Eric's Second Chili Recipe

 Each cook will swear that the only chili worth eating is his or her own: rich with slow-cooked meat and redolent with chile peppers and spices, all bound in an unctuous sauce. But chili is basically just meat cooked with ground chiles; how could one be so much better than another? The key, any chili-head will tell you, lies in the all powerful "secret ingredients." I lost count of the references unearthed in my research to the intriguing additions that could magically improve a humble pot of chili, but the specificswere hard to nail down. (Chili-heads are as secretive as they are argumentative.) It took a lot of digging to compile a list.The Internet yielded fascinating new leads, like prunes floated atop the simmering chili (removed before serving), and obscure cookbooks revealed a couple of others (chocolate, beer). Chili-heads were reluctant to reveal the key to their own success; luckily, they could occasionally be coaxed to divulge the details of other cooks' recipes, including one chili that was thickened with "just a touch of peanut butter." Inspired by these inventive cooks, I was determined to make my own ultimate chili. Before I began developing my recipe, I looked one more place for ideas: chili cook-offs. Who, I reasoned, would know more about producing the ultimate chili than these die-hard cooks who labor 40 weekends per year to defend their bragging rights? It roms out that the chili cook-off circuit is a fascinating world unto itself, but my sleuthing yielded little in the way of practical instruction.

   Enticing as my ever-increasing list of secret ingredients was, it was getting me no where until I developed a basic recipe that these strange additions could embellish. Adopting the opinionated swagger of a veteran chili cook, I brashly laid down my own ground rules: To live up to my high expectations, my chili would have to be all beef (diced, not ground), and it would have pinto or kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and garlic.These last four ingredients are actually highly controversial in some parts of the United States, but: my recipe, my rules. It's the chili-head way. I began by testing five different cuts of beef: flap meat, brisket, chuck-eye roast, skirt steak, and short ribs, all In 3/4-inch dice, and all browned before going into the pot with sauteed onions, jalapenos, and garlic; diced tomatoes; beef broth; and quick brined pinto or kidney beans. For the sake of simplicity, I seasoned each pot with 1/3cup of chili powder. Though the short ribs were extremely tender, some people felt that they tasted too much like pot roast. (Not to mention that it took $40 worth of them to make just one pot of chili. ) The brisket was wonderfully beefy but lean and a bit tough. The clear winner was chuck -eye roast, favored for its tenderness and rich flavor. The beans were praised for their soft, creamy texture (attributed to the hour-long brine), and tasters embraced the addition of the tomatoes and aromatics. But I was far from home free: My friends and co-workers also complained that the chili powder gave the dish a gritty, dusty texture, and the flavor was "less than vibrant."

   Making my own chili powder seemed the best way to solve both of those problems, so I decided to give it a try. Of all the dried chilies that are available in most supermarkets, I chose anchos for their earthiness and arbols for their smooth heat. I removed the stems and seeds from six dried ancho chiles and four dried arbol chiles, then toasted the anchos in a dry skillet until they were fragrant (the very thin arbols burned when I tried to toast them). After cooling the anchos, I ground them in a spice grinder along with the arbols and 2 teaspoons each of cumin and oregano, both common seasonings in commercial chili powder blends. The sauce in chili made with my own blend was not only much more deeply flavored but also remarkably smooth. Why was the batch made with the supermarket chili powder so gritty in comparison? Research revealed that at many  processing plants dried chiles are ground whole stems, seeds, and all. The stems and seeds never break down completely, and that's what gives some commercial powders that sandy texture. Making chili powder is undeniably a time-consuming step, but for my ultimate chili it was worth it.

     Nevertheless, before venturing into the world of secret ingredients, I wondered if I could streamline my recipe a bit. Finding I was spending far too much time trimming the chuck-eye roast of fat and sinew, I switched to blade steak or boneless short ribs, which also comes from the chuck and was simpler to break down into 3/4-inchchunks; it took half the time and my people were none the wiser. Rather than grind the chiles in successive batches in a tiny spicegrinder, I pulverized them all at once in the food processor, adding a bit of stock to encourage the chile pieces to engage with the blade rather than simply fly around the larger bowl. The puree still wasn't quite as fine as I wanted it to be, but I'd address that later. I also used the food processor to chop the onions and jalapenos. Since stovetop cooking required occasional stirring to prevent scorching, I moved the bulk of the cooking to the gentler heat of the oven, where it could simmer unattended for 90 minutes.

   Happy with my basic recipe, I was ready to spring a series of unlikely ingredients on my friends. My research had indicated that chili cooks' secret weapons tended to fall into five categories: cooking liquids, complexity builders, sweeteners, meat enhancers, and thickeners. In a series of experiments, I set out to separate the wonderful from the simply weird. At this point, the only liquid in my recipe was the predictable beef broth. In my next four pots of chili I added Guinness, red wine, coffee, and lager to the mix. The stout gave the chili a bitter edge and flattened out the bright notes of the jalapenos and tomatoes, and the wine was too tangy. Tasted just 30 minutes into the cooking time, the coffee seemed promising, but it did not end well, becoming as bitter and acidic as the dregs in the office urn. The lightly hoppy flavor of the lager, however, complemented the tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos beautifully-not so surprising perhaps, since chili and beer pair well by tradition. lager was in.

