Chili is one of those dishes that can incite some passionate arguments, because when it comes to opinions on what should/shouldn’t be in a chili recipe, like ass holes, everybody has one (as the saying goes). Should it include beans? Meat? Tomato? Pasta (the answer to that, of course, is no and I don’t care where you come from 😉 )? These are life or death decisions in the chili world. So given that, here’s my take on a good and hearty bowl of chili.
While this chili has a lot of familiar flavors, it does nonetheless include one very special ingredient. I’ve been hanging on to this item for a few weeks now, keeping it near and dear until the right dish came along and beckoned for it as I only had one handy. See, if I like anything in my chili, its some punch–chili is a dish that simply should (must!) have some heat to it. I’ve grown my own peppers for a while, and those were nice and all, but that’s just the everyday kind of heat. This is really special.
My special ingredient–one which I have simply been too afraid to even handle in the past few weeks I have had it in my possession–is not just any pepper, but the (drum roll, please) naga jolokia, also known as the hottest kind of pepper in the world. I received this as a home-grown and home-dried gift, both for consumption and for the seeds so I can get my own plant going (hence my reason for entering this post in this month’s Grow Your Own hosted by Andrea’s Recipes). Given the many uncomfortable slip-ups I’ve made with lesser peppers in the past (habanerno in the eye, etc), I was extra careful with this one…after I sampled one of the ribs, of course (hey, I had to know what I was working with, right?).
I tried to get a picture for you, loyal reader, which I suppose we could call “the after shot” before I scrambled for a drink. If I had to describe the flavor of this pepper, it would be a slowly growing, building, full heat that takes about 30 seconds or so to reach its peak, and then get comfortable, because it will be awhile before it leaves. It was really nice, in a masochistic kind of way. Obviously, this is one of those ingredients that may not appeal to everybody, but I haven’t the faintest idea why. 😉
So anyways, on to the chili! The final result was delicious. Not screaming hot, but having sampled the naga before cooking, I could very clearly identify its heat and its contribution to the dish–ever present, ever building, and everywhere in your mouth. The beef was very juicy and tender, the beans firm, and the sauce very full bodied, sweet, dark, smoky, and really complex in a very seductive, chili sort of way. Everybody sat down, kind of so-so about having just a bowl of chili for dinner, but their faces lit right up on the first mouthful. This was really flavorful and my only regret was not making a bigger batch (why does good food always disappear the fastest? 😮 ).
- 1/4 lb thick cut bacon (5 or so slices of thick cut bacon)
- ~2.5 lb chuck roast (do not use ground beef)
- 2 shallots
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 stalks celery
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 1 bottle of dark/stout beer (I used a bottle of Guinness)
- 2 Tbsp good bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 dried naga jolokia pepper (I was being cautious–next time, I’d use a whole pepper)
- 3 dried red chilis (Indian, not sure of the proper name)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 poblano peppers
- 3 jalapeño peppers
- 1/4 tsp adobo sauce
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- can of kidney beans, drained
- 1 tsp brown sugar
So in the name of safety, the first thing I wanted to do was to deal with that hot pepper so that I could focus and be sure not to slip up in some stupid way with it later. I was careful to never directly touch the pepper–if you have gloves, use them (or at least napkins/paper towels). I slit the pepper in half (saving the other half for a future dish) and then toasted it in a hot, dry pan for about 3-5 minutes or so (be sure you have a vent on–it will smell good but could be quite irritating to your eyes and nose). If you have any other dried peppers you plan on using in this as well (I also had a few Indian chilis, wish I had some other varieties handy as well), deal with them in the same fashion now as well. The more, the merrier! Chili is about chilis, right?
The next step is grind this thing down so you can incorporate it into the chili later. If you have a small spice grinder, you’d powder it using that, but I have a food processor so it won’t grind it quite as finely (not that it bothers me at all). Also, I wanted to avoid any dried hot pepper powder going airborne (as should you!), so I poured in some of the beer before I started pulsing the food processor. Keep this going a few times to try to chop it up to small flakes/powder form and slosh it out of the food processor and into a bowl using the beer, not your bare hands. This is also a good time to open a second beer for yourself. Try to remember which is which. 😉
Prepare all of the fresh vegetables up front to make life easier. Finely dice the shallot, celery, and garlic. Also, dice the fresh peppers up finely.
Now, for the item that sprinkles magical fairy dust on any dish: bacon. In a large dutch oven (this is where the chili will be cooked), get it to medium-high heat and cook the strips of bacon until done (depends on thickness, figure somewhere in the very rough neighborhood of no more than 10 minutes). Once the bacon is done, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside (later, when it has cooled off and you get a chance, dice it up into small bits). All of that wonderful grease it left behind is what we’ll be using for oil, so don’t you dare dump it down the drain!
While you’re waiting for the bacon to finish cooking, cube the slab of beef into roughly 1/2 inch chunks. Season the pieces a bit with salt, pepper, and cumin, rubbing it well onto all sides. Once the bacon is out and the grease is still hot, brown the beef.
You want to brown the beef in batches. The idea is to get some color on it and some flavor on the outside without cooking it all the way through–crowding will only result in steaming the beef, which is not what you want. So figure three or four batches will do. If the bacon grease runs out, add in a dab of canola oil as necessary–I never needed to, but not all pieces of bacon are created equal.
As you finish with the beef, set it aside for later.
Now, we need to sauté the vegetables. Ideally, you still have hot bacon grease, but if not, add some oil. Sauté the shallot for about 3 minutes, then add the celery for about 4 minutes, the garlic for about a minute, and finally, all of the remaining fresh peppers for about for 5 minutes or so. Do your best not to crowd and work in batches if you see fit.
Now, go for the pepper-spiked beer and pour it in, deglazing all of the browned bits off of the bottom of the pot. Let this warm up for a few minutes before you stir in the chocolate, keeping it moving as it melts down so it doesn’t just burn on the bottom.
Now, add in all the remaining dry spices (oregano, cumin, Bay leaves, chili powders, etc), adobo, beef, chopped bacon from earlier, and tomatoes (crush them in your hands as you add them in). Let this simmer uncovered for about 15-20 minutes so everybody can introduce themselves.
Once time is up, drop the heat to low, cover, and let this simmer gently for an hour.
Once time is up, pop off the cover and sample your creation. Tweak the spices as you see fit–want more heat? Add more chili powder. I found my chili was a bit too acidic, so I added brown sugar (maple syrup would also work as a complex sweetener). Stir it in, commit to your changes, and cover again, leaving this to continue simmering on low for yet another hour. Good things come to those who wait.
About 10 minutes before you expect the chili to be done, gently mix in the beans (either soaked from the night before or fresh out of the can, I won’t tell). This way, they get to simmer, heat up, and catch some of the flavor without becoming mush.
Finally, the moment is here: the beef is tender, the flavors united as one, and your stomach rumbling–yes, the chili is done. So bring a bowl and your appetite, shred some cheddar on top, and finish it off with dollop of sour cream. About an hour before this while I waited for the chili to finish simmering, I baked some cornbread muffins to serve on the side.