It’s football weather, it’s the weekend, it’s cool and rainy…or, you just gotta have it. Any excuse for chili will do. Every time someone asks for my chili recipe, I have to admit I don’t have one. It’s one of those things that I always do by feel and taste. A little of this, a little of that...
Today, for the first time ever, I’ve measured what I was doing. So to my loyal Leather District Gourmet readers, I say – Cowboy Up to Some Damn Good Grub!
I’ve grouped the ingredients by meats, vegetables and other ingredients. Options and notes in each category are in italics, with additional notes following at the end. I don’t promise that this is an authentic, historically accurate chili, but it’s close.
Cowboys’ food was rustic, simple and influenced by the vaqueros of their Mexican neighbor. I strive for relatively accurate ingredients to achieve a layered, rich, spicy chili. For example, chuck wagon cooks didn't have heirloom cacao from a small artisanal producer in Peru. But, chili is a product of the American frontier, the Southwest. Mexican food included influences of Aztecs and Spaniards as well as other local indigenous plants like Sonoran Oregano. And they did have coffee. In the end, none of the flavors stand out on their own, but meld into one hearty bowl of chili.
This recipe makes a large quantity and freezes well. Should be enough for 8 (including seconds) depending on your appetites.
You could use all beef or all pork; I prefer a mix of both. I’ve lightened it by using ground turkey.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1.5 pounds ground turkey
- 2 strips hickory-smoked bacon, finely chopped
When bacon is crisped, remove from Dutch oven with a slotted spoon.
Soak sun-dried tomatoes and dried anchos (3 large or 1 cup) in hot water - reserve soaking liquid.
Pre-heat cast iron Dutch oven to medium-high heat.
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
Drain all but 3 TBSP of fat/oil in pan. Sauté the vegetables without browning.
- 1 large onion, chopped (about 2.5 cups)
- ½ cup chopped celery, chopped
- 1.5 cups chopped green bell pepper (Or a mix of poblano and bell peppers)
- 1.5 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons red chili (fresh) and green chili (fresh). (You can use any combination or omit if you don’t want it to be too hot. I remove the seeds and the membrane. The membrane is where the capsaicin resides, that’s the heat.)
- 2 tablespoons dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds fresh tomatoes (chopped, I had a Purple Cherokee and a Brandywine on hand.)
- ¾ cup re-hydrated, chopped ancho chilies
- ¾ cup re-hydrated, chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground pasilla pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons smoked paprika (I like the Spanish smoked Pimenton, imparts great flavor.)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Reduce to medium heat and add:
- 1 large can (25 oz) kidney beans, drained
- 1 cup Guinness Stout (Some people swear no beer should be added, or that darker beers will make the chili bitter, I haven’t found this to be the case. Omit if you’d like.)
- ½ cup soaking liquid from re-hydrated tomatoes and peppers
- ½ cup strong, brewed coffee
- 2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
- ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke (this is a concentrated liquid distilled from the smoke of hickory wood fire, it's preservative-free and completely natural)
- 3 chopped chipotle peppers along with 3 teaspoons adobo sauce they’re packed in.
(Chipotles are smoked jalapeno peppers in a garlicky spiced sauce. You can find them in most grocery stores in the Spanish/Mexican section.)
- 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes – break up with your clean hand or a knife.
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon piri piri pepper
- 3 tablespoons dark chocolate (The chocolate flavor should not be obvious, but will add a deep, rounded flavor of the finished product.)
- 3 tablespoons masa harina (This is finely ground corn meal, used in making tamales and tortillas. You can also crush tortilla chips, a couple dozen or so.)
- ½ C beef broth or combination beef and vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
Reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally, taste and adjust seasonings to your taste.
If you find it’s too hot, add a touch of deeper flavors like smoked paprika, pasilla pepper, brown sugar or molasses. Look for a balance.
You can add broth (vegetable or beef or both) and masa harina to extend the volume and bring the spiciness level down a bit.
If you want to make this a vegetarian chili, replace meat with beans such as kidney and pinto. Use dried beans, soaked overnight for toothsome chili. You would, of course, omit the bacon, but increase the liquid smoke to achieve that rich, campfire flavor profile.
Serve with fresh chopped cilantro and parsley, low fat sour crème, and grated cheddar cheese.
The next day, use leftover chili for huevos rancheros (top tortilla chips with chili and cheese and eggs.)