Full disclosure: I'm a vegetarian chili gal at heart. If there's beef involved, I prefer it in closer to a 1:1 ratio with my beans. This chili, from Tom Mylan's The Meat Hook Meat Book, is not like that. And rightfully so, given that it's coming from a book with 'meat' in the title twice. Instead, it's brimming with a ton of ground meat. Okay, not a ton, but an impressive five pounds—two of beef, two of pork, and one of lamb—or 20 quarter-pounders, to put things in perspective. But it looked so crazy appetizing in the photo, I just had to try it.
The chili's base is a purée of punchy and earthy rehydrated guajillo chilies. There are your typical chili ingredients, like onion, garlic, and canned tomatoes, and an atypical one—hominy, which adds body to the finished dish. Mylan takes no shortcuts when handling his flavors; he calls for toasted and ground cumin seeds, instead of the easier but perhaps inferior powder, and he sets the whole thing on fire with a whopping 1/4 cup of cayenne. Then for the fun part: you take an immersion blender to the pot, breaking down the chunks of meat and hominy until you reach, as he says, Hormel consistency.
All this results in the richest chili I've ever had. So rich that I needed the cheese and sour cream to moderate the intensity! In fact, everyone that shared in this giant pot, and there were lots of us, echoed the same sentiment—that it was delicious, but better suited to go on something, like a chili dog or baked potato. (It would also make killer Cinncinati-style spaghetti or chili-mac.) And then I finally clued in on the line in the book's intro in which Mylan calls his ideal chili "...more suited to pouring over a hot dog than eating out of a bowl." Well, there you go. Mission complete.
Why I picked this recipe: I thought if anyone could make me a meaty chili convert, Mylan could.
What worked: The blend of meats achieved a roundness of fatty flavor that beef alone can't match, and the suggested hit of vinegar at the end definitely helped lift the chili out of gut-busting greasiness. Ultimately, this was a really solid, worth-the-effort chili, with a few caveats.
What didn't: Eating it out of a bowl. Now, I'm sure many of you will love it just that way, but if you go that route, serve with a side of Tums. I, and my many tasters, also found that the cayenne overpowered the other layers of flavor; the full 1/4 cup ended up harsh and unpleasant. One more little note: The recipe calls for two 16-ounce cans of whole tomatoes. That's difficult to find, if it exists; I used the more common 28-ounce can.
Suggested tweaks: Start with 2 tablespoons of cayenne and add more to taste. Another glitch I side-stepped is attempting to brown all the meat at once, as instructed. Though it adds substantially more time to the making of the chili, cook the meat in at least 3 batches if you want any browning at all. That is, unless you have a massive pot. (On that note, you will need at least an 8-quart capacity, and that only left a few inches to the rim.) You could, of course, halve the recipe instead, if you don't need to feed a crowd.
As usual, we have 5 copies of The Meat Hook Meat Book to give away this week.
Excerpted from The Meat Hook Meat Book by Tom Mylan (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Michael Harlan Turkell. Illustrations by Kate Bonner.