Dec 1st, 2010 by Gemma

Chili is a dish best made when the weather is.. well, chilly. The weather has turned and we’re snuggling under a blanket, it’s the perfect time of the year.

A while back we had been wanting to find a good, tried and true chili recipe… a full-bore, proper chili that didn’t use chili powder or canned chili sauce.  The kind of recipe that’s handed down from person to person, not found on the web (though the irony that I’m now putting it on the internet is not lost on me).

We finally got one.

A friend had been boasting about his chili, and how his wife had this dynamite chili sauce that was made from scratch, and well, that sounded about right to us.  The problem was that they hadn’t written anything down, they just made it “by feel”.  When we asked for the recipe, he used it as a good excuse to make a batch of chili and take down notes.  Those notes ended up in our inbox and we cobbled together a more formal recipe from what he sent and promptly went shopping.

Armed with this recipe we set to putting it all together, starting with the chili sauce.  The sauce is simple, and flavorful, consisting of sauteed onions, dried peppers and broth simmered for the better part of an hour, then blended to within an inch of its life then strained.  It’s thick, dark and powerful stuff… precisely as it should be.  This is the key to a good chili — this is the make or break part.

I like to get my onions nice and caramelised, the dried peppers are easily available at the supermarket (and if you have a Mexican store near you they’ll be considerably cheaper). The cascabel and ancho are integral to the flavour, if you like your chili hot (this is a half alarm) then you can either leave all the pepper seeds in to boost it a bit, or substitute hotter chillies in the “Optional Additional Peppers” section (habaneros or scotch bonnets perhaps?).  We used fresh jalapeños, half of them with the seeds intact to get the mild heat we like.  Finding the right balance of other peppers is possibly going to take you some experimentation.

The second part, the actual chili, is straightforward as well.  Cubed stew meat, after being browned off, is combined with sautéed onions and garlic, seasonings and some broth, then allowed to simmer until tender.  The rest of the ingredients are added, as is the chili sauce.  Adjust the seasonings and heat to suit your tastes, then cut the heat to low and abandon all hopes of eating it for at least 5 or 6 hours.  Allow the whole melange to simmer slowly and thicken up, further tenderizing the meat and letting all those flavours co-mingle and mature.

If you’re not going to let it simmer for as long (shame on you!) then add less liquid, it starts off pretty thin and watery, the simmering for 6 hours gives a thick rich sauce. Really, unless it’s a life or death situation let it go 6 hours or more, your patience will be rewarded.

Chili Sauce:
4 C water
3 TBS chicken/beef bullion powder or cubes
½ onion (chopped)
8 dried cascabel chili peppers (seeded & rinsed – save the seeds)
8 dried ancho chili peppers (seeded & rinsed – save the seeds)

Optional Additional Peppers (choose one):
4 dried japones chili peppers (seeded & rinsed – save the seeds) – commonly used in Chinese dishes
4 jalapeño chili peppers – fresh or dried (whole, seeds and all)

1 TBS oil
1 onion (chopped)
8-10 cloves garlic (minced)
2 LB cubed stew meat
¼ TSP ground cumin
16 OZ diced tomatoes (if using canned, get the “no sodium added” variety)
32 OZ cooked kidney/pinto/whatever beans (optional)
Salt & pepper (to taste)

Good chili is a slow process — don’t rush it, the ingredients will build upon each other. Let it simmer low and slow all day, and you’ll be glad you did.

Beans are optional, if not using beans you’ll use more water or broth, and you’ll want to substitute more meat in place of the beans. Pre-cook pinto or kidney beans (or used canned) and go sparingly on the salt and other seasonings — less is more in this case, usually salt, pepper and onions. Cook till tender. Drain freshly cooked beans and save the water, this will be used later. If using canned beans, drain and discard the water.

Sauté the onions for the Chili Sauce, then combine the remaining Chili Sauce and Optional Additional Pepper ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer until the chilies become tender (approximately 30 to 45 minutes). Transfer to a blender or Cuisinart and puree until smooth and saucy. Strain to get the pepper skin pieces out. Set aside.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until clear. Add the meat and brown, adding a pinch of salt and pepper during cooking. Add water, enough to just cover the meat. Add the cumin. Cook until the meat is tender, maintaining the water level to just above — approximately 1 to 1½ hours depending on the cut of meat you use.

Once the meat is tender add the Chili Sauce, drained beans (if using), and diced tomatoes. Add juice from beans to desired consistency, substituting chicken or beef broth if the beans are omitted (approximately 1½ C). Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium and simmer. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper as desired (approximately ½ TSP of each). If you want to add more pepper spice, add the saved seeds to taste. These will add heat quickly, so add a little at a time, boil for 10 minutes and taste again, repeating as necessary (start with 3 big pinches of seeds). Check the consistency of the chili, it should be slightly thinner than what you are aiming for, add broth as necessary.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 30 minutes. The chili will be ready to serve at this point, however the longer and slower you cook it, the better it will become. Reduce heat to very low and cook this for several hours, stirring frequently. 6 hours of slow cooking makes a thick, hearty, flavorful chili.

Makes between 3 and 3½ quarts (we usually make at least 2 times this in one go).


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