Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Best Chili Ever

Chili is so contentious. Or rather, people get so contentious about chili. You either make the best chili or you know where to get the best chili. Therefore, it logically follows that, by the definition of "the best," everyone who either (a) claims to make the best chili or (b) names some other place or person as the source of the best chili is, by logical necessity, DEAD WRONG because I make the best chili. I will explain why.

That is not the best photograph of the best chili, but it will serve our purpose. Our purpose is for you, the reader, to learn how to make your own version of the best chili ever.

To start, you absolutely must make a very good beef stock. I use oxtail bones, and I make sure to select pieces of oxtail that have a huge amount of pure, white fat around the bone part. I trim this fat, put it into a sauce pot, and melt it in "a low oven," i.e. at 200 degrees or lower. This is called "rendering the fat." By rendering the fat you turn it into a usable cooking fat. First, the fat melts, then it cools and solidifies, and finally, it goes back into the bottom of your chili pot (we'll get to that part later). Meanwhile, back to the oxtail bones.

Make a stock with your oxtail bones and your mire poix (2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot). When the stock is fully cooked, strain out the mushy vegetables, pull out the bones and reserve them for later. At this point your stock will probably be a light color, like the color of a lager, and since you'll be wanting to make the best chili ever, you should reduce your stock until it is much darker, not as dark as a stout, but more like the color of a good ale. (This process, including the fat rendering, will make your kitchen smell outrageously awesome.)

bernard clayton's Complete Book of Soups and Stews (some good chili talk here)

So, now that you've got your rendered, chilled fat and your heavily reduced oxtail stock, the next thing you'll be wanting to do is this: get your chili ingredients in place:

ingredients for the best chili ever:

killer oxtail stock and rendered fat
a good pile of kidney beans, cooked to perfection*

*note* you must start with dry beans; canned beans have inferior texture and flavor; see my post, Beans, beans, beans for help with that

a 15 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
a medium onion and some garlic
assorted, dried chilies (dried chipotles are really nice)
spices & herbs (cumin and/or toasted cumin, maybe some crushed coriander, chili powder as necessary, dried oregano, bay leaf)

optional: red wine or beer


And this is how you do it:

Put your rendered fat into the bottom of your pot (along with some olive oil if you didn't get a good quantity of fat) and heat your pot to something like medium heat. Toss in your diced onions and cook them until they get some nice color. (Here, burning them a bit is not a problem; in fact, it will lend some smoke to the flavor.) Then add your dried herbs and spices until they become aromatic. (Cooking dried spices in oil or fat helps to release and spread their flavors.) Then add your garlic until it becomes aromatic, about 30 seconds. Then, bang in your can of whole peeled tomatoes---oh, be sure to get good tomatoes---deglaze the pot as necessary, bring to a boil, toss in your various dried chilies + bay leaf, reduce and simmer. (Your tomatoes will break apart own their own, but you can help that process along with a fork.)

At this point you will have a dark, thick, spicy tomato broth. Keep this cooking until all the flavors have developed and melded. Then add some of your dark oxtail stock. This will produce a less dark, less thick, spicy, beefy tomato broth, and that's the foundation for an awesome chili.

OK, let's say that you've got your foundation to the exact color, thickness and flavor that you desire. The next thing you'll want to do is add your beans. Here, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to use a ton of beans. You want this chili to be 70% beans. (Hence, the importance of really nice beans). Right. Now you can go ahead and dump in your beans AND some of that gorgeous and flavorful, dark and ruddy bean cooking water. Once this is done, simmer the pot for a bit, salt and pepper gradually to taste, and then simmer a bit longer.

If you have done everything right, you should have some really nice chili.

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