Who cares? I find it funny that anyone would try to be a “purist” about a food originated by cowboys and prison cooks. We’re a little late in the game to be claiming that any one recipe is the genuine article. Now that I’ve said that, I’ll say that chili is not meant to be a showcase for bison or kobe beef or arugula. Chili is cheap, filling, and full of spicy goodness. It’s a stew for cheap cuts of meat that fall apart into delicious threads of flavor run through with spice. To me, chili is a quintessential comfort food. It’s an anti-fancy dish that stands athwart the bulwarks of haute-cusine yelling Stop.
My chili is always a little different each time I make it, depending on what I have on hand, but it’s something that I make at least once every fall (along with borscht, but we’ll come to that later). Without further ado:
Summer’s End Chili
(author’s original recipe)
- 2lbs dry beans (I usually use red, kidney or pinto)
- 4lbs beef (any tough stewing cut will work- chuck, blade or rump roasts are good)
- 4 strips fatty bacon
- 1tbsp cumin
- 4tbsp whole wheat flour
- 1tbsp butter
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 1 smoked pork shank
- 32oz crushed tomatoes in juice (or 2 pounds fresh chopped stew tomatoes such as Romas)
- 24oz beer (any malty beer will work- here I used Spaten Octoberfest)
- 8oz beef broth
- 4 each dried Ancho and New Mexico chilies
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1tbsp cider vinegar
- 1tbsp olive oil
- 1tbsp oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain soak water. If you’re making chili today, not tomorrow, bring beans to a brisk boil, remove from heat and cover. They’ll be ready in 2 or 3 hours. Beans expand to roughly double their size during soaking. Break the stems and cores out of the dried chilies, reserving the seeds if you like the spice. Put the chilies in a bowl and cover with hot water.
Cut the beef into 1/4inch strips across the grain of the meat, then cut crosswise into bite-sized pieces. Pan-fry the bacon over medium heat until the fat renders. Remove the bacon, breaking it into bite-size pieces. Add the beef to the pan in batches, seasoning with the cumin. Sprinkle with flour and fry each batch until browned before adding to an 8qt stock pot.
Add the butter to the pan and saute the onions over medium heat until they begin to soften (about 5 minutes). Add to pot. I didn’t have chipotle adobo peppers on hand, so I used a smoked pork shank to add a smoky background to the heat of the chili. If I’d had one to spare, I would have used a rauchbier instead of the Octoberfest.
If using canned tomatoes, pour off the juice into the pot and chop the tomato flesh coarsely. Add the tomatoes and beans to the pot, and pour the beer and broth over the top. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are tender and just starting to fall apart (about 2-3 hours).
Meanwhile, drain the water the chilies soaked in and chop them coarsely. Chop the garlic, and add along with chilies to a food processor. Add vinegar and olive oil. Process until finely blended, adding chili seeds if reserved. Add puree to the pot while it simmers. You don’t have to do this all at once- if you’re concerned about heat, then add the puree slowly, tasting between additions. Add the oregano. Just before serving the chili, taste it and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Serve with grated chedder cheese, chopped avocado, minced cilantro, green onion and sour cream. This chili is even better the second day, so we made enough for three dinners. Serves 8-10 if you have to eat it all at once.