Friday, February 16, 2007

Black Bean Chili with Adobo de Ancho

My faith in Rick Bayless remains devout. A U.S. Southerner who seems to be single-handedly championing the cause of Mexican-Cuisine-As-World- Class-Fare, the sub-text of his cookbooks and cooking shows is that you should RESPECT Mexican food. When he calls for oregano in a recipe, he's sure to specify, "preferably Mexican" in opposition to just about all other cookbooks where oregano is "preferably Greek". Lard, for Bayless is "rich-tasting", which by the way it is if you render it yourself, despite what everybody else says. I can't help but think that to the degree that people in the U.S. grow in respect for Mexican cuisine (especially as equal in stature to Italian and French) they will grow in respect for Mexican people. When I taught Spanish in Mid-West universities, respect for Spanish-speaking people was a sub-text of what I taught too. So Rick Bayless embodies two of my great loves, Food and Latin America.

Which is why I whole-heartedly forgive him for the disaster that was last night's chili.

It came from page 49 of "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen" and it looked so promising, so relatively easy. Based on the ancho chile paste that I've made countless times it seemed like an opportunity to break another of my many childhood food taboos. Chili was always one of those things I was too picky for as a child. My mom never made it and it seemed like something gross that would come out of a can and could hide any number of icky things in it's deep, ruddy thickness I wouldn't have known I'd eaten until it was too late. So I was hoping, led by Bayless-in-whom-I-trust, to broaden my culinary horizons to the greatness of chili.

Well, it ain't happened yet. My virgin chili experience was exhaustingly heavy to eat; I felt like I had to catch my breath between bites. And believe it or not, the mashed potatoes I ate it with LIGHTENED the texture. So I'm wondering, what went wrong?

Here's what I did:
The night before I made the Essential Ancho Seasoning Paste:

8 lg garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 medium ancho chiles, stemmed & seeded
1 1/2 tsp oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2/3 cup beef or chicken broth (I had chicken)
1 tsp salt

I dry-toasted the anchos on my cast iron skillet (10 seconds max. per side) while I left the garlic cloves to brown at the edges of the pan. I soaked the toasted chiles in hot tap water for 30 minutes. I put the drained chiles, roasted, peeled garlic and all other ingredients in a food processor and whizzed until I got a thick, uniform paste. I scraped this paste through a mesh sieve and left the pristine seasoning paste in the fridge for the next day. I set my black beans a soakin' on the kitchen counter. All this was as instructed.

The Chile:
2 lbs ground beef/pork
1 lg onion, minced
bacon drippings/lard (rich-tasting, of course)
ancho seasoning paste
water + chicken broth
salt to taste
sugar ("a touch")
1 cup of tomato puree
2 cups of cooked black beans

I browned the meat in the bacon drippings in a big dutch oven over medium. I removed it, and added the onion. Cooked that over medium heat until brown and added the meat back. I poured the ancho seasoning paste in and allowed it to sear and get a little darker as suggested. I added water and chicken broth (ok, so it was supposed to be BEEF broth, but I didn't have any. Could that have made such a difference?) until everything was "floating freely" as explained. I added the tomato and set the pot over low heat and let it simmer for 3 hours rather than the suggested 1 hour. Music to simmer chili by: "Rusholme Ruffians" by The Smiths on the album Meat is Murder. (Look the lyrics are in English and in Italian for all you Italophiles out there! The lyric "my faith in love is still devout", translated into Italian reads, "La mia fede nell'amore è ancora intatta". And here's the actual music. I added the beans somewhere in there. Gabriel gets home pretty late, so I had the time and I figured it couldn't hurt... Was I wrong? Bayless said to stop cooking when "it looks like chili". Let me reiterate, I'm a chili novice. I stopped when Gabriel got home and the chili looked rich and delicious. I added the salt and the sugar (suggested to temper the pungency of the chile paste). And we ate the heaviest meal we've had in months, including the Swiss cheese fondue. So my question is: when does chile "look like chile"? How soupy is it supposed to be. Should you be able to float a dollop of mashed potatoes on top of it? Should I add a lot more chicken stock to the left-overs or would that be pouring in good food after bad? Any chile experts out there with some advice?


Blogger beenzzz said...

This sounds positively wonderful! I shall have to take a crack at it.

5:23 PM  
Blogger ML said...

