October is National Chili Month. A hot bowl of homemade chili is true comfort food, the perfect dish to serve as temperatures begin to drop.
Traditional chili is chile peppers and beef. From there you can be little creative and put together a dish that suits the mood and tastes of your diners.
Tough cuts of beef such as chuck roast and bottom round roast are excellent for chili. They possess a robust beefy flavor. These large cuts require slow cooking in braising liquid to soften and tenderize the meat. After several hours, the connective tissue in a large cut of chuck roast or bottom round roast will breakdown, and the beef will pull apart easily using just a fork. The process can be accelerated by chopping a large roast into smaller pieces. Searing beef adds an additional layer of flavor and is recommended for large cuts of beef or smaller pieces.
Beef bones or using homemade beef stock can add significant flavor and texture to your chili. Braising a beef roast with the bones left on is preferable to removing them. Cutting the roast into pieces to facilitate faster cooking or for convenience is common, adding the bones into your chili pot and removing them later will likely add depth of flavor and thickness to your chili. Homemade beef stock is prepared using roasted beef bones. Roasting the bones in a hot oven greatly improves the flavor of the stock. The roasted bones are simmered with aromatic vegetables over low heat for several hours to produce beef stock. Beef stocks contain gelatin, a natural thickener.
Chile peppers are a key ingredient to creating great chili. Ancho chilies, poblano chilies, New Mexico chilies, Pasilla Negro chilies, Chile de Arbol chilies, and chipotle chilies are excellent choices for use in preparing your chili. Jalapeno chilies are often finely chopped and served as a garnish. Red pepper flakes can be added to chili to increase the heat level and are often served as a garnish.
Chile powder is ground dried chili. Chili seasoning mixes usually contain some chile powder combined with thickeners such as flour and other popular spices such as dried cumin and dried oregano. Both are readily available in supermarkets and popular for chili preparation.
Low Heat. Long Simmer.
A deep, heavy bottomed pot such as a cast iron or stainless steel Dutch oven is ideal for preparing chili. Thick bottomed pots dissipate heat better, so the chances of burning your chili during cooking are lessened greatly. Chili is simmered on low heat. A lid is nice for simmering. Condensation that builds up on the inside of the lid drips back into the chili, and saves you from having to add additional liquid. A lid also means less heat escapes, allowing you to simmer your chili at very low heat.
Some chili recipes can be prepared and on the table in minutes, especially those calling for ground meat and seasoning mixes. To properly breakdown a tougher cut of meat and really meld the flavors within your stew, low heat and longer simmering times are necessary.
Chili and Cornbread
Below are two recipes. The first recipe is for one of our favorite chili preparations, a slow cooked beef chili prepared with chuck roast. We take liberties with our house recipe by incorporating sweet tomatoes and dark porter beer into the dish. The second is for Southern style skillet cornbread, the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of hot chili.
Porter House Chili
The house chili. Delicious, rich, savory beef and beer chili with warm, smoky chile pepper flavor. This chili is best made at least a day ahead to let the flavors meld and the texture improve. Serve with skillet cornbread and cold beer.
- 4 ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
- 4 chipotle chilies, stemmed and seeded
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 pounds bottom round or chuck roast, cut into 1” pieces
- sea salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 1 white onion, peeled, trimmed and chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and chopped
- 1 (28 ounces) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 (12 ounces) bottle porter beer
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prepared dried chile peppers to the hot pan. Toast the chilies for about 1 minute, turning them with a spatula and pressing them with the spatula to ensure the entire chile touches the heat. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- Boil 3 cups of water. Pour the boiling water into a medium bowl. Add the toasted chile peppers to the water. Soak until tender, about half an hour.
- Add the chilies and 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid to a blender.
- Add the cumin and coriander seeds to the hot skillet and toast for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle, or grind in a spice grinder.
- Add the crushed cumin and coriander seeds to the blender. Blend until smooth. Set aside. Reserve the remaining soaking liquid.
- Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and brown 1/4 of the beef pieces. Remove to plate. Repeat 3 times with remaining oil and beef.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add chopped onion and pepper to green bell to skillet. Sauté until vegetables have softened,. Stir in chopped garlic. Sauté vegetables 1 additional minute.
- Add reserved soaking liquid, chile puree, and seared beef to Dutch oven. Stir in crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Pour in beer.
- Reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered for several hours. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro 15 minutes before serving.
- Serve hot, or as with most chili’s the flavor improves if they sit for a day or two, covered in the refrigerator.
Southern Style Buttermilk Cornbread
Southern style cornbread prepared with stone-ground yellow cornmeal and buttermilk. Baked in a preheated cast iron skillet until golden brown on top with a crispy crust.
- 1/4 cup bacon fat
- 2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal or white cornmeal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Heat bacon fat in seasoned 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Swirl melted bacon fat over pan bottom.
- Add stone-ground cornmeal to medium bowl. Stir in all-purpose flour, baking powder, and sea salt.
- Stir with fork until well combined.
- Add buttermilk and beaten egg to small bowl. Stir to combine.
- Add melted bacon fat to cornmeal mixture. Stir to combine.
- Add buttermilk and egg to cornmeal mixture. Stir with large spatula or wooden spoon just until moistened.
- Pour cornbread batter into the hot skillet.
- Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven or until golden brown along the edges, and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
- Carefully remove skillet from oven and place on cooling rack. Carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate.