Chili con carni

After two meals around other folks’ homes, including an excellent Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, it was my turn on Boxing Day. I traditionally go for the path of least resistance and have a ‘go to’ recipe for chili con carni which has metamorphosed over the years I have been cooking it into something really easy to reproduce. What it lacks in finesse it makes up for in taste. I’ll call it ‘chilli’ to avoid being annoyed by the spell checker.

The starting point for the chilli is minced beef and minced pork, both lean and in equal proportions. For the four bubbling pans on the hob in the main photo I bought one and half big supermarket packs of lean mince of both meat types. I was cooking for seven people, but expected seconds to be served and also I like to have some left over to freeze.

My first disaster of the day was to spill a pint of water over the coffee table and carpet, but at least it was water and not beer or wine. My second #firstworldproblem was finding that the mince I had been keeping in the freezer hadn’t defrosted properly. I read that you can cook mince from frozen, but I always like to make sure it’s defrosted throughly. I dread to think what kind of bacteria are lurking inside and the last thing I wanted to do was to give anyone food poisoning. So I laid it all out on various tins under the kitchen halogen bulbs and busied myself with the peripheral things like chopping onions etc.

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The essential bare material

Once it was ready to be fried I did it in batches – frying it until it passed through the quiet period where it seems like the gas has gone out through to the point where all the fat and water has disappeared and it’s in danger of sticking to the pan. I don’t use any oil and I cook the mince to within an inch of its life constantly stirring and separating out the lumps so it’s thoroughly browned. I used to fanny about draining off the fat and water, but I’m passed that these days. Third disaster was the destruction of my favourite spatula that I have used for years – its a little thing I got with a wok and has served me well – that day it decided to snap in two spectacularly, showering the kitchen with hot lumps of mince.

It’s a one pan deal for me at this point. I give the mince all the attention and offload each batch into a big mixing bowl lined with absorbent kitchen paper.

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I chopped up two large red onions and fried them too and dumped them into the bowl with the mince. Then I cooked up two large red peppers chopped into pieces the same size as the onion, for less time than the onion until they were just catching. Again no oil required as long as you’ve got a decent frying pan.

Then it’s time to get out three big pans and dump the following into each of them: a can of baked beans, a can of chopped tomatoes in their sauce, a can of kidney beans in chili sauce (I used to used beans in water but realised I could save messing about with rinsing them if I bought them in chilli sauce).

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The chilli powder is a ‘just in case’ and the paprika is used sparingly because of it’s smoked flavour. I also use cumin if I’m not using the chilli powder. All dry spices are added once the other chilli ingredients have been cooking for 15min or so.

I get this cooking and then dump in the mince. This time I realised I needed another pan and so shared all the available ingredients between four pans (one of which is actually a wok). All pans on deck!

The onion and the pepper went in too. At this point I leave it a while, add the spices and then cook on low heat for at least another 40 minutes. I taste it then and figure out if I need more spice. If the chilli is still too watery I would in the past add some Campbell’s condensed tomato soup (my secret weapon for a thicker chilli). However, I have found recently that cooking longer and lower means that the soup isn’t required and leads to a meatier flavour – especially if the mince has been almost burned.

This time (learning from experience) I zizzed up a jar of Old El Paso red jalapenos and shared it out among the pans. I put the chilli powder away and instead added a little paprika and cumin.

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The jalapenos gave the chilli a fruity piquant flavour and the paprika gave it a bit of a barbecue flavour. I served the chilli with microwave rice, grated mild cheddar cheese, refried beans that literally look like shit but taste nice and a couple of bowls of nachos, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

Some people will add a bar of dark chocolate to the chilli 15mins before serving to give it sweetness. Personally I think this is pretty sacrilegious – both to the chilli and the chocolate.

To drink, we were catering to a number of different tastes. There were J20s and Diet Cokes knocking about, some cans of John Smiths bitter and then some slightly more interesting alcohol:

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Carling Zest – a low fizz lager with a lime flavour seemed perfectly suited to the occassion and at around 2% was a good antidote to the post-Christmas hangover; Gilde Jule Aquavit is all the way from Norway and at 40% proof is akin to drinking rocket fuel – perfect to warm you up after an afternoon skiing – it’s actually fun as shots and stood in for tequila on this occasion; the Barefoot white zinfandel is a Californian rose which is as fruity and as sweet as you’d want for a festive tipple.

Pudding was cup cakes and ice cream. Like I said, keeping it simple 🙂

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