That looks likes some very authentic, rich, delicious and well spiced chile. I guess like curry, chile is different in each household. It all depends on how you like yours. When I make chile, I like it thick. My husband likes it thinner. What do you do? :)

7:14 PM  
Blogger J said...

Hmmm. If it was too heavy, I wonder, could it have been the lard? I've never heard of putting lard in chile. Here's my favorite ever chile recipe. It's vegetarian, from Greens restaurant in San Francisco, and it's VERY yummy.

1:47 AM  
Blogger Lea said...

Hmm... well I'll tell you one thing.. any respectable chili wouldnt be able to mound up on itself like it is in that picture!! :(

I guess when I make chili it gets to about the consitancy of like.... canned marinara... with meaty chunks in it... I cook it for about 4 hours on low so the meat pretty much liquifies.

This is a championship chili recipe I often use.... adding beans near the end.. just to heat them up.

In 4-Quart pot brown 2 lbs course ground beef (sirloin and chuck) in skillet. After browning, drain meat. Add:
1 can (14-1/2 oz) Swanson beef broth
1 can (8 oz) Hunt’s no-salt tomato sauce

Float 1 jalapeno pepper and 1 serrano pepper. Bring to boil then add Packet #1

Packet #1:
1 Tbsp onion powder (rounded)
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp Mexene Chili Powder

Cover and simmer at medium boil for 1 hour. Remove peppers, squeeze juice and set aside. Replace lid and continue cooking for additional 30 minutes and then add Packet #2.

Packet #2:
2-1/2 Tbsp light chili powder
2-1/2 Tbsp dark chili powder
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cube Knorr’s beef bullion
½ cube Knorr’s chicken bullion
¼ tsp brown sugar
1 pk Sazon Goya

Continue cooking over low with lid on for 30 minutes. Then, add juice from peppers and Packet #3.

Packet #3:
2 tsp Mexene Chili Powder
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp salt

Leave covered and simmer for additional 15 minutes and serve.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

HI Beenzzz, Thanks.

Hi ML, Yeah, I think this should have been a lot thinner than it was.

Hi J., I know, lard is heavy, but in moderation it tastes really good. Thanks for the advice.

Hi Lea, Thanks, I actually had some chile leftovers today and added more chicken stock. It was better. When I get a hold of some Sazon Goya, I'll try out your fab recipe. One more question: I super browned the meat thinking that more browning means more flavor but even after 3 hours of cooking, my ground meat was still hard. Do you just brown to the minimum to get the meat to liquify?

6:44 PM  
Anonymous rowena said...

I'm at a loss as what to say about the chili because I simply zeroed in on the 8 cloves of garlic in the Ancho Seasoning Paste that had me smacking my lips none stop. I gotta make me some paste.

12:04 PM  
Blogger June said...

I have no intelligent or helpful comments to make, just to say that I am awed by the whole process, and by your dedication to the ritual.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Rowena, You know, the seasoning paste is something you can add to rice (before cooking) to make Mexican red rice, that's really good. You can also slather it on ribs (with a little extra sugar.

Hi June, well, you are a pretty dedicated cook, yourself. Homemade Christmas pudding!

2:12 PM  
Blogger Loulou said...

I love that book!
Made that paste once but never the chili. I like my chili thick, not soupy, so the picture looked delicious. But you should alter it to suit your taste.

3:05 PM  
Blogger sab said...

Hi Susan,

We have a 'chili cookoff' once a year at our house as an excuse to have a big party. We've been doing it for 7 years, and each year it gets bigger (30+ chilis this year).

Who knew there could be that many different ways (mostly bad) to make chili. We've had entries with corn, tofu, curry/coconut, etc. Trying too hard is usually what gets people into trouble. We had a professional chef one year who toasted his own chiles, crushed them by hand in his pestle, used hand-trimmed lamb, etc. Tasted like burnt dirt w/ a funny whang to it.

The best chilis follow some general groundrules, but like most stews/soups, are relatively unstructured. My wife claims (with good cause) that I can't replicate the same chili twice. They usually include a good beef roast (cubed and browned), some broth to deglaze (chicken or beef is fine), onion, garlic, cumin & chili powder. Other optional ingredients can include beans, tomatoes, beer, fresh chilis, sausage, many different flavorings - spices, chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, etc. Consistency should be similar to a gumbo, or beef stew, or thick soup.

And that's not even including green chilis (my favorite).

8:07 PM  

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