Recipe: Chili Con Carne

Probably like many of you, we were raised on chili made with ground beef and didn't know there was anything else until after we left home! Now, we're converts to chili made with tender cubes of whole beef - but don't tell Mom, ok?Chili is a great dish for stretching food dollars. The vegetables are basic and the beans are always a budget-friendly choice, canned or dry. When using whole cuts of meat, there's a lot more flexibility in what meat we can use - meaning it's ok to substitute whatever meat is on sale this week.

This recipe calls for chuck, but you can feel free to use any shoulder cut, top or bottom round, steak tips, stew meat, or even flank steak. We also sometimes see a cut called "London Broil," which is actually either chuck or top round but packaged as a smaller cut.

In this recipe, we used dry beans that we cooked until they were barely al dente. We add them in the last half hour or so of cooking so they absorb some of the chili broth and soften to perfection. If you use canned beans, add them along with the corn so they don't get overcooked.

As a final note, think of this recipe as a template for making chili. It really is a basic recipe, and you should feel free to add or subtract ingredients or adjust the flavoring to your particular taste!

Chili Con Carne
Serves 6 - 8

2 slices bacon, chopped
1.5 - 2 pounds chuck roast, trimmed of gristle and fat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 Tablespoon salt
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups beef or chicken stock
3 cups of beans (or 2 cans, drained) - pinto, red kidney, or black beans
1 - 2 cups frozen corn
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 - 3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce or other hot sauce (optional)
Shredded monterey jack or cheddar cheese, for serving

In a 6-quart dutch oven or soup pot, fry the bacon over high heat until just crispy. Scoop the bacon out with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a paper towel to drain.

Add the beef cubes to the pan in batches, being sure not to crowd the pan. Sear the meat on all sides and then transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining beef. There should be a dark "fond" forming on the bottom of the pan during the searing. If you start to smell a burnt aroma, turn down the heat to medium.

Drain the bacon fat, leaving one teaspoon in the pan (or add a teaspoon of vegetable oil if no more grease remains). Reduce the heat to medium and cook the onion until it's translucent. Sprinkle the onions with a little salt while they cook. Add the peppers and cook until they have just begun to soften.

Clear a space in the middle of the pan and cook the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the spices and two teaspoons of salt, and cook until the spices are also fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes to the pan and scrape up the fond and other caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan while the tomato juice boils.

Add the stock, the beef cubes, and bacon. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30 minutes, but you can also continue simmering for an hour or more. The longer you have to cook the soup, the more tender the meat will get (just like a braise). Keep tasting the meat until it is as tender as you would like.

Thirty minutes before you'd like to serve, add the partially cooked beans. (If using canned beans, add them with the corn instead). Five minutes before serving, stir in the frozen corn, the Worcestershire sauce, and the hot sauce. Taste the stew and adjust the seasonings as desired. If it tastes a bit flat, add another few teaspoons of salt.

Serve in individual bowls chopped with shredded cheese. We also like to have some tortilla chips and squares of bread on hand for scooping bites and then mopping up the remains from the bottom of the bowl!

Leftovers can be refrigerated and re-heated for a week, or frozen for up to three months.

Related: Look! Cincinnati Chili Cupcakes

(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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