Chili, arguably, is like the flu. Most everyone has had it and not everyone has had the same version. Also, just like the flu, there are some incarnations you can handle and others that just, well...make you vomit. There is a simple solution to this epidemic of bad chili; Chili to Cry Over. Before we get into it, let me say right now: THERE WILL BE NO BEANS IN THIS CHILI. Good chili is actually a stew that originates with the cattlemen of the southwestern United States. In the interest of remaining authentic, and delicious, we're going to stick to what cowpokes have known for 200 years. Although we'll be staying true to the tradition, there is room for improvisation, as is reflected in the ingredient list.
- Get your ingredients and equipment ready: The French idea of mise en place (setting in place) is essential to all forms of cooking. It's much easier to succeed in the kitchen if you can focus on the task at hand rather than searching around for measuring cups and missing ingredients. Get everything set before you even turn the stove on.
3 lbs. stew beef, fatty pork, stew lamb, or a combination, patted dry (I suggest 1 lb. of each).
1 large (28 ounce) can stewed, crushed or whole tomatoes, drained.
1 large onion, chopped.
4-10 cloves minced garlic, depending on taste.
1 12-ounce bottle of lager or ale (Pick one you would drink. No light beers, porters or stouts.)
2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil.
2 teaspoons salt.
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped (from a can, sometimes hard to find).
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the can of chipotle peppers.
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste, depending on taste.
2 tablespoons chili powder.
2-3 teaspoons ground cumin.
About 1/2 to 1 cup masa or 3 handfuls of tortilla chips, crushed.
Large dutch oven, preferably cast iron.
- Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
- Combine the salt, chipotles, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin in a small dish. Mix it good and form a paste. This is the "spice mixture."
- Heat the dutch oven over medium high heat, adding the oil when you notice the pot is getting hot.
- When the oil starts to shimmer and just barely smoke, add the meat in small batches (patted dry and seasoned with a little pepper if you like). Just brown the meat. You're not cooking it all the way, just searing the outsides. It is important that you cook the meat in batches so you don't crowd the pan, only doing a third at a time. Too much meat at once drops the temperature, reduces the surface area that the food has to cook on, and limits the effects of the hot air circulating inside the pan.
- Remove the meat and set aside in a bowl, so you don't lose any of those yummy juices!
- Drop the heat to low or medium low. Add the onions and begin to sweat them. We are not sautéing, so if you hear sizzling or see the onions getting any color, turn the heat down. Continue to cook until the onions are translucent and soft, anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
- Add the garlic. Turn the heat up to medium or medium high and briefly sauté, just until everything starts to sizzle.
- Add the "spice mixture" and sauté until fragrant, no more than 1 minute.
- Quickly add the beer. Let it cook until the foam from the beer subsides
- Add the can of tomatoes, drained, to the pot.
- Add the meat and the masa. Stir to combine.
- Cover and place in the oven for no less than 1 hour.
You can vary the amount of cumin, chipotle pepper, and adobo to accommodate your heat requirements. The longer you keep the chili in the oven, the more tender the meat will become. I like to let it go for at least 1.5 and sometimes as long as 2 hours. If you find that you hit the 2-hour mark, turn the heat down to about 250 degrees. Any longer than 3 hours is overkill. After the first hour, and every half hour afterwards, check the chili for thickness. If it seems too thin for your taste, add some more masa or corn chips. If it seems too thick, crack open another beer and pour about a third of it in...then drink the rest, because you've earned it!