chili con carne
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This is one hell of a contentious dish. First off, the name is wrong: purists call it just chili. Second, the provenience. You’d think it’s 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 begins about what goes into it: beans or no beans? I know, I thought the same: no beans, no kidding??? That’s going to be a bloody Bolognese? But apparently you can cook chili without beans and probably still call it that, as long as you throw some anchos or poblanos in.
If beans, what beans: white or red or black, pinto or punto (I’m kid-ney-ing). Meat ground or diced (YES it will be a stew). Tomatoes or puree or none at all? Smoked paprika? Coriander, or should we say cilantro? Issues are positively endless. It seems the simplest dishes, the ‘throw everything in and go’ dishes attract the most controversies; viz. the Bolognese ragu and wine argument. I guess cassoulet and probably even bigos have the propensity to cause enormous arguments.
Well, you know what I say: if it’s tasty, it’s right. And this chili is damn mighty tasty. I went for two kinds of beans, one type dried, soaked and cooked from the start; the other tinned, red, thrown in at the end – best of both worlds. I used beef but purely because that was what I had but I hear pork mixed in is acceptable. I added tinned tomatoes, for the pleasure of smelling ripe, albeit canned, toms. And I added the cocoa powder that some swear by and hey, it works for me.
The main problem from my point of view is not what beans to use, and whether to add the chilies raw or pound them to a paste – no. My gripe with the damn thing is that it is so hopelessly unattractive to photograph. So guess what: don’t look. Just cook it.
chili con carne
- 150g (5oz) dried haricot, cannellini or pinto beans
- 4 tbsp. oil
- 500g (just over 1 pound) beef mince
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 bell pepper, cored and diced
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp. tomato powder or puree
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp. ancho chili paste
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tin kidney or black beans
- 1 tsp smoked salt (optional)
- 2 tsp fine salt or to taste
- 1 bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
- To serve:
- corn tortillas or tortilla chips
- chopped avocado
- sour cream
- grated mature cheddar
Soak the white beans in plenty of water overnight.
Heat half the oil in a large casserole or pot over medium heat. Pour the rest of the oil into a frying pan or skillet over high heat. Add the onions, garlic and pepper to the casserole and cook until softened. In the meantime brown the mince in the skillet, pushing it around with a fork to separate and brown quickly rather than stew. Turn the heat off and keep aside.
When the onions are soft, add the tinned tomatoes with juice, tomato powder or puree, sugar, cocoa, chili paste and the spices. Drain and rinse the white beans and add them to the casserole. Scrape the meat in, stir everything and add about 500ml water – just enough to barely cover the chili. Put on the lid and simmer for an hour.
At this point check the sauce for heat and add some more chili paste if necessary. Rinse and drain the kidney beans from the tin and add them to the pot. NOTE: if you are using tinned white beans, add them now as well rather than early on. Partly cover the pot and cook for another 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally and making sure the liquid doesn’t cook off completely. Check the white beans and when they are soft, add the salt.
When ready, take the pot off the heat and stir in most of the chopped coriander. Let the chili stand for at least 5 minutes.
To serve, warm up tortillas or cut them in quarters and bake for 10 minutes in a low over (120C) until crisp. Sprinkle with salt.
Serve chili in bowls or on soft tortillas with avocado, sour cream, cheddar and extra coriander.