   Next up: the complexity builders, ingredients that add depth without being readily discernible. Cloves and cinnamon were deemed too identifiable and sweet, but members of the chocolate family unsweetened chocolate, unsweetened cocoa, and bittersweet chocolate-performed well, with people appreciating the complexity that each provided. Since I would be sweetening the pot in the next test, I named the unsweetened cocoa the winner in this round and added it to my recipe.

   The aim of adding a sweet ingredient to chili is to smooth out any sharp or acidic flavors without making the dish noticeably sweet. I had high hopes for the two prunes left to float on the top of the simmering chili, but that technique was too subtle for my tastes. Four ounces of Coca-Cola added to the pot had the surprising effect of enhancing the tomato flavor too much, and brown sugar was OK but kind of boring. The winner in this round? Molasses, which lent the chili an earthy, smoky depth that people loved.

   The next category, meat enhancers, yielded the most surprising results. Many cooks swear by the practice of augmenting their chili with "urnarni bombs" in the form of  anchovies, soy sauce, mushrooms, or even Marmite (and competitive cooks tend to go straightfor the MSG in the form of stockcubes or SazonGoya). I found that adding such ingredients dramatically increased the meaty flavor of the chili, but in doing so they threw the balanceof chiles, aromatics, and spices out of whack.It was just too meaty, or as ,y boss observed, "like chewing on a bouillon cube." People even persuaded me to switch from beef broth to chicken broth, citing better balance. Good-quality meat was meaty enough.

   On to the most eagerly anticipated test of them all: peanut butter. I have been told over the years that this "secret ingredient" is the key to making the ultimate chili. Intended to thicken the chili, it's not as bizarre as you might think. Mexican cooks often add ground  seeds and nuts to mole to give it richness, texture and depth, so why not add peanut butter to chili? I tested more prosaic thickeners as well: flour and the traditional masa (dough made with limed corn, then dried and ground). The flour subtly thickened the chili, but it didn't offer anything in terms of flavor. The peanut butter, on the other hand, left a "big roasted flavor" to the chili, but it also left a strange after taste that
had people simply saying "yuck." The masa was well received for its thickening properties and the subtle corn flavor it contributed, but even for ultimate chili I balked at buying a 4-pound bag of masa just to use 3 tablespoons. This is where I introduced my own quirky ingredient to the pantheon of secret ingredients. I found that when I added 3 tablespoons of cornmeal to my food processor chili paste, its bulk helped me achieve a finer grind, and it accomplished the thickening goal admirably. Other cooks might accuse me of being full of beans, but this chili, with its tender beef and complex sauce, plus its own secret ingredients, is one I will defend with the vigor of the most seasoned chili-head.

   Finally we can compile a list, shorter than my previous recipe, and honestly easier to make.

Table salt
1/2 pound dried pinto or kidney beans (about 1 cup),
               rinsed and picked over
6 dried ancho chiles (about 1 3/4ounces),
              stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried arbol chiles, stems removed, pods split,
              seeds removed
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions, cut into3/4-inch pieces
             (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeno chiles, stems and seeds removed
             and discarded, flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
             through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak, 3/4-inch thick, trimmed
             of gristle and fat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
(12-ounce) bottle mild lager, such as

Now for my ever confusing instructions, Like i mentioned before this recipe is different form the one i previously gave you, but i find it to be simpler, and more maintenance free. As you can tell from my chili novel above, these dishes are always evolving and changing as the brave cooks behind them dig deep into their imagination for fresh and bold new ideas. Feel free to share this and post it on the family site, i never shy away from sharing my cooking tips and secrets with friends and family.

1. Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water,
and beans in large Dutch oven and bring to boil
over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover, and
let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and
heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chilies in 12-inch
skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently,
until flesh is fragrant,4 to 6 minutes, reducing
heat if chilies begin to smoke. Transfer to bow of food
processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.

3. Add arbol chilies, cornmeal, oregano, cumin,
cocoa, and 1/2teaspoon salt to food processor with
toasted ancho chilies; process until finely ground,
about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly
add 1/2cup broth until smooth paste forms, about
45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
Transfer paste 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.

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

5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch
skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat
beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon
salt. Add half of beef and cook until browned
on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to
Dutch oven. Add 1/2bottle lager to skillet, scraping
bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring
to simmer. Transfer lager to Dutch oven. Repeat
with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and lager. Once
last addition of lager has been added to Dutch oven,
stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.
(the process above is often refereed to as De-glazing)

6. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until
meat and beans are fully tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Let
chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and
season to taste with salt before serving.