Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Two Keys to Chili

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 27, 2009

First, you absolutely must control the television and radio stations in Santiago…but that’s not important right now.

Actually, I’ve been telling people that I’d be writing about cooking in this space as well as all the other gobbledygook I’ve been throwing at you, but the truth is I haven’t had the time or energy to do a lot of cooking lately. What I have done is make a pot of really, really good chili. No, it’s not something old school formal like beef en croute or whacked out creative like some of the Indian fusion stuff I do, but the Super Bowl is Sunday and dammit, this was really good.

So, chili needs two things above all else– more than one kind of meat and a spice that probably doesn’t come immediately to mind. On the meat front, whether I go with ground beef (almost always), ground turkey or something different, the one meat I have been using to great effect the last three or four times I’ve made chili is bulk Mexican chorizo. Here in DC there’s no problem getting this sausage even in our “regular” supermarkets, but if you have trouble finding it go to any Mexican grocery and they’ll have it. I specify Mexican because a lot of Latino countries have a sausage named chorizo– Argentinian chorizo is a bit sweet, Salvadoran is spicy but flavored differently than Mexican, etc. Mexican chorizo is by far the spiciest and adapts very well to chili.

The spice that I’ve been using– a cinnamon stick– gives a fantastic depth to the chili and provokes that, “Wow, what is that flavor” reaction int he people who eat it. One whole cinnamon stick put into the pot right before you add liquid and left for the whole simmer does the trick– the cinnamon oil releases and very subtly infuses the entire dish. Since cinnamon is a warm spice it makes sense when you think about it, as does the knowledge that cinnamon is widely used in savory dishes from the Yucatan and throughout West Africa.

This is clearly not a purist’s Terlingua or something like that nor does it pretend to be, so please, Texans, no hate mail!

So, for the chili…

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1lb bulk chorizo or link chorizo, skins removed and crumbled
  • 3 cans RoTel diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 3 cans Pinto or Black Beans with canning liquids, depending on your preference
  • 2 medium sweet onions, one sliced, one diced
  • 1 whole head garlic, cloves minced (if you really want to go crazy roast and squash the garlic)
  • EITHER 3 tablespoons chili powder (McCormick’s Hot Mexican is at least decent), or blend your own with ground dry chiles and ground toasted cumin seeds– lots of recipes on line for that.
  • 1 teaspoon dried ground chipotle pepper
  • 1 teaspoon prepared dried mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of dried (preferably) Mexican oregano
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 12oz. Beef Stock– Kitchen Basics works well enough
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt & pepper

In a heavy Dutch Oven, heat the olive oil until shimmering and drop in the sliced onions, stirring constantly. After one minute, add the diced onion and stir together until the onions caramelize; remove the onions. Crumble the chorizo and brown, remove but don’t pour off rendered fat. Brown the ground beef and the minced garlic in the chorizo fat, season with salt & pepper. Drain off all but a small amount of the grease from the pan and add back the onions & chorizo; mix to blend. Add the RoTel tomatoes and juices, beans with liquids, beef stock, chili powder, chipotle, mustard powder, cinnamon  stick and oregano– vigorously rub the oregano between your palms as you sprinkle it into the pot to release its oils and maximize flavor. Add salt & pepper to taste, going easy on the salt if you are using commercially made beef stock. Bring it up to a brisk simmer, then reduce heat to low and gently simmer for at least one hour and preferably two to three, adding a bit more stock as necessary if it seems to be evaporating too quickly. The longer it cooks, the more distilled the flavors become.

Serve over rice with finely chopped onions, shredeed jack cheese & sour cream as toppings.

The recipe can also work very, very well in a CrockPot– brown the meat and the onions then dump everything in the CrockPot and cook it for four hours or more.

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