Yesterday we did healthy and vegetarian. Today, not so much. Today we’re going full carnivore with a hearty Texas style beef chili. And not just any old chili, but with homemade chile paste and big, tasty chunks of tender beef. This dish is my adaptation of a recipe from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s superb book “The Food Lab”, for which I have included a link below so you can check it out for yourself.
This is a weekend kind of recipe since we’re using a braise technique, and of course we’re making our own chile paste. That may sound hard, but trust me, it’s extremely easy, and it will elevate the quality of your finished dish to new heights. Totally worth it, I assure you. I like to make extra so I can freeze it and just pull it out as needed, like I did tonight. Let’s start with that part of the technique. Here are your ingredients to make about 2 cups of paste, or two iterations of this recipe:
- 3-4 oz. dried whole chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into pieces
- 2 cups chicken stock
The kind of peppers you use will depend on how hot you like it. I’m a spicy food junkie, but Lolly is the opposite of that, so I make mine more on the mild side using a blend of ancho, pasilla and New Mexico chiles. A little bit of arbol will liven things up a bit, or if you’re really hardcore, throw in a ghost chile or even a Carolina Reaper — at your own risk. Just remember to print and sign the waiver of liability form at the bottom of the post. Kidding – a little lawyer humor for you.
Heat a Dutch oven and roast the pepper pieces over medium-high heat for a few minutes until they develop a toasty aroma. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer for about 5 minutes, maybe a little more, until the peppers are tender. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree it into a paste, which should only take a few seconds. I freeze my extra in 4-ounce containers.
Now we’re ready to move on to making the Texas Chili dish itself. Here is what you will need to make 6 hungry guys very happy:
- 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 to 3 ½ lb. boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cubed
- Kosher Salt and black pepper
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. allspice
- 2 Tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 cup prepared chile paste
- 6 cups beef or chicken stock
- ¼ to ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 cans (15 oz.) chili beans (optional)
- Sour cream, shredded cheese and sliced scallions for garnish
We’re going back to our trusty Dutch oven for this part. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the oil over medium-high flame, then work in three batches to cook the beef cubes in a single layer each time without stirring. After each batch is placed into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and let it sear until it develops a deep brown crust on the bottom, which should take maybe 5 minutes. Remove the cooked beef to a bowl to hold, add another tablespoon of oil, and repeat the price twice for the remaining batches.
Our goal is to have each chunk of the finished beef hard-seared while at the same time still being tender. This method will get us there. You will no doubt notice that the tops of the beef chunks are not cooked yet. Not to worry — that will happen later during our braise.
After all the beef is cooked and removed from the pot, reduce the heat to medium, throw in your onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Next add the garlic and dry spices and cook for another minute. Finally, return the beef to the pot, along with the Chile paste and the stock. Bring it up to a boil, then back it down to a simmer and let it cook uncovered, low and slow, for 2 to 3 hours until the beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender. The exact time will depend on how big you made your beef chunks.
A side note on the stock, if it’s made properly it really doesn’t matter much whether you use a beef or chicken stock. You will get pretty consistent results either way. As it turns out, I just happened to have the right amount of homemade chicken stock in my freezer, so I used that – which means I have an excuse to make more next weekend.
When your braise time on the beef is complete, gradually stir in the corn meal to act as a thickener. How much you use depends on how thick you like it. Part of the purpose of cooking uncovered (which is a deviation from standard braising procedure) is to let the sauce reduce a bit as it cooks, both to thicken it and to intensify the flavor. For tonight’s pot I split the proverbial baby and used ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. of corn meal, and got a great result. If you like beans in your chili, add them here. Either way, cook for about 10 more minutes before serving.
And you’re done. The total prep time on this recipe is about 4 hours, particularly if you are making your Chile paste at the beginning as opposed to using some that was previously prepared. The knife work is about 20-30 minutes, depending on how facile you are with a chef’s knife – although you can save some time by buying precut stewing beef, which just means you’re just paying a premium for the same cut of beef to have someone else do the knife work for you.
We served ours with traditional chili garnishes with some white corn tortillas on the side, and munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces. This is a seriously hearty, rich and satisfying meal that will forever change your expectations of what a good chili should taste like. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science