"All along I had been searching for a chili that tasted like chiles, and this one was it."
Recently I have been craving nothing but spicy food—really spicy food. Not just hot sauce spicy but tingling, lip-burning, spicy food that you know is a bad idea even when you are eating it. I've been seeking out the hottest Sichuan, the most chile-laden Mexican, and snapping up everything pepper-related in the market. My theory is it's a subconscious reaction to the frigid February weather but that doesn't make all that much sense because as far as I know, spicy food doesn't keep you any warmer.
Regardless, my craving for all things that rank on the Scoville scale goes on and all of the chiles that go into this recipe for Chili from Lucinda Scala Quinn's Mad Hungry caught my eye.
The recipe starts with toasting and grinding dried chiles into a deep red paste in lieu of the more common chili powder (a milder mix of dried chiles with many other aromatic but decidedly not very spicy spices). The other hot factors are pickled jalapeños, red chili flakes, and cayenne.
I've made countless batches of chili in my life. Many have been richly flavored, beefy, and smoky but none have been really hot. I was hoping that Quinn's version would be that chili.
To amp up the heat, I left most of the seeds of the dried peppers intact and added the jalapeños and red chili flakes with a heavy hand. I was a bit worried about killing the flavor with too much spice but the finished chili had a wonderful balance of dark, beefy chili flavor and a kick that was right where I wanted it.
Making a batch of chili without using chili powder was a real eye-opener. I've always found that jarred chili powder has a staleness to it, even a vaguely chalky character, but this powderless chili had none of that. The ground chile paste had an amazing depth and the pickled jalapeños provided an acidity that I've never encountered in chili before. All along I had been searching for a chili that tasted like chiles, and this one was it.
This chili was a big crowd-pleaser at my house, and easy enough to double or even triple for a game day crowd. If you have any hungry chili aficionados joining you for Sunday's game, Quinn's dried chile accented chili would make a wonderful centerpiece.
- 5 dried red chilies (Mexican ancho, New Mexican Hatch, or Anaheim)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (1 tablespoon)
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped (optional)
- 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, broken up, with juice
- 12 ounces beer
- 1 15-ounce can beans (pinto, kidney, black, or a combination), drained
In a dry large skillet over high heat, lightly toast both sides of the chilies for a few minutes. After roasting, remove from pan to slice open, then remove and discard the stem and seeds. Cover the chilies in boiling water and let soften for 5 minutes. In a blender or food processor, puree the chiles with enough soaking liquid to form a thick paste.
Heat the skillet again over medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat and add the beef, stirring occasionally to pick up browned bits on the bottom of the pan as the moisture evaporates, about 15 minutes. If the meat is excessively fatty (your judgement call), spoon off some of the fat, but leave some for flavor.
Stir in the cumin and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chile paste, red pepper flakes, oregano, bay leaf, jalapeños, and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine well.
Add the tomatoes and beer and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the beans and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Add water if needed for consistency. Serve with preferred condiments.