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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Simple Beef-Chub Chili

This recipe started off as someone else's: I modified it from "Norma's Original Recipe Quick-n-Easy Chili," found in the pages of one of my favorite cookbooks in the whole world, the remarkable and inspiring The El Paso Chile Company's Texas Border Cookbook, which you desperately need to add to your collection. You needn't worry about cost; it is available used for a pittance. And yes, it is that good, at least if one of your big culinary ambitions is to cook really tasty Tex-Mex/Southwestern home cooking. I could absolutely live with that cookbook and just one other, Bill and Cheryl Jamison's Smoke and Spice. But enough of that.

As I believe I've mentioned before, I like to keep some 3-lb beef chubs from ALDI on hand. It is not quite as lean as ground chuck, coming in at 73% lean, but it has consistently proven to be pretty tasty stuff and at a very good price. Naturally, I gravitate to recipes that can use it or that can be adapted to it, and this was one of them.

It wasn't 'til last winter that I began making chili on a regular basis. The last time I'd made the stuff was five years ago when I won 3rd place in the "medium" category at a church chili cook-off, and that was with an entirely different recipe which I will likely not ever make again. This stuff, you can make all the time. It's relatively quick and relatively easy. If you can't make decent chili following this recipe, I'm not sure there is any hope for you.

Just kidding.

At any rate, the kids and I liked it so much that I began to hanker after a new piece of cooking equipment. Y'see, I had an old Dutch Oven, but it was only three quarts, and the recipe calls for a five-quart Dutch Oven, preferably a non-reactive, that is, enameled, one. After reading the reviews on Amazon, it was clear that the best available Dutch Ovens are from Le Creuset, and about a month or so ago, I finally ordered one at an unbelievable price. Not only has it proven the perfect chili-makin' vessel, it's rapidly proven itself the ideal vessel for other dishes as well.

Enough of that. Here's how to make this stuff:

First, brown the ground beef in the Dutch Oven over medium-ish heat. Whilst the beef is browning, chop a white onion, a big one. If you insist on a measurement, you're looking for two cups, but "one big white onion" works perfectly well. Don't know how to chop an onion? Let Chef Ramsay show you how.

Then drain the fat from the browned beef. My advice is: don't throw this stuff away. I know, I know: you've been told for decades that fat is bad, bad, bad--bad for your waistline, bad for your circulatory system, bad for everything. Sorry to burst your bubble, but when you look hard at the evidence, none of that turns out to be true! Get yourself, or borrow from the library, a copy of Fat and learn how to do something with those beef drippings. Your palate will thank you later.

Now, while the browned dead cow is draining into whatever sort of collection vessel you are using, take about two tablespoons of bacon fat--yes, bacon fat--and, covered, over medium-low heat in the Dutch Oven, cook the onions for about fifteen minutes, stirring two or three times. While the onions are cooking and the beef is draining, you might want to go ahead and open up your cans--you will need two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (the ones from Wal-Mart work just fine) and four 15.5-ounce cans of light red kidney beans. Have you tried Kuhn-Rikon can openers? They are da bomb.

Once the onions are done cooking, go ahead and add the beef back into the Dutch Oven and stir. Cover the Dutch Oven and let the onions and beef cook for five minutes or so. Then open it up and add 3 teaspoons of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Wright's liquid smoke, and 3/4 cup of chili powder. The original is Gebhardt's, and I've no doubt it is a fine product, but I've been using the stuff from ALDI and it has been just fine. Sooner or later, I will probably try making my own chile puree and making chili with that, but this turns out quite tasty as it is, so I'm not in a big hurry. Stir everything up and cook for another five minutes or so, covered.

Now you will want to take your two cans of crushed tomatoes and one cup of beef stock and stir them into the pot. Turn the heat up to medium--I ought to mention that if you're using something besides a cast-iron Dutch Oven,you may have to make adjustments to my heat recommendations, as cast iron does a superlative job of heat retention, far exceeding that of most cooking materials--and cook, partially covered, stirring frequently, for about thirty minutes.

Finally, take the four cans of beans, one tablespoon of honey (you will find that if you give your tablespoon a quick spritz of cooking oil just before measuring the honey, the honey will slide right out), and one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, add them to the pot, stir, cover, and cook for another five minutes or so.

I usually serve this with corn chips on the side and shredded cheddar cheese on top. Iced tea or a cold beverage from Sam Adams make perfect accompaniments.

I have found that this freezes very well, if you have too much to eat at one meal.

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