Everyone has a favorite chili recipe. Mine will always be my mother's, complete with ground beef and a packet of taco seasoning. It may not be gourmet, but it's pure comfort food to me. It's also never quite tasted the same when I've tried to make it—there's something about eating it at my parents' home, wrapped up in a blanket while sitting around the fire that just makes it that much better.
Now that I cook for a living, I've come up with plenty of different chili recipes, each different from the last, and found new personal preferences of my own. When it's not my mom's, I want big cubes of tender braised beef, and lots and lots of beans. I crave rich, complex flavors that only get better with time. And there's not a package of spice mix in sight.
This hearty beef and bean chili is one of my new all-time favorites. I use a bold Mexican chili powder to add lots of spicy depth, and the addition of bittersweet chocolate hints at the intense flavors of a mole sauce. A little sugar rounds out all of the flavors, and cayenne adds just enough heat to please anybody's taste.
I made a big pot of this for my mom yesterday. Let's just say even she was smitten. I don't know if she'll ever stop making her "famous" recipe, but from now on, she may say her favorite chili is her daughter's. I can hope.
Beef and Bean Chili
Canola oil, or another high heat cooking oil
2 1/2 - 3 pounds boneless boneless chuck or sirloin, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 small sweet onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12 ounce) bottle lager-style beer
1 (28 ounce) can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons good-quality chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt EXCELLENCE 70% Cocoa Bar
2 (15.5 ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained
3/4 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a large Dutch oven or cast iron pot, heat a few tablespoons canola oil over medium-high to high heat. Thoroughly pat the beef dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Working in small batches, sear the beef cubes until all sides are deep brown and a dark fond is forming in the pot. Add more canola oil to the pot if it looks like it is starting to burn. Remove the beef to a separate bowl after browning each batch.
Lower the heat to medium. Add a couple more tablespoons of canola oil. Add the onions, and cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Pour in the beer to deglaze the pan and remove the fond from the bottom of the pot. Simmer beer for a few minutes.
Add the beef with its juices, tomatoes, chicken stock, chili powder and cumin into the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low/medium low. Soften the chocolate in a small saucepan or the microwave and stir into the chili. Simmer for about 1 hour.
Add the beans and season with sugar, cayenne, salt, and pepper to taste. Continue to cook the chili for an additional 30 minutes to an hour, until the beef is very tender and the beans are warm.
Remove from the heat. Bring to room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator. The chili will naturally thicken up as it cools. This chili is best served 1-2 days after cooking. It just keeps getting better and better.
To serve, reheat on medium-low until warm. Serve with sliced green onions, grated cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)