There are two chili recipes in Lisa Fain’s incredible and indispensable new “Homesick Texan Cookbook.” The first is, according to Fain, “an all-day affair,” a real-deal Texas chili (that means no beans) that requires careful shopping (seven different chiles–anhcho, pasilla, guajillo, chipotle, chiles de arbol, cayenne, and pequin–are employed) and five hours of simmering on the stove. The second chili is a one-hour chili for those who “don’t have the time or the patience to wait for a hearty bowl of red.”
As I considered these two chilis last Friday I had to ask myself some tough questions. Was I going to take the wimpy way out and do the one-hour chili? Or would I man up and face the challenge and make the intimidating, time-consuming, costly, and dirty-dish causing Seven Chile Chili? Two chilis diverged before me and readers, I’m proud to say, I chose the chili less traveled by. Here’s how it all went down.
The first thing that you have to do when shopping for a seven chile chili is to find the seven chiles. After Tweeting a request for a place to buy dried chiles near Silverlake (where I was doing work), Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (of The Kitchn) suggested The Spice Station, which was right down the street.
This store is utterly charming. Clearly, this’ll be my new Kalustyan’s when it comes to finding exotic spices in Los Angeles:
The really nice woman there, Heather, helped me find all of the chiles that I needed. The only one they didn’t have at the moment was pasilla, so she suggested that I use Mulato chiles instead. Here are all the chiles in their little baggies once I got them home:
And here they are out of their packets, on a plate:
To make the seven chile chili, you toast all of those chiles in a hot skillet:
Then you add water, bring it to a boil, take it off the heat and let those chiles soak for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, you render some bacon in a Dutch oven:
You cut up four pounds of meat (in this case, chuck roast):
Then you brown that meat in the bacon fat (I didn’t have the patience to do it in batches–that would’ve taken a long time in my small Dutch oven–so I stupidly overcrowded the pan and the beef didn’t brown the way it should’ve; didn’t really matter, though! With all those chiles, this certainly wasn’t lacking in flavor); remove the meat to a plate and cook onions and garlic in all the rendered fat.
Eventually, you add all of the meat back into the pot with coffee, beer, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, clove, allspice, cayenne, grated Mexican hot chocolate (I used a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, at Lisa’s suggestion), and kosher salt.
And, then of course, you add the chiles. Into a blender they go with some water (you actually add the pequins at this point because they don’t need to soak):
And then you blend until it’s pasty:
Stir that into your chili, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and then the waiting begins. Five hours! Here it is at the halfway point:
But as you can see from the lead picture (which was taken after it had cooked for five hours), the color gets even darker and the sauce gets thicker as it cooks all that time. Lisa has you thicken it with masa harina at the end, but I couldn’t find that and it really wasn’t a problem–the chili was thick enough. I served it up, as Lisa illustrates in the book, with Saltines, pickled jalapenos and chopped onion:
Craig, though, did his with cheese, sour cream and crackers around the perimeter. Whatever floats your boat:
As for the chili itself, this was one of the best I’ve ever made; it had that complex, developed flavor that you can only get from thoughtful, patient cooking. The meat, which starts out tough, becomes extraordinarily tender (it melts in your mouth by the end). Surprisingly, the finished chili wasn’t at all spicy–I suppose I could’ve used more cayenne or an extra pequin chile or two–but, instead, smoky and slightly fruity. The best part is this makes a lot and it only gets better the longer it sits in the refrigerator; so tonight’s chili should be even better than Friday night’s.
And so it was that I faced a great chili challenge and prevailed. Are you brave enough to do the same? With Lisa’s blessing, here’s the recipe.
Recipe: Lisa Fain’s Seven-Chile Texas Chili
Summary: The signature chili recipe from Lisa Fain’s “Homesick Texan Cookbook.” (Copyright Lisa Fain, The Homesick Texan Cookbook, 2011.)
- 6 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried pasilla chiles
- 2 dried guajillo chiles
- 2 dried chipotle chiles
- 4 dried chiles de arbol
- 4 pieces of bacon
- 4 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- 1 bottle of beer
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon grated Mexican hot chocolate
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 4 dried pequin chiles
- 2 tablespoons masa harina
- Grated cheddar and chopped onions, for serving
- Remove the seeds and stems from the dried chiles. In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the ancho chiles, pasilla chiles, guajillo chiles, chipotle chiles, and chiles de arbol on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover chiles. Leave the heat on until the water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven, fry the bacon on medium heat. When it’s done, remove from the pan and drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Leave the bacon grease in the pot, and on medium heat, cook the beef on each side until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. (You may have to do this in batches.) [Note from Adam: if the skillet runs dry, add a little Canola or vegetable oil to continue browning the beef.]
- Remove the browned beef from the pot. Leaving the heat on, add the diced onions to the pot and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the beef back into the pot, crumble in the bacon, and add the coffee, beer, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, clove, allspice, cayenne, chocolate, 3 cups of water, and salt. Turn the heat up to high.
- While the pot is coming to a boil, make the chile puree. Drain and rinse the chiles then place them in a blender along with the pequin chiles (you don’t need to presoak these little chiles) and 1 cup of fresh water. Puree until nice and smooth and then pour the chile puree into the pot.
- When the chile begins to boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste it once an hour and adjust the seasonings. If it starts to get too dry, add more water. After 5 hours, scoop out 1/4 cup of broth out of the pot and combine with the masa harina. Pour the masa harina mixture into the pot and stir until the chili is thickened. Let the chili simmer for another 30 minutes or so. When done, serve with cheddar and onions.
Lisa notes that if you can’t find all of these chiles, you can use just anchos and chipotles. (Or any combination of the chiles listed.)
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 5 hour(s)
Diet tags: High protein
Number of servings (yield): 8