied with the "recipe" I have been using. Although I always use beer (no surprise there, I'm sure) I love the idea of chocolate. Great post!

The Little Teochew said...

Well done and congrats! LOL .. cute post :) Loved the chili, loved that last photo of you!

zurin said...

Wow what a great post Ninette!! I enjoyed reading about all the different chillies out there. We have a few varieties here too but apparently we dont much differentiate between them in as much detail as you do/or as the mexicans do.

I love chillies and often mix fresh and dry too to get the different flavours and textures but never thought of making a chillie beef like yours.

Congrats on teh first prize :)) it must have been a very good dish you cooked there :))

The Woman said...

Congrats! Can see why you won! That chilli looks perfect.

Trissa said...

Hi Ninette
The chili looks fantastic - I am glad you won the cook off! I have never really made chili from scratch - always used a packet - and never had any complaints BUT to make it like you do - wow - that would be fantastic.
By the way, what is that egg? A smoker?

Ninette said...

Hi Trissa, yes, the Big Green Egg is a smoker AND a grill AND a convection oven. The website is www.biggreenegg.com. I love the BGE.

Jules and Ruby said...

love your blog, love the photos, love THE BIG GREEN EGG! i have to make this chili. wish me luck on my choice of chilis.

carolyn t at tastingspoons.com said...

Gee, your chili recipe sounds just great. Haven't made it in a long time. I have all the components (except cascabel chiles) in my pantry and would just have to buy the beef. There's a Penzey's store an hour away, and a friend and I visit it every so often to stock up. Will do so, then I'll have to give this recipe a try.

zom said...

This is my favorite kind of recipe: flexibility all over the place. Your prize-winner got a big gold star at my house. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Looks like one heck of a recipe! I'm a bean person too, and would be inclined to experiment with different kinds of chili pepper and spices. After all, isn't that how one "personalizes" their chili? :^)

Anonymous said...

Have used your tricks on my chili for the last year and it never disappoints. Thanks for sharing what clearly took a lot of time to perfect!

Anonymous said...

We loved this recipe! It won first of four in our office chili cook-off. Thanks for the great post!!

Meghan said...

Excited to try your recipe! Quick question - i don't see where you use the Green Chiles?

Anonymous said...

How much does this make, i.e., qts?

Ninette said...

Hi, so sorry for the delayed reply. I don't really blog anymore. I would guess around 3-4 quarts.