Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cook's Illustrated "Ultimate Chili"

The 2011/2012 cow is probably on its way to slaughter in the next week or so and will arrive in Portland at the end of the month.  I need to eat some beef!  So, beef stew meat, you are being made into chili.

I found this recipe on the Cook's Illustrated website circa 2004.  I printed it out and had it with my recipes for years.  I couldn't find it yesterday, so was THRILLED to find a version of it on the Epicurious website.  It's definitely some work, but man is it worth it.

A couple notes before we begin:

1.  I had 2 Anchos at my house already.  I first went to the regular grocery store for the regular ingredients, then hit up my favorite international market for the chile peppers.  They didn't have Anchos. I picked dried Pasillas to substitute.  When I got back home, I saw the notes for the recipe, which I did not have, stated that dried New Mexico or Guajillo chilies may be substituted for the Ancho chilies.  The store had both those types.  Let me tell you, Pasillas work too.

2.  The recipe calls for light molasses.   The store didn't have light molasses, so I bought regular molasses.  To the people out there who think that they can taste the difference between 2 tsps of light molasses and 2 tsps of regular molasses in a huge pot of chili?  Go ahead, I dare you.

3.  I didn't have oregano.  I thought I did, but I didn't.  I didn't want to go back to the store, so I omitted it.  I don't think oregano would have added anything.

4.  I do pretty much all my cooking in cast iron.  If you are using a cast iron skillet for the browning of the meat, the oil is unnecessary.

5.  I usually make my chili on the stove.  I was tempted to do so with this recipe, but I kind of liked the idea of putting it in the oven and not dealing with it; not checking if it was boiling instead of simmering, not taking tastes and burning the shit out of my mouth, just letting it cook.  It went well.  I think I will make chili in the oven always.

6.  My desired condiments:  grated cheddar cheese and sour cream.  Okay, really what I used was nonfat plain yogurt.  Same same but different.

Okay, on with the recipe.

6 dried Ancho chile peppers (about 1 ¾ ounces), stems and seeds removed,
and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2 to 4 dried Arbol chile peppers, stems removed, pods split, seeds removed
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeno chilies, stems and seeds removed and discarded, flesh cut
into ½-inch pieces
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4
2 (14 ½ ounce) can diced tomatoes
½ small can of tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons light molasses
2-3 cans pinto, pinquito or kidney beans
2 ½ pounds blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into ¾-inch pieces
1 (12 ounce) bottle lager

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place Ancho chilies in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is dry and fragrant, 4-6 minutes, reducing heat if chilies begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.

Add arbol chilies, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and1 teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chilies; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until smooth, thick paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer to small bowl. 

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, scraping down bowl as necessary.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until any exuded moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili paste, tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2 cups broth and beans; bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven. Add ½ bottle lager to skillet, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Transfer lager to Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining oil, beef, and lager. Once last addition of lager has been added to Dutch oven, stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.

Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat is fully tender, 1 ½ to 2 hours. Let chili stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt. Serve with desired condiments.

This recipe is not for the faint of heart.  It's not difficult; it's just time consuming.  I left my house at about 4.30pm to get the ingredients, was back by about 5 and started cooking immediately.  Granted, I was by no means rushing and much of the time is spent waiting around for the chili to cook, but I did not eat my first bowl of chili until after 9.

That said, this really is the Ultimate Chili.  It puts my easy recipe (see here) to shame.

Bon appetit.


  1. YUM. Chili is good. (Although I like mine with sour cream, cheese, jalapenos, and red onions on top. I'm telling you so you'll be prepared when I show up and say, "Make me chili." I'll be hungry after my long walk to Portland.)

    I am impressed that you own both a Dutch oven and a cast-iron skillet. We only recently acquired a Dutch oven and have used it once. And we have yet to see a cast-iron skillet that didn't make us want to die at the price tag. I hear they're worth it, though.

  2. Oh, just get a Lodge cast iron skillet. They're like $20 and you can get them anywhere. As long as you take care of it, it'll be your favorite skillet. I promise.

    And if you are ever in Portland, I will be sure to have your required toppings on hand, though the thought of having a red onion in my house makes me gag. For you, though, I'll get one.