Chili con Carne

From Cook's Country | February/March 2008
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Why this recipe works:

Many chili con carne recipes call for toasting and grinding a variety of whole chiles. We wanted to create a simpler, authentic-tasting version using supermarket ingredients. For the meat, we settled on beef chuck, our favorite affordable cut for stews because its substantial marbling provides… read more

Many chili con carne recipes call for toasting and grinding a variety of whole chiles. We wanted to create a simpler, authentic-tasting version using supermarket ingredients. For the meat, we settled on beef chuck, our favorite affordable cut for stews because its substantial marbling provides rich flavor and tender texture after prolonged cooking. To add a smoky meatiness to our Chili Con Carne recipe, we browned the beef in bacon fat instead of oil. We added fresh jalapeño for brightness and heat and minced chipotle (canned smoked jalapeño) for smoky, spicy depth. Corn muffin mix gave our Chili Con Carne a silky texture and a hint of corn flavor.

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Chili Con Carne

We create a simple, authentic-tasting version of this Tex-Mex classic using supermarket ingredients.

Watch the Video

Serves 6 to 8

If the bacon does not render a full 3 tablespoons of fat in step 1, supplement it with vegetable oil. You can use the remaining corn muffin mix to make muffins (or cornbread) to serve with the chili. We like to serve this chili with diced white onion, cubed avocado, shredded cheese, lime wedges, and hot sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped fine
  • 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow corn muffin mix

Instructions

  1. 1. Process tomatoes and chipotle in food processor until smooth. Cook bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate and reserve 3 tablespoons bacon fat.

    2. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat in empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of beef, about 8 minutes. Transfer to bowl and repeat with additional tablespoon bacon fat and remaining beef.

    3. Add remaining bacon fat, onion, and jalapeño to empty Dutch oven and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in water, pureed tomato mixture, bacon, browned beef, and sugar and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Skim fat and continue to simmer uncovered until meat is tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

    4. Ladle 1 cup chili liquid into medium bowl and stir in muffin mix; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave until mixture is thickened, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk mixture into chili and simmer until chili is slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. (Chili can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Test Kitchen Primer: Jalapeños

While talk of super-fiery peppers like the ghost pepper, habanero, and Scotch bonnet may set the hearts of chile enthusiasts aflutter, the chile we reach for most often in the test kitchen is the humble jalapeño. Jalapeños measure about 5,000 units on the Scoville scale; habanero chiles, by comparison, can approach 500,000 Scoville units. Here’s a quick primer on this popular chile.

Where’s the heat? Most of the capsaicin (the compound responsible for heat) in jalapeños (and any chile) is concentrated in the white ribs and seeds. The heat level of jalapeños can vary widely, even among peppers from the same plant; tasting as you go (and adding more if desired) is always a good strategy for heat management.

Does color matter? Like most peppers, jalapeños are green when immature and turn color (in this case, red) when they ripen. In our tests, we’ve found that color does not affect heat but that red jalapeños are usually a bit sweeter than green ones.

Any test kitchen prep tips? With a little know-how, prepping jalapeños is easy. First, wash and dry the peppers. In the test kitchen, we usually wear rubber gloves (if you don’t have gloves, you can slip your hands inside clean plastic sandwich bags) when handling any hot chiles, and jalapeños are no exception. To mince a jalapeño, cut off (and discard) the stem and then slice the pepper in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and ribs (reserving them to add back later if you want more heat). Then slice the pepper into strips and mince. Discard the gloves and wash your board and knife in hot soapy water.

SCRAPE WITH A SPOON: It's the easiest way to remove the seeds and ribs.

Test Kitchen Tip: Use a Thickener That Adds Flavor

Some traditional chili recipes are thickened with masa harina (corn flour), which can be hard to find. When we were searching for a more accessible ingredient to help thicken the chili, we tested ground corn chips and toasted corn tortillas that we processed to a powder. While both were good, we preferred the subtle sweetness and strong thickening power of 2 tablespoons of corn muffin mix. (Our recipe was developed using Jiffy brand.)

MUFFIN MIX: Helps thicken our chili and adds sweetness and corn flavor.

Create Layers of Chile Flavor

One way we do so in our recipe is by using one chile two ways. Jalapeño chiles contribute fresh, vegetal flavor and bright but mild heat. We sauté a chopped jalapeño with the onion. We also reach for jalapeños in the form of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, which are jalapeños that are dried and smoked -before being packed in a tomato-vinegar sauce. We puree the chipotles in adobo with diced tomatoes to form a flavorful liquid base for our chili. Jalapeños in both forms are easy to find at the supermarket.

TWO SIDES OF ONE CHILE: Chipotles are dried jalapeños.

“Bloom” the Spices

Chiliheads go a little crazy and sometimes demand three, four, or even five types of obscure dried chiles when they’re cooking up a pot of chili con carne, usually toasting and grinding the dried chiles or soaking and pureeing them in a blender for depth and complexity. To get a similar depth of flavor without the shopping expedition or the heavy labor, we simply “bloom” store-bought chili powder (with the onion, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and oregano) in hot bacon fat. This is a great trick for all your cooking: Any time you bloom a spice in fat, be it butter, oil, or bacon fat, you bring out its full potential and depth of flavor.

MAXIMIZE FLAVOR: Cooking chili powder in oil brings out its flavor.

Start With a Whole Roast and Cube it Yourself

START WITH A WHOLE ROAST AND CUBE IT YOURSELF

Why is buying a boneless chuck-eye roast and cubing it at home preferable to buying stew meat that has already been cubed? Because the cubed stew meat you buy may be unevenly cut, especially gnarly and fatty, or from several different parts of the steer. Together, these issues can add up to uneven cooking. Cubing the meat is very easy if you first pull apart the roast at the natural seams and remove some of the fat.

NATURAL STEAM: Use your hands to pull apart the meat.

EXCESS FAT: Trim and discard large pockets of fat.

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