Saturday, October 8, 2011

Smokey, Spicy Chili

Having an intolerance for tomatoes can be pretty limiting at meal times, especially when you're growing up in a Maltese household. No lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, or spaghetti with marinara sauce for me. My mom had to be creative in order to keep me well-fed, so whenever our family was enjoying something with tomatoes, she made me a smaller version of the dish that had none. Lasagna with white sauce, manicotti with mozzarella cheese, and spaghetti with butter and parmesan were all regular substitutes for the authentic tomato-filled dishes. Unfortunately for me, not all foods easily translate into a non-tomato version.

I used to think chili was one of those foods until my freshman year of college, when I saw an episode of Martha Stewart Living that featured a Texas-style chili. I was intrigued -- this chili had no tomatoes and no beans. I followed the recipe and was fairly pleased with my bowl of Texas-style chili. Somewhere in the back of my mind though, I couldn't help but think it was nothing more than a bowl of spicy ground beef. It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't a recipe I was excited to make again. But the idea of a tomato-less chili did excite me... so I decided not to give up on it.

Over the years I have researched and tried a myriad of Texas-style chili recipes until I understood the basic premise of how to make a good pot of chili without tomatoes -- one that is thick and spicy and has the ability to warm you from the inside out. At some point I stopped looking at recipes and started improvising. As a result, the chili that I make now is entirely my own in every regard. It's a source of pride, since it was the first recipe I created through improvisation. Around three or four years ago, I decided to break Texan tradition and put beans into the chili in order to add some bulk and nutrition to it. I use navy beans because I love their small size and mild taste; plus they really take on the spicy and smokey flavors that surround them.

Now that the fall air is crisp, and Starbucks is selling their pumpkin spice lattes, and college football is taking over my television on Saturday, I know it's time for a piping hot bowl of my smokey, spicy chili. Warming and delicious, this chili is just what I crave on a chilly autumn afternoon.

Smokey, Spicy Chili

A Few Notes on Spiciness: My chili has a nice spicy heat that lingers on the back of your tongue, but it certainly won't win any competitions for being ultra hot -- this is not a 911-chili recipe. If you like that extra hot flavor, add more hot chili paste or cayenne pepper to achieve it. I've tried many different methods to spice up my chili and they all seem to work well. One of my favorites is a concentrated hot chili paste that comes in a convenient resealable tube, but unfortunately, my local grocer has stopped carrying it in the past year. If you can find it at your grocery store, try it! I've also used Serrano chiles, seeded and blended in a food processor, which is a very nice addition to the chili. This time, I tried cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce since that is what I had on hand, and it worked very well too. In fact, I didn't really notice a difference in terms of the heat of the chili. Finally, feel free to reduce or even eliminate the "spicy factor" [concentrated chili paste or cayenne pepper + Tabasco] when making your chili if you can't handle spicy foods or are cooking for children. The chili powder alone will give a mild heat, but nothing that is too hot to handle.

Serves 6-8, depending on serving size

16 ounces dried navy beans
8 strips thick sliced bacon
olive oil
2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
3 large shallots, minced; or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 tablespoons concentrated hot chili paste; or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and several shakes of Tabasco sauce
2 bottles of beer, recommended Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
1 quart of beef broth

The night before you want to make the chili, wash and sort the navy beans in a colander, removing any oddly shaped or discolored beans. Put the rinsed beans in a large pot and cover with water completely; let the beans soak overnight.

The next day, drain the soaked beans and rinse them again. Put the beans into a large pot and cover with fresh water; add one slice of bacon. Cook the beans over medium-medium high heat, maintaining a simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until they are cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat a large dutch oven (or any large, heavy bottomed pot that holds at least 5 quarts) over medium heat. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of the pot. Cut the remaining bacon strips into lardons, by slicing each strip in half down its length. Then proceed to cut the skinny bacon strips into small rectangles. Once you have your lardons, place them in the hot oil. Stir the lardons occasionally, to ensure they brown evenly. Once brown and crispy, remove the lardons with a slotted spoon to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.

Brown the ground beef in the bacon grease. While the beef is cooking, place a fine mesh strainer or colander in a large bowl in order to catch the bacon and beef drippings. Once the beef is cooked through, drain the beef. Remove 5 tablespoons of the drippings from the bowl and discard the rest of the fat.

Return the reserved drippings back into the dutch oven, and saute the minced shallots until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the flour, stirring quickly to make a roux. Cook for the roux another 30-60 seconds, stirring constantly to prevent it from clumping. Add the ground beef and bacon back into pot and stir into the roux. Then add all the spices. Stir well to coat evenly. Add hot chili paste or Tabasco and cayenne pepper. Stir well. Slowly add both bottles of beer; then slowly add the beef broth. Reduce heat to low and allow the chili to come to a simmer.

Once navy beans have finished cooking, drain them from their cooking liquid and discard the simmered bacon slice. Stir the cooked navy beans into the chili. Allow the chili to simmer for 1 to 2 hours covered, but with the lid left slightly ajar so that steam can escape. Stir occasionally as it simmers, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks to it. Add more liquid [beer, beef broth, or water] if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Serving suggestions: top with cheddar cheese, and serve with tortilla chips, cornbread, or biscuits.

1 comment:

  1. I remember eating your Chili many times and going back for seconds, thirds..delicious. Like how you added both the anhco & chipotle chili powder.