Along with giving me an excuse to wear fur, making huge stews is one of the best things about Winter – nothing makes you feel like you’ve got your shit together quite like getting home from work and finding that the big vat of stock and flesh you left in the kitchen that morning has transformed into your tea.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world to use mince in chilli.
Forget the bastardised version of chilli you’ve had to get used to, the one that looks and tastes like bolognese with chilli powder; Chilli is a stew, it’s supposed to be lumpy with different flavours and textures, and viscous enough to stick to an upside-down spoon for a couple of seconds before it slides off. And as a stew it requires a little bit of patience, but pretty much no effort.
Forget the beef mince – when you decide to cook something for up to 10 hours, you’re affording yourself the luxury of using cheaper, tastier meat which does more to the final dish than bob around like chewy breakfast cereal. Mince sucks. I used Beef Shin, and you can use that, or Cheek, Oxtail, Stewing Steak, whatever. When the meat is cooked for this long it likes to cook down so much that the flavour is detectable in the meal, but texturally it’s non-existent. There is an idea of whatever cut you decided to use, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real meat – only an entity, something illusory. So I threw a whole Chorizo sausage in there as well.
If you don’t want to be chopping up celery and digging around the kitchen looking for cumin in the 10 minutes between being woken up by that song you thought would be a cute alarm tone but have since grown to DESPISE, and having to leave for work then the good news is you can make most of this the night before, leave it to rest, and then slow-cook the meat in it the next day and it will be even better.
Just as a pointer, you don’t want to cook the potato or beans for too long – once they reach peak cooked-ness they start to disintegrate, and you want to keep them distinguishable in the dish. Finally, chilli is cowboy food, and the only thing cowboys love more than spitting into buckets and interrupting pianists in a saloon is getting drunk, so to stay true to the dishes cowboy roots I like to add some booze – either a good slug of tequila towards the end, or substituting the beef stock with a dark beer or porter. Completely optional, but feel free to get creative.
2 Large Onions, diced.
2 Sticks of Celery, diced.
2 Carrots, diced.
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced or crushed.
Chilli – a couple of dried chipotle, half a dried ancho, or a couple of teaspoons of powder to taste.
1 tsp Cumin.
1 tsp White Pepper.
1 tsp Cinnamon.
2 tsp Smoked Paprika.
2 tsp Oregano.
Pinch of Salt.
1 litre of Beef stock, replace all some or none of it with dark beer or porter if you like.
3 tins of Plum Tomatoes, drained but with the juice saved for later.
2 tsp Cocoa powder or a couple of squares of good dark chocolate.
800g Beef – Shin, Cheek, Tail, Stewing Steak, Bone Marrow it’s your call.
200g Chorizo – a whole sausage, cut into chunky semi-circles.
3 Bell Peppers – Autumnal colours.
2 Sweet Potatoes, roughly 2cm dice.
2 or 3 tins of Beans – choose a combination of Red Kidney, Pinto, Haricot or Black.
Fry the onion, celery and carrots in oil over a low heat until they turn slightly soft and translucent, then add the garlic afterwards making sure not to burn it, otherwise that shit will be BITTER.
Add the chilli, cumin, white pepper, paprika, oregano, cinnamon and salt. Stir it in for a minute or so to toast the spices and (theoretically) release more flavour. Add the beef stock/beer the drained Plum Tomatoes.
Bring to a simmer and break the tomatoes down with your spoon, add about half of the tomato juice. Stir in the grated chocolate or the chocolate powder, then add the beef and chorizo. Keep it going on the hob or transfer it to a slow-cooker on the lowest setting for as long as possible – at least 4 hours.
By the time you come back to the chilli, a decent layer of fat will have gathered on its surface from the beef and chorizo. Skim as much of this off as you like – I chose to get rid of it all. If it’s looking too thick, add some more of that tomato juice; there’s still a few hours cooking time left.
Char the bell peppers over a gas or electric hob until they are blacker than black. Seriously, BLACK. Run them under a cold tap and peel the skins off, then chop the flesh off the stalks and stir it into the chilli with the sweet potato. Slow cook for another 2 hours, or if you’re pushed for time (why have you only just realised this?) simmer for about half an hour.
Add a squeeze of lime and an (optional) slug of Tequila, stir the beans through right towards the end of cooking, they’ll only need about 5 minutes for the residual heat to cook them through and let them keep their bite. Dish it all out with sour cream, fresh onion, diced tomato and jalapenos on top, and serve with lime rice and tortillas. This makes enough to easily serve 6-8 hungry people, or if you’re cooking for fewer people you’ll be thrilled to know that the leftovers just get better over time.