The best chilli con carne with two kinds of beans, minced beef, tinned tomatoes and judicious seasoning, to end all the chilli disputes. For me, at least.
Chilli, chili or chile?
Chilli con carne is one hell of a contentious dish. Before we even delve into the dish itself, what about the spelling? Is it a single ‘l’ or double, and what about ‘chile’?
That question is at least easy to answer. Brits go with chilli, Americans cut one ‘l’ out. ‘Chile’ is the spelling in Spanish-influenced English, i.e. in southern US or as referring to dried chilli (‘chile’) powder.
I stick with ‘chilli’, not least because it bulks out my content. A little bit.
Spelling sorted, it turns out the name ‘chilli con carne’ is wrong: purists call it just chilli.
But then there’s the provenience of the dish. You’d think it was a no brainer: a flagship Mexican dish, no? No, say the Texans: it’s a true Texan dish, not even Tex-Mex.
And then of course the battle of ingredients begins: beans or no beans? I know, I thought the same: no beans, no kidding? What is it, a freaking Bolognese sauce? But apparently there are recipes for chilli without beans and yet still called chilli, as long they contain some anchos or poblanos.
If beans you add, what beans: white or red or kidney, pinto or punto (I’m kid-ney-ing).
Should the meat be ground or diced (so now it’s a stew)? Are fresh tomatoes to be used, tomato purée or no tomatoes at all? Smoked paprika? Coriander, or should we say cilantro? The issues are positively endless.
It seems the simplest dishes, of the ‘dump and go’ kind attract the most controversies; viz. the Bolognese ragu and wine argument. I guess cassoulet and maybe even bigos also have the potential to cause enormous arguments.
I cook it my way
Well, you know what I say: if it’s tasty, it’s right. And this chilli recipe makes for a mighty tasty dish.
I use two kinds of beans: dried haricot, soaked and cooked from scratch as well as tinned red beans added at the end of the cooking process.
I use beef even though I hear pork mixed in is acceptable. I add tinned tomatoes because without them it doesn’t taste right to me.
And I add a little cocoa powder that some absolutely swear by and hey, it works for me too.
The main problem from my point of view is not what beans to use, and whether to add the chillies raw or pound them to a paste.
My biggest gripe with chilli con carne is that it is so hopelessly unattractive to photograph.
So guess what: don’t look. Just cook it and devour in ecstasy.
How to cook good chilli?
Yes, you can use tinned beans but I like to get the best of both worlds and use dried white beans, soaked overnight, as well as red kidney beans from a tin.
I like to fry the minced beef before adding it in – there’s something not quite right about plonking raw mince into a pot without browning it. Frying also serves to separate the mince, so you don’t end up with a lump of a meatball in the middle of your chilli.
The sauce base is onions, garlic and red bell pepper. That softened, tinned tomatoes are added, all the spices and seasonings, the dried-soaked beans and the meat.
And that’s active cooking almost finished: chilli is left to its own, simmering devices for at least three hours.
After the first hour you can add the tinned beans, if using them. At that point also the chilliness of the chilli needs to be checked and adjusted, if necessary.
Monitor the liquid too, making sure the chilli isn’t catching at the bottom of the pot but it isn’t a soup either.
Salt should be added only when the beans are completely tender to your liking. And chopped coriander doesn’t want to simmer for hours either, so stir it in at the very end.
What to serve with chilli?
The classic way is to ladle chilli over rice and top with soured cream. I like it with warm tortillas as well but then I like warm tortillas with anything in the world.
Plus there are nachos, and baked potatoes that can be topped with chilli. And if you have never had it with a heel of fresh warm bread, you might be in for a nice surprise.
Finally, a tip. Double everything up and cook the chilli in a huge vat. Divided into portions, it will make the nicest freezer discovery dinners.
More Mexican recipes
Spicy Mexican rice is cooked like pilaf, frying the rice in oil first to brown then cooking it in stock with a lid on. This recipe, restaurant-style Mexican rice, doesn’t use a rice cooker, just a pan with a well-fitting lid.
Corn tortilla chip nachos with easy homemade beef chilli, sweetcorn and cheese. Homemade nachos are the perfect recipe for a crowd-pleasing supper or snack.
Quick pickled jalapeno peppers, crunchy and sweet and hot. The best pickled jalapenos are homemade, and these are ready within about an hour. Make sure you wear gloves when preparing them!