Build a Better Bowl of Chili
Chili is easy to make ahead, keeps and reheats well, and feeds a crowd with maximal flavor and minimal effort. Naturally, a dish this appealing has traveled and been adapted far from its native range, so there are regional differences. Californians have embroidered the basic formula with beans, while Cincinnatians throw in spices such as cinnamon and allspice and serve it over spaghetti.
Our basic recipe, with beef, chiles, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, stays true to the Tex-Mex tradition. Two varieties of dried peppers — the rich, crinkled ancho and the lively, crimson guajillo — produce a dish with plenty of personality but medium heat. Toasted in a skillet, softened in hot water, and then pureed, the chiles turn into a mahogany paste that releases a heady, appetizing aroma and provides a wonderfully earthy, almost chocolaty, backdrop.
The fresh jalapeno sings the green-peppery top notes. Ground cumin and dried oregano are the spices that perhaps best capture the Southwestern spirit of the cowboy original, and a finishing splash of vinegar adds dimension while roping all these delicious elements together.
Building a Bowl of Chili:
1. Peeled Plum Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes and their juice contribute to the stew’s hearty liquid.
2. Beef Chuck
A cut of beef with a great meaty flavor. The internal layers of marbling, or fat, keep the meat flavorful and tender while it cooks.
3. Dried Oregano
Peppery and lemony notes make the herb a common component of chili powders.
These green peppers bring fresh-chile flavor to the dish, as well as heat.
5. Ground Cumin
Earthy and pungent, cumin is a classic chili spice.
6. Onions and Garlic
These give chili sweetness and depth and round out the dish’s flavors.
7. Ancho Chiles
Ancho is the name given to dried poblano chiles. The chiles are mild to moderately hot and have wrinkled, almost-black skins.
8. Dried Guajillo Chiles
These long red chiles are hot and slightly sweet. They contribute to the chili’s ruddy color. Toasting dried chiles before cooking with them enhances their flavor.
Just a splash added at the very end rounds out all the delicious flavors cultivated in the intoxicating stew.
Texas Red Chili
Whole dried ancho and guajillo chiles (earthy.com) heat things up in an authentic and easy recipe for this crowd-pleasing classic.
8 whole dried chiles (5 ancho and 3 guajillo or all ancho; about 3 ounces)
3 tablespoons safflower oil, plus more as needed
3 pounds trimmed beef chuck, cut into small pieces (1/2 inch or smaller)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large onions, coarsely chopped (4 cups)
7 to 8 garlic cloves, minced (5 tablespoons)
2 jalapeno or serrano chiles, seeded if desired, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes, pureed with their juice (3 1/2 cups)
4 cups water, plus more if needed and for soaking
2 to 3 teaspoons white vinegar, to taste
1. Toast dried chiles in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and blistered, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove stem and seeds; discard. Transfer chiles to a large measuring cup or bowl, and cover with hot water. Keep chiles submerged with a small bowl, and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove from water, and puree in a blender with 1/2 cup soaking liquid.
2. Heat a large heavy pot over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Season beef with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brown beef in batches, adding more oil as needed, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate
3. Add remaining tablespoon oil, the onions, garlic, and minced chiles to pot, and cook over medium-high heat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. (If the pan gets too dark, add a little water, and scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon to deglaze.) Add cumin and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4. Stir in browned beef and chile puree. Add tomato puree, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently, partially covered, until meat is very tender and juices are thick, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. (Check pot once an hour for excessive evaporation; if chili seems dry, add a little water.) Season chili with salt, and stir in vinegar. Serve immediately (or refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months; reheat in a pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally).
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