If Craig had his way, this post wouldn’t have this title. I just asked him, “Would you call the chili I made the other day the best of your life?” And he answered: “I don’t even think of it as chili because there weren’t any beans; just lots of meat and stuff. But it was certainly delicious.”
Luckily, when my friend Diana ate it, she said the words that justify this post’s title. “This is seriously the best chili I’ve ever had.”
It’s also the best chili I’ve ever had. And, actually, the best chili my friends Jeffery and Cole have ever had too (I cooked it for them in December.) It comes from Michael Symon’s “Live to Cook” and when you hear what goes in it–five pounds of pork shoulder (or cheeks), one pound of slab bacon, beer, chipotles in adobo sauce, and black-eyed peas–you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.
It’s true, as Craig says, that the resulting chili is more of a stew than the kind of chili you’re used to. But what’s the definition of chili? According to Wikipedia it’s taken from “chili con carne” and it means “peppers with meat.” And this has peppers (red pepper, jalapenos, and the chipotle) as well as meat—plenty of that. So now that we’ve proved it’s chili, can we get Craig to agree it’s the best ever?
I just asked him that very question. And after a moment’s pause, he had this to say:
Craig, unfortunately, doesn’t dig hyperbole like I do. But he did dig this chili and so, I suspect, will you.
Michael Symon’s Pork Cheek Chili
from “Live To Cook”
4 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground [Note: take the seeds, put them in a dry non-stick skillet which you heat and toss them around until they become fragrant and toasty. Don’t burn them! Then grind them in a coffee grinder (but not one you use to make coffee). And yes, this step’s important: I even took pictures.]
[I think the secret to a lot of this chili’s flavor was in toasting and grinding those seeds myself.]
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 pounds pork cheeks or pork shoulder, cleaned, trimmed, and cubed [I actually only used 4 pounds and that was PLENTY; 5 pounds probably wouldn’t have fit in my Dutch oven, so plan accordingly]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and very finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1 12-ounce bottle amber ale or porter
2 cups chicken stock
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
2 canned chipotles in adobo, seeded and minced
1 pound dried black-eyed peas (1 2/3 cups) picked over and rinsed
1 small cinnamon stick
Shredded smoked cheddar cheese
Fresh cilantro leaves
Sliced scallions, white and green parts
In a large bowl, combine the coriander, paprika, and cumin and toss with the pork cheeks (or shoulder). Season with salt and pepper (I seasoned it aggressively.)
In a large enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the pork and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and brown the remaining pork. Transfer to the plate. [Note: I broke it up into 4 batches so the meat got caramelized and didn’t steam; it took longer, but was probably worth it.]
Add the bacon to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and slightly crisp, about 7 minutes.
Add the onion, garlic, jalapenos, and bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
Return the pork cheeks to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the ale, chicken stock, tomatoes, chipotles, black-eyed peas, and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.
Cover and cook over very low heat until the meat and beans are tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
Season the chili with salt and pepper. Spoon off the fat from the surface and discard the cinnamon stick. Serve the chili in bowls. Pass the smoked cheddar, cilantro, scallions, and creme fraiche at the table.