There are some dishes that have no real rules, like chili for example, because the recipe changes dramatically depending on where you travel. Of course, Texan purists might think that they have the upper hand with their no-beans-allowed, beef-laden “Bowl o’ Red,” which is so iconic that in 1977, it was proclaimed the official state food. However, if you venture outside the Lone Star State to the Midwest, your chili might very well feature pinto beans, or even kidney beans. Throughout Michigan you’ll find variations on split hot dogs smothered in savory beef-heart chili spiced with paprika and cumin—flavors well known to the Greek immigrants hailing from Peloponnese, who are credited with this chili’s creation. If you prefer a bowl of something even less conventional, head down to Cincinnati for a chili spiked with cinnamon, decorated with onions and cheese, and ladled over spaghetti.
The chili that I make is different, too, and there are a few rules that I like to follow. For starters, I enjoy Chili con Carne, or Chili with Meat. By meat, I mean beef—not vegetables, not chicken, and certainly not bland-tasting ground turkey (which I think I may have a natural aversion to). I opt for sirloin, a naturally lower fat and more flavorful cut of beef than chuck. To keep the chili’s concentrated and meaty flavor, I also like to cook the meat and drain it first, to remove even more additional fat.
My second rule is to go heavy on the vegetables. I add a lot of onions, garlic and peppers to the pot, specifically red or orange peppers for sweetness and often some poblanos for a little extra heat and flavor. They melt down beautifully when cooked alongside the beef, and they provide a lovely, thick, muscular texture, which is what makes this dish so incredibly hearty and satisfying.
I also happen to love beans, especially for their nutritional value, and while some might insist that adding beans to chili is absolutely heresy, to me, a beef chili loaded with kidney beans reminds me of the kind my mom used to make, and you can’t really argue with that.
The most important rule, however, is that chili needs to be cooked for hours. No exceptions. Much like the meats used in a ragu bolognese, the meats used in chili are tough cuts, and even though they’re ground, you need that extra cooking time not only to tenderize them (as you would any hearty stew, osso bucco, or boeuf bourguignon), but also to marry the flavors of the spices and seasonings that are thrown into the pot early on.
And finally, my last rule for chili—which I think even the purists in Texas might agree with: if you’re going to take the time to make a proper pot of the stuff, no matter which recipe you use, do yourself a favor and make it in bulk. You’ll be happy you did.
This chili is especially good with fresh toppings, like sour cream, green onions and jalapenos. Chunks of avocado and grated cheese are welcome, too.
5lbs ground sirloin
3lbs onions, diced
3lbs red peppers (or a mixture of red, yellow and orange), diced
1lb poblano peppers, diced
heaping 1/3 cup chili powder (or about 8 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
cloves from 1 large head of garlic, minced
1/2 small can adobo sauce (or minced chipotles in adobo), or more to taste
2 large cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2 large cans diced tomatoes
In a large pot, begin cooking and breaking up the sirloin over high heat. Season very well with salt. If it begins to stick, add a splash of oil. When it's cooked through, drain it very thoroughly and remove the extra moisture and fat, and set the meat aside.
Add a small splash of oil to the pan. Add in the diced onions, red peppers and poblanos, and season very well with salt. Cook, stirring often, to sweat the vegetables. Add in the chili powder, cumin and coriander, and cook until the vegetables are translucent. Add in the minced garlic and japaleno, cook for an additional 2 minutes, and then add in the adobo. Add the meat back to the pot, along with the beans and tomatoes. Taste, and season with salt if necessary. If the chili looks too thick (keep in mind that it will need a generous amount of simmering), add a cup or two of water (or beer, or red wine, if you prefer). Let the chili simmer for at least 3 1/2-4 hours, adding water as necessary.