Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our Favorite Chili

There's nothing like a little friendly competition to bring out the best of the best in recipes.  While I am overly modest and fear the spotlight, I entered a Chili Cook-off competition.  Call it peer pressure a servant's heart, but I was coerced decided that the more entries there were in this kick-off event the better.  Plus how does it look for a self-described foodie, who writes a food blog and cooks and bakes daily, to not enter your children's friendly school Chili Cook-off Competition?

A pretty significant problem occurred to me after I was entered, and in retrospect should have been a strong argument for not entering the competition in the first place, but I don't have a drop-dead, bragging-rights recipe for chili.  Sure, I have a chili recipe and it's one that I have been making for years, but it is a quick and dirty version of chili, not something to write home about and certainly not something that I would consider entering into a competition.  In addition, the cook-off was for know, a food that cooks rave and boast about, have secret ingredients for, and specific opinions about.  My goodness there are even chili societies and chili competition archives that expand centuries.  It's an intimidating recipe for a competition if you ask me!

Long story short, I eventually found a chili recipe that was competition-worthy, used my family as taste testers, and felt confidant with my submission for the cook-off.   The recipe I chose was made by Cook's Illustrated and they trialed all of the famous secret ingredients chefs around the world claim make their chili better than all the rest. While this recipe was/is phenomenal, it didn't win if you think that's where this is all leading.  The recipe placed third and considering that at least two-thirds of the "judges" were elementary age children, third is a good rating.   Even with a third place ribbon, this is the best chili I have ever eaten.  The meat and beans are slow cooked and rich.  The sauce is thick and fragrant and packed with flavor from the chili peppers and spices.  I am confident that this recipe would be some stiff competition in a legitimate chili cook-off with actual judges, not 7 and 8 year olds who would have enjoyed a bunch of chicken nuggets or a bowl of Kraft Mac 'n Cheese!

Wear gloves when working with both the dried and fresh chiles [...or you may end up with a cranky infant because you inadvertently burned him somewhere, most likely his mouth, and/or you may rub your eyes and end up with them red and swollen for an afternoon....not that I have had personal experience with either:-)...] If you prefer not to work with any whole dried chiles, the anchos and arbols can be replaced with 1/2 cup commercial chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, though the texture of the chili will be slightly compromised.  We felt that this chili was rich, but not necessarily spicy.  If you like spicy chili, add some of the jalapeno seeds and/or increase the number of jalapenos in the recipe.  Alternatively, add cayenne in step 9 when you are taste testing.

1 cup dried pinto beans, rinsed and picked through
6 dried ancho chiles* (about 1 3/4 ounces), stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried arbol chiles, stems removed, pods split, and seeds removed
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeno chiles, stems and seeds removed and discarded, flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak, 3/4-inch think, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 (12-ounce) bottle of mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser

 *We substitued ancho chilies with California chiles.  You may also substitute ancho chiles with dried New Mexican or guajillo chiles if desired.

1.  Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat.  Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour.  Drain beans and rinse well.

2.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees F.  Place ancho chiles in 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4-6 minutes.  Reduce heat if chiles begin to smoke.  Transfer to bowl of food processor and cool.  Do not wash out skillet.

3.  Add arbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes.  With processor running, very slowly add 1/2 cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Transfer paste to small bowl. 

4.  Place onions in now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses.  Add jalapenos and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about four 1-second pulses, scrapping down bowl as necessary.

5.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7-9 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

6.  Add chili paste, tomatoes, and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined.  Add remaining 2 cups broth and drained beans; bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.

7.  Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.  Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

8.  Transfer meat to Dutch oven.  Add 1/2 bottle lager to skillet, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to simmer.  Transfer to Dutch oven.  Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and lager.  Once last addition of lager has been added to Dutch oven, stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.

9.  Cover pot and transfer to oven.  Cook until meat and beans are fully tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Let chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes.

10.  Stir well and season to taste with salt before serving.

Recipe unchanged from Cook's Illustrated.


Jamie said...

What a funny story this is. Congrats on your 3rd place win. Your chili looks so flavorful. I've added cocoa powder once to my chili and it gives the chili such a deeper and richer flavor.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

Jenny @ Healthified Mom said...

Definitely printing this one out to make it later. :) Thanks!

Katie said...

once you cook the chili, do you have to put it in the fridge? or does letting it sit bring out more flavors?