I learned a valuable lesson about meal planning last week. It's a good idea to check the weather forecast before you get started. Even if it is March in New England, and you're 90% certain you're in for another 7 days of typical 40-50 degree temperatures - double check just to be safe. Otherwise, you may find yourself surprised by a summer-like week with 80 degree weather every day, and a bunch of food in the fridge for meals that are decidedly not summer fare. Like chili. Trust me, you really don't want to turn the oven on for 2-3 hours to make chili when it's that hot out, especially if you're like me and also refuse to turn on the a/c in March.
Luckily, this was really, really good chili :)
This chili recipe was out of our comfort zone in a few respects. First, and probably most importantly, we don't usually do beans in our chili (or at all for that matter), but in a continuing effort to expand our horizons I decided to try this recipe and leave them in. Also, we usually use ground meat in our chili and instead chunks of beef are substituted here. Finally, the recipe calls for using dried chiles to make chili powder from scratch rather than the jar you'd usually buy at the store. It was the first time I've ever set out to find dried chiles and was surprised to come across them at the grocery store where I typically do my shopping. At my store, they were in the produce section, right near the fresh chiles, but I wouldn't have been surprised to find them with the international foods either. (Here's what mine looked like.) There was also beer, molasses and cocoa powder in this recipe, more ingredients that were slightly non-traditional for us.
I expected this recipe to be time consuming to put together, but in the end, it wasn't bad at all. I'm not saying it's ideal for a weeknight, but definitely not an all day affair. Plus, the recipe makes enough chili to feed a small army of people, so you won't have to cook again for days if you don't mind leftovers. Even if you aren't normally a leftovers person, I actually thought this was even better reheated on the second and third days. It's easily my new favorite chili recipe - so full of flavor and just enough heat that I could feel it in the back of my throat. I didn't even mind the beans, which is really saying something! Shane wasn't sold on the beans (it probably wouldn't be a stretch to say he hated them), but he still ate this for dinner two nights in a row based on how good the rest of the dish was. I'm so glad I forged ahead and made this despite the summer weather, it'll be a repeat here for sure when things cool down again :)
Ultimate Beef and Bean Chili
from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook
1. You can substitute 3 1/2 lb of blade steak for the chuck roast, if you prefer.
2. If you'd rather not buy the dried ancho chiles you can substitute 1/2 cup chili powder, but the texture of the chili will be compromised slightly. You can also use 2-4 dried arbol chiles in place of the cayenne pepper - they didn't have those at my store, and I didn't feel like driving around searching.
4 quarts water
8 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) dried pinto peans, rinsed
6 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
3 small jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons molasses
4 pound chuck-eye roast, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 12 oz bottle mild lager (we used Sam Adams)
Add 3 tablespoons of salt, water and the beans to a large Dutch oven. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat, cover and set aside for 1 hour. Drain the beans and rinse them well.
With a rack in the lower third of your oven, preheat to 300 F.
Add the ancho chiles to a 12-inch skillet. Set over medium to medium-high heat and toast the chiles, stirring often, until they are fragrant, about 4-6 minutes. Transfer them to your food processor and allow to cool briefly. (Set the skillet aside (don't wash it) - you'll use it later.) Add the cayenne (if you like spicy foods, use the whole amount, if not, go with the smaller amount), cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the food processor once the chiles have cooled, and process the mixture until everything is finely ground. With the machine running, slowly pour 1/2 cup of the chicken broth through the feed tube and continue processing until a smooth paste forms (you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice). Transfer the paste to a small bowl.
Add the onions to the food processor (no need to wash it first), and pulse until roughly chopped (about 4 pulses), then add the jalapenos and pulse again until the mixture has the consistency of chunk salsa (about 4 more pulses).
Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook for 8-9 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the moisture has evaporated and the veggies have softened. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved chile paste, tomatoes (and their juices) and the molasses. Mix until everything is well combined. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and the beans. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Grab the 12-inch skillet you used earlier to toast the chiles. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry and season with 1 teaspoon of salt. When the pan is hot, add half of the beef and cook until it is browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meat to the chile. Pour half of the bottle of beer into the now empty skillet, and use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the beer comes to a simmer transfer it to the chili. Repeat this process with the last tablespoon of oil, the rest of the meat and the remaining beer. Stir the chili to combine all of the ingredients, and let it come to a simmer.
Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat and beans are tender. Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes then stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: You can make the chili ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 3 days. I reheated individual portions in the microwave, which worked well. I also set the entire Dutch oven back over low heat and reheated that way, which also worked great.