THE BIG GAME DESERVES SOMETHING WITH BIG FLAVOR
Chili devotees—especially the serious enthusiasts who compete on the cook-off circuit—are an opinionated, even cheerily belligerent bunch. Each cook will swear that the only chili worth eating is his or her own.
There’s broad agreement about how to define this dish—slow-cooked meat redolent of chiles and spices, all bound in an unctuous sauce. But how you get there is a matter of serious debate. The key, any chili master will tell you, lies in the all-powerful “secret ingredients.”
These proprietary add-ins fall into five categories: cooking liquids, complexity builders, sweeteners (to balance the heat), meat enhancers, and thickeners. Recipes on the Internet, which is where most serious chili recipes seem to live, include everything from prunes, anchovies, shiitake mushrooms, Marmite, soy sauce, boullion cubes, cinnamon, chocolate, molasses, and peanut butter to beer, red wine, coffee, and cola.
Surprisingly, there’s also plenty of debate on the core ingredients. Beef is a must but should it be ground or cubed? (We think the latter.) Pinto beans are controversial (we include them) as are tomatoes (their acidity is key in our opinion). Most sources agree that onion, garlic, and chiles belong, but with so many fresh, dried, and ground chiles available the combinations are nearly endless.
Our version relies on three chiles (two dried, one fresh) and three secret ingredients—molasses, cocoa powder, and cornmeal. Before you claim that your chili is the best, please taste our recipe. If you like our chili, feel free to claim it as your own at the next game day party. Even if your team loses, this chili will make you a winner—at least when it comes to bragging rights.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Upgrade the Meat
This dish is best with meaty chunks that remain tender even with prolonged cooking. That means choosing a cut with a fair amount of fat—and flavor. Blade steak is a well-marbled shoulder cut that doesn’t require much trimming.
Brine the Beans
Soaking beans in salt water before cooking seasons them throughout and helps them remain creamy. And the timing works out perfectly: By the time the beans quick-brine in an hour, the rest of the chili is ready to go.
Seed, Toast, and Puree
For complex chile flavor, grind your own powder. Dried ancho chiles add warm spice and toasting them develops their flavor. De árbol chiles bring the hot spice and fresh jalapeños add grassy heat. Remove their seeds and ribs to control the chile heat. Oregano, cumin, cocoa, and salt round out our homemade chili powder.
Several other ingredients work to balance the flavors in this chili. A small amount of cornmeal, ground with the chiles, adds great body to the sauce and the right level of thickness. Unsweetened cocoa powder adds warm deep flavor and complexity—not sweetness—to the chili. The mild sweetness of molasses tempers the heat of the chiles and the acid of the tomatoes.
Simmer in the Oven
Chili starts on the stovetop—you must brown the beef and sauté the onions, garlic, and chiles. To speed up the process, separate these operations—using a skillet to brown the beef and cooking the vegetables in the pot that will be used to make the chili. Deglazing the skillet with beer after the beef is browned loosens the fond so its flavor can be added to the chili. Once everything is in the pot, move it to the oven. The all-around heat of the oven ensures even cooking and means no stirring is necessary.
Great chili starts by salting the beef and making homemade chili powder.
Ultimate Beef Chili
SERVES 6 TO 8
- 1 hour to quick-brine dried pinto beans (toast chiles, make chile paste, and brown vegetables and beef during this time)
- 1½ to 2 hours to cook chili in oven
- 10 minutes to let chili stand uncovered before serving
- 2 large pots, one for brining beans and one for making chili (If you have just one large pot, you can transfer the beans and boiling water to a large bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.)
- 12-inch skillet for toasting chiles and browning beef
- Food processor for grinding chile paste
Substitutions & Variations
- Blade steak is also known as top blade steak or flat-iron steak. Be sure to remove the line of gristle that runs lengthwise down the center before cutting steaks into pieces. A 4-pound chuck-eye roast, well trimmed of fat, can be substituted for the steak.
- Dried New Mexican or guajillo chiles make a good substitute for the anchos; each dried de árbol may be replaced with ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper.
- If you prefer not to work with any whole dried chiles, the anchos and de árbols can be replaced with ½ cup commercial chili powder and ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, though the texture of the chili will be slightly compromised.
Because much of the chili flavor is held in the fat of this dish, refrain from skimming fat from the surface. Good choices for condiments include diced avocado, finely chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese.
- 8 ounces (1¼ cups) dried pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
- 6 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1-inch pieces
- 2–4 dried de árbol chiles, stemmed, seeded, and split in 2 pieces
- 3 tablespoons cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2½ cups chicken broth
- 2 onions, cut into ¾-inch pieces
- 3 small jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons molasses
- 3½ pounds blade steak, ¾ inch thick, trimmed and cut into ¾-inch pieces
- 1½ cups mild lager, such as Budweiser
- Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water, and beans in Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse well.
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Toast anchos in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to food processor and let cool. Do not wash out skillet.
- Add de árbols, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and ½ teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted anchos; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, slowly add ½ cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to small bowl. Place onions in now-empty processor and pulse until roughly chopped, about 4 pulses. Add jalapeños and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about 4 pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chile paste, tomatoes and their juice, and molasses; stir until chile paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2 cups broth and drained beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven. Add half of beer to skillet, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan, and bring to simmer. Transfer beer to Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining steak, and remaining beer. Stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.
- Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat and beans are fully tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Let chili stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir well, season with salt to taste, and serve. (Chili can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)
A Better Way to Make Chili Powder
Store-bought chili powder is OK, but it can taste dull and give chili a gritty feel (because the stems and seeds are not separated out). Grinding your own powder from freshly toasted dried chiles is easy and makes a big flavor difference. You can toast chiles on the stovetop or the oven.
1). STOVETOP : Snap off and discard stems. Open chiles and brush out seeds. Tear chiles into small pieces.
2). Toast chiles in large skillet (no oil needed) over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not let chiles smoke or burn.
3). OVEN : If you prefer, toast whole chiles on rimmed baking sheet in 350-degree oven until fragrant and puffed, about 6 minutes. When cool, snap off stems, remove seeds, and tear into small pieces.
4). Process chile pieces with other ingredients (such as oregano, cumin, garlic, and salt) in food processor until finely ground, 2 minutes. (Note: If you want to store chili powder, use dry ingredients only and replace garlic with garlic powder.) If you prefer, grind dried chiles alone in spice grinder to make 100 percent pure chile powder.
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