On Valentine’s day, I thought it appropriate to discuss my love for chili. Chili love is just like real love. It warms the soul and the stomach. The spice can make your heart flutter and race. It’s rich and messy, and yes, there are times chili love will hurt you, but you know it doesn’t mean it. The indigestion…maybe even some unapologetic breaking of wind. Chili love is real love.
Body distress be damned, chili is on the short list of comfort foods I make regularly, often trying new variations on the typical process for creating a damn fine meat gravy. And yes, I usually put beans in my chili, I lurv the additional texture and flavor, especially if using the Rolls-Royce of beans – Rancho Gordo. The large Royal Corona beans featured above are very hearty, and provide excellent body and a touch of sweetness. I feel pangs of guilt when I waste my time on any other bean. Using a dusty can of Goya is like eating a Wendy’s cheeseburger, when you know that Little’s is just one or two miles (and dollars) away.
The recipe changes, but the base is the same. I buy a bunch of chiles from BHFM – anchos, guajillo, and pasilla chiles. I soak them, deseed them, then puree the chopped chiles with the braising liquid in a Vitamix until it’s a smooth paste. I add just a little cumin and salt (more spices come when it is time to cook the chili) and maybe some canned chipotle (just a little – the smoked peppers in adobo can be overpowering) and I portion it and freeze. It becomes the base for instant chile on a whim, when combined with my pressure cooker.
When it’s time to cook, I heat the paste while I saute aromatics – garlic, onions, then add fresh ground cumin and smoky chipotle powder, maybe a dash of fennel. The paste is added, sort of like the phase in which one adds tomato paste to a good Italian braise. Heat it quickly and stir it fast. Then add the liquid (beer is good) and the meat (chuck, sure – flank, great, basically anything) then I pressure cook until it renders into a meld of flavors. If I have time I pressure cook some great beans (already mentioned) and reduce and season the chili until it’s where I want it to be. Sometimes I add a bit of this and a bit of that (fish sauce, soy sauce, tomato powder, tomato paste), and it can turn out a number of ways. But the base is always the same. Rich, fresh, pureed chiles. It’s the way to go. I was searching for online discussions on this topic (chile puree vs powder) and it turns out that our hero Kenji tackled this exact topic. That’s some real nice confirmation from a trusted source.