Monday, May 23, 2016

Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans

The heck with canned chili, my Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans is the best way to go. Slow cooking cheap pinto beans with beef is a perfect combination. And when pinto beans are flavored with dried chilies, tomato sauce, cumin, oregano, brown sugar and a little vinegar, that's a whole lotta flavor.

Beef and Bean Chili is a Southern staple, especially in Texas. Pull into any truck stop or BBQ joint and you'll find it. Sometimes it's fiery spicy, so make sure to get a tall glass of iced tea. You can get plain Chile Beans without meat, but in cattle country, why bother?

Toppings for your steaming bowl of meaty chili vary. My wife doesn't like raw chopped onion on hers, but I do. We both like cheese though, especially sharp cheddar cheese. A Tex-Mex version has a scoop of Fritos Corn Chips out of the bag. I know it sound weird, but the extra salty fried corn chip crunch kicks this lowdown cowboy cuisine into high gear. Go ahead and get a small bag of Fritos (I like lightly salted) and see what I'm talking about.

The most unusual ingredient for this recipe is a package of dried chile. I get mine from the 99c only Store and from my local Latin market. You only need about 6 dried chilies.

Click on photo to see larger.

Packages of dried red chilies come in a variety of types: California, Ancho, New Mexico and Guajillo. The colors go from deep red to black. Ancho chili has the strongest flavor, while the others are mild. And you soak them in hot water for a few minutes to soften, but make sure to remove the stem and too spicy hot seeds first. You may still have a little bit of heat though.

If you can't find dried chilies, it's okay to substitute with two cans of red enchilada sauce or red chile sauce. You can use whole red chilies (like chipotle) from the can - just make sure to taste any canned sauce you add, for spiciness. Another easy substitution is dried chili powder (about 4 tablespoons.)

I've been cooking with dried chilies lately. They make an intense salsa, and are the base flavor for rich Pozole, a Mexican hominy, chili and meat stew (my video recipe, here.)

All the other veggies and spices are easy to get cheaply. And pinto beans are about the least expensive legume you can find - often for way less than a dollar per pound. They take at least 3-4 hours of simmering to make tender and thicken the broth like Ranch Style Beans from a can. And they will be even tastier the next day, when you heat them up again.

(For a simple instant version, brown ground meat and mix with canned Ranch Style Beans; or add cooked beef to pinto beans along with a tablespoon of chili powder.)

As for meat, I've been cooking with beef shank lately. I first tried this cut of beef in an Italian classic pasta dish called Pasta alla Genovese (just click here to see that recipe.) It is quite lean, but in need of braising for a couple hours to break it down into tender bites.

My local Latin market stocks whole sliced shanks for less that two dollars per pound - now that's even cheaper than ground beef these days. The large packages of beef shank are in the 5-7 pound range. For my recipe you will need 2-4 pounds of meat. Of course, add as much beef as you like to suit your budget. Any leftover meat freezes well.

You can use any cheap cuts of beef for this recipe, even ground beef. Any beef will tenderize using my cheap$kate recipe cooking technique.

The aroma of my slow cooking Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans will draw a crowd. So keep the doors and window closed if you don't want unwanted visitors! Hey, this recipe will feed a crowd, so don't be stingy  -- go ahead and throw a Chili Party and invite the neighbors. And don't forget to get a large bag of Frito Corn Chips.

Ingredients (about 6 servings)
  • 2-4 pounds beef - any favorite cut. I used cheap beef shank. Okay to use ground beef. Add as much beef as your budget will allow.
  • 1 pound pinto beans - rinse and remove debris, if any.
  • 1 whole onion - white or yellow, chopped. I used a yellow onion.
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic - fresh or from jar. Okay to use dried or granulated garlic.
  • 15 ounce can tomato sauce - okay to use any canned tomato, in pieces or whole. Just break up the tomatoes in a large bowl before adding. (They will soften and form a sauce after a few hours of simmering.) 
  • 6 dried chilis - remove stem and seeds. I used California Chilies. Okay to use any type of dried red chilies, except for the very small fiery ones. Other dried red chilies are Ancho, New Mexico and Guajillo. For an easy substitution, use two 15ounce cans of red chile, enchilada sauce, or 4 tablespoons of red chili powder.
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar - white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste - if you use cured pork then reduce the salt amount, as the pork is salty.
  • 2 cups of water - to rehydrate dried chilies.
  • 5 cups of water - for boiling the beans. 

Get the dried chilies rehydrating. First remove the stems and seeds from dried chilies. Add them to 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and allow the chilies to soak for about 10 minutes to soften.

Add 5 cups of water to a large pot and turn up the heat.

Rinse the pinto beans and pick out any discolored bit of debris. Add beans to the pot of heating water. For quicker cooking you can soak the pinto bean overnight, or a couple hours.

Add one chopped onion and a tablespoon of minced garlic. Some cooks like to saute onion and garlic first.

Next add the spices: ground cumin, dried oregano, brown sugar, vinegar and salt and pepper.

Dried chilies should be soft and the chili broth cool enough to blend. Add chilies to a blender or food processor, and enough chili broth to cover the soft chilies. Blend for a 30 seconds to a minute until smooth. Some chili pieces will still be left, but that's okay, as they  will dissolve after a few hours of simmering with the beans.

(The lazy way to work with whole dried chilies is to remove the stem and seeds, then add them to the cooking beans. After an hour, fish out the chiles with a half cup of liquid. Allow to cool and blend them. Add back to chili and continue cooking.)

Add chili sauce to pot with beans. Pour in a can of tomato sauce. If using whole tomatoes then break them into smaller pieces.

Slice beef into bite-sized pieces. You can remove excess fat, but do leave just a little for some richness. Also add any bone attached to meat - that's extra flavor! If using ground beef break it into chunks - as ground beef cooks, it will crumble apart every time you check on chili to give it a stir.

Mix all the ingredients in the pot.

Now bring it all to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Cook about 3-4 hours. Check beans every half hour to stir, so beans don't stick to bottom of pot and burn.

Uncover the pot and cook another hour reduce and thicken the liquid, if necessary. Taste Beef and Bean Chili before serving to make sure the beans are tender.

If you use beef shanks there is a soft marrow in the bone. I call this the "chef's reward." Carefully remove the bone and scoop out the marrow. Spread it on half a slice of toast with a pinch of salt, or just eat it right out of the bone - it's so creamy and rich!

Texas-style Beef and Bean Chili, served in a BBQ joint, has been slow cooking all day. If the liquid cooks down too much then add a little water, as needed. Stir occasionally so beans do not stick to bottom of pot.

If you don't have access to whole dried chilies or enchilada sauce, an easy substitution is 4 tablespoons of chili powder from a spice jar.

For more chili flavor add a couple more dried chilies, or add a tablespoon of chili powder or paprika. Just taste the broth after a couple of hours to see if it needs more chili spice flavor.

Soaking pinto beans overnight will reduce cooking time by an hour.

For a simple instant version of Beef and Bean Chili: fry up some ground beef, add a tablespoon of chili powder and a can or two of cooked pinto beans. Finally mix and heat it all up!

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