Chili is one of those dishes that is as varied as are our fingerprints. Every home cook or chef has their own version following one theme or another and it’s one of those few dishes that uniquely has competitions centred around it. However, you don’t need a chili cook-off and you certainly don’t need a tailgate or to be cheering for a team in the fast approaching SuperBowl to feel a craving for this dish. You can just be a fan of great comfort food or want something to help you get through the winter months. Maybe you just want a slow cooked meal that leaves your home aromatic and warm.
Whatever your motive, this is my own take on this classic American-Mexican dish, a bounty I make once or twice a year, gobble up enough to satiate me (and I can eat a lot of this) before freezing the rest in containers for those lunches or dinners where I just didn’t feel like cooking. In short, this is one of my staples and, like most of my staples, something I’ve been making for decades and slowly and inevitably tweaking until I land on something that tastes perfect on my own palette.
Cooking tips to great chili: Quality meat; varied beans; the right spice; a hint of sweetness; and chocolate. Yes, chocolate. If you think that chocolate is just for dessert, you’re mistaken. Keep in mind, chocolate and the cocoa bean is a new world, Latin-American ingredient and you need to look no further than the absolutely exquisite chocolate molé, a signature dish in authentic Mexican fare, to know that I speak the truth. The key here isn’t to create a dish that tastes of chocolate: this isn’t a chocolate fondu with meat in it. The key is to add a hint of chocolate that adds a richness and depth to a sauce that clings to both meat and bean … and which makes all those comfort-hairs on the back of your neck go “ooh-ahh.” Thus what better to use, then, than, you guessed it, “Mexican chocolate.” It’s an ingredient that previously was hard to find, but, in recent years, it has found its way onto the shelves of many spice shops, Latin American shops, gourmet/speciality food shops, and even grocery stores. Even Nestlé distributes it now. What makes it unique is typically the extra shot of cinnamon and sometimes even a bit of chili that is mixed in.
I prefer a lean ground meat in my chili but, short of this, you’ll want to be careful to drain off the fat … but not that flavourful juices (a fat separator works well to remove the fat while re-adding the juices). I also don’t rely exclusively on the ubiquitous red kidney bean: I prefer to mix up the colours, textures, and flavours with a combination of red and white beans and the wonderful black (turtle) bean. (Note: when preparing this particular batch, I found at the last minute that what I thought was a can of black beans was in fact black-eyed peas. They worked just as well, but I miss the colour of the black in my chili.) For spice, there are as many choices in this world as there are chiles, but my preference is for chipotles because their smokiness is just too good to ignore — however, not all brands are made equal and these brown creamy wonders can be anything from benign to scorching, so taste them before you add them. For this reason, I also recommend deseeding them to avoid disaster. Remember, you can always add but you can’t remove spiciness. Finally, to pull it all together, a bottle of dark beer like Leffe Brune will add a bit of sweetness and round out the depth of flavours.
Prep time: 20 (assumes you’re doing some prep while cooking)
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour (+ additional hour to simmer longer)
Servings: 12 or more
Chili (con carne)
- 3 pounds (1.35kg) extra-lean ground beef
- 1 pound (450g) lean ground pork
- 1 tablespoon (30mL) bacon drippings (or olive oil)
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 large red bell peppers, chopped
- 4 carrots, cubed
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 11-13 ounces (350mL) tomato paste
- 6 ounces (170g) Mexican chocolate, chopped
→ substitute bitter-sweet baking chocolate
- 1 bottle (350mL) of dark/brown beer (e.g. Leffe Brune)
- 2 chipotle chiles, canned, removed and deseeded then chopped
- 2x 28oz (800mL) cans whole Italian tomatoes2-4 tablespoons (30-60mL) chile powder, depending on taste
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) ground coriander
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) fresh basil, chopped
→ 1 teaspoon (5mL) dried basil
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon (5mL) fresh ground black pepper
- 2 cups (500mL) corn (fresh, frozen, or canned)
- 19 ounce (500mL) can red kidney beans
- 19 ounce (500mL) can white kidney beans
- 19 ounce (500mL) can black (turtle) beans
→ or substitute black-eyed peas
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped and divided (half for garnish)
- grated cheddar to garnish
- In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, add the bacon drippings and the chopped onions, and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes.
Add the chopped red pepper and continue to sauté both onions and peppers for another 2-3 minutes.
Add in the cubes carrots and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and pork, breaking it up as you work it into the veggies already in the pan.
And continue to cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is fully browned.
Add the garlic and cook another minute.
- Add the tomato paste and stir in until well incorporated. Then add the chopped Mexican chocolate.
Pour in the bottle of beer …
Seed and chop and then add the chipotles to the chili. Don’t add to much: you can always add more at the end.
Add the Italian tomatoes. Break them up with hands to help them breakdown and become incorporated into the chili …
Add the beans and the corn and the parsley …
And, finally, add the spices …
- Cover and simmer for 20 minutes … taste for spice (adjust with more chipotles if necessary), salt, and even a dash of sugar if the tomatoes were a bit bitter.
- Ideally, simmer for an additional hour to allow flavours to marry.
- Serve warm with grated cheddar and fresh cilantro leaves.
Beer pairing: Personally, I think this serves better with a stronger and winter beer where the sweetness of the darker malts will pair better with the roasted veggies and the chocolate and the stronger alcohol will match the spiciness of the chili. Beau’s Strong Patrick, any double IPA, or an imperial stout would be awesome …. but Leffe Brune isn’t a bad choice either.