For beef chili, you only need one good recipe to be reliable for game day, a rainy afternoon, or feeding a crowd with ease, and it's long been on my list of dishes to master. I haven't actually made a lot of chili before this one, but since Cook's Illustrated is known for meticulously testing their recipes, I knew it would be a good place to start.
I loved almost everything about the end result. The depth of flavor from working with dried chiles and adding enhancers like molasses and cocoa powder really make a difference, and the sauce is so incredibly rich that you only need one bowl to be satisfied. The main gripe I had was the beef. It just wasn't as tender as I would have liked. Maybe it needed another 30 minutes in the oven, or the chunks were too large. It's hard to say. But in the future I'll keep to the bones of this recipe (I especially loved making the chili paste from scratch), and try different cuts of beef until I find the perfect equation. And although a certain amount of flavor comes from the beef, I'm not opposed to removing the beef entirely and making this chili vegetarian. I foresee many more experiments to come...
Working with dried chiles adds a strong depth of flavor that dried herbs alone can't achieve. Any of your favorite toppings like cilantro and cheddar will work here, but I especially like avocado and sour cream to cool down the heat of the chili.
Adapted only minimally from Cook's Illustrated, January/February 2011
1/2 pound dried pinto beans, rinsed
6 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried árbol chiles, stems removed, pods split, seeds removed
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil
3 small jalapeno chiles, stems and seeds removed, flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons molasses
3 pounds blade steak, cut into 3/4 to 1-inch pieces
1 12 ounce bottle mild lager, such as Samuel Adams
1. Combine 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 4 quarts water and beans in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chiles in 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; roast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4-6 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of a food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.
3. Add arbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the food processor with ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly add 1/2 cup broth until a smooth paste forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to a small bowl and do not clean out the bowl. To the now empty food processor, add onions and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add jalapenos and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about 4 1-second pulses.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 7 1/4 quart Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili paste, tomatoes and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2 cups broth and drained beans; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven, repeating the process until all the beef is finished. When all the beef is added to the Dutch oven, add 1/2 bottle of beef to the skillet, scraping up any browned beats. Transfer to Dutch oven, along with the rest of the beer and bring chili to a simmer.
6. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook until the meat and beans are fully tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Let chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt before serving.