I used to wait tables in a vegetarian restaurant many, many years ago, and one of the items on the menu was Cashew Chili. I would say about one-third of the customers would look at the menu, then look up at me, and ask – “Are there really cashews in the Cashew Chili?”
It was hard to respond to that. Although the answer “Yes” seemed pretty obvious (at least to me), it was hard to say “Yes, the Cashew Chili really does have cashews in it” without sounding like a wise-ass. Thinking about it now, I probably could have come back with a more interesting retort and I guess should think of another one for this chili recipe, because it is made with beans, and likely to raise some hackles.
Therefore, I would like to officially recognize that real Texas Chili does not have beans in it.
But when you have beautiful Rancho Gordo beans in your kitchen, and you don’t live anywhere near Texas, I took it upon myself to cash in one of my dwindling ‘free pass’ cards you get when you live overseas, and made a bean-based chili. (And it would be silly to write a recipe for chili that didn’t have beans in it if you’re writing a blog post about beans.)
I’ve been wanting to make chili for ages and when I was sent a copy of The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, that I happily wrote a quote for that’s on the back of the book, which is more of a handbook to using and identifying beans than a cookbook. It’s arrival prompted me to open one of my precious packages of Rancho Gordo beans and hit the butcher shop.
One of the few things I usually bring back to France are these beans, which I order online (there is a flat-fee for shipping anywhere in the states so I can order as much as I want – come to think of it, I wish I could order some more of those “free pass” cards just as easily…), and the bean packets fit neatly in and around all the unfilled spaces in my precisely filled suitcase.
My French guests have never seen beans like these and are always amazed by their swirling, variegated designs. Names like Good Mother Stallard and Yellow Eye don’t exactly translate – nor does ‘hackles’ – but I’ve never had one complaint in my years of cooking them.
Normally you buy a stewing meat for chili and unfortunately my butcher happened to be closed, so I went to the supermarket and the beef I bought was a bit tough. So the pieces that I sautéed were too large and I ended up trimming them down from what you see in the photos here after I browned them off, before adding them to the pot.
Use whatever chiles you like or what’s available. I was reading up a little on chili and it seems like it’s a bit of a fallacy that chili is supposed to be fiery-hot. Or at least there’s some contention, which chili seems to bring out in people. (I feel the same way about Caesar Salad and Salade Niçoise. And bagels.) My chiles weren’t labeled as to what variety they were – just piment fort – or ‘strong chiles’, and I found them reasonably mild, but very flavorful. Dried and fresh chiles vary in heat so you can adjust the intensity to your liking by choosing ones that you like.
Since I veered from tradition already with the beans, I thought about adding some chocolate, which gives the chili additional depth of flavor. A few months ago I was doing a cooking demonstration in a Paris department store, and I like to expose people here to artisan American chocolate, since they draw a blank when you mention American bean-to-bar chocolate.
I had some chocolate labeled “baking chocolate” from Patric and when I passed out samples, after chewing on the tablets for a few seconds, everyone suddenly scrunched up their faces, which is when I realized I’d given them unsweetened chocolate to try. No wonder people have misconceptions about American food.
So apologies to the French cooking class participants who I duped by accident, to Texans for putting beans in my chile, and former customers (and everyone else) who thought I was being a wise-guy in my past. But this was a really big hit around here, with French and American friends, so I think I’ve made amends.
About 8 servings
There’s lots of ways to soak and cook dried beans. Some use a pressure cooker and others use the soak and simmer method, as I do. If you wish to use canned beans, use 8 cups (1kg) red or pinto beans with their liquid in place of the cooked dried beans. I start my chili the day before by salting the meat and soaking the beans, although you can omit the first two steps and just go right in to the recipe.
In France, butcher shops sell beef especially for long stewing, called Morceaux de bourguignon. (Or paleron or gîte.) For those who can’t get unsweetened chocolate, use an extra ounce (30g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and skip the brown sugar.
As mentioned, use whatever chiles (fresh or dried) are available to use.) And feel free to dial up the spices, if you’d like. I kept it more moderate, since I like the flavor of the beans to shine through. But you can certainly season to taste.
1 pound (450g) dried red or variegated heirloom beans
1 bay leaf
- 2 pounds (1kg) beef stewing meat, such as boneless short ribs or chuck roast, cut into 1-inch (3 cm) cubes
- 3 teaspoons salt (total), smoked if available
- 2 to 4 dried chiles, or one fresh chile, minced
- about 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2-3 teaspoons red chile powder
- 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (if available, otherwise use an additional teaspoon red chile powder)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups (50cl) beer
- 2 cans (15oz, 200g each) crushed or diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 ounces (55g) unsweetened chocolate
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar or lime juice
1. Rinse the beans and sort them to remove any debris. Put in a bowl and cover with cold water and let soak overnight.
2. Put the cubes of beef in a freezer bag with 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt, massage gently, and refrigerate overnight.
3. The next day drain the beans, cover with several inches (centimeters) of water. Add the bay leaf and bring to a full boil for ten minutes. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until tender, one to three hours, adding more water if the water boils away. Once done, remove the bay leaf.
4. In a large casserole or Dutch oven (at least 6 quarts, 6l), heat the oil. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the pan, brown the pieces of beef, resisting the urge to turn them until they are truly dark on each side. The browning adds a great deal of flavor.
As the meat pieces brown, remove the pieces to a separate plate and brown the remaining pieces. If necessary, add a bit more oil to the pan as you go.
5. If using dried chiles, snip them into a small bowl in very tiny pieces with scissors and pour just enough boiling water over them to cover. If using fresh chiles, remove the stem and chop them finely. (You can either discard the seeds, which are hot, or use them.)
6. Once all the meat is browned, fry the onions in the pot until they are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, as well as the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, chile powders, oregano, cumin, and paprika, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly to release the flavors of the spices.
7. Add the beans to the pot along with their liquid, as well as the chiles, beer, tomatoes (and their juices), brown sugar, and chocolate.
8. Simmer the chili at the absolute lowest temperature possible (I use a flame-tamer) for at least 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. If necessary to cook much longer, you may need to add additional water if the chile becomes too thick. When done, stir in the vinegar or lime juice. Taste, and adjust any seasonings, such as the chile powder and the salt.
Serving: There’s plenty of ways to serve chile. Some like it over rice, others prefer it plain. Be sure to offer bowls of sour cream, slice green onions, grated cheese, and chopped cilantro so guests can customize their bowls. Cornbread is a great accompaniment, too. There’s some recipes in the links, below.
Storage: Chili can be refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for at least two months. It will thicken considerably subsequent days so you may wish to thin it with water or beer when reheating it.
Notes on dried beans: It’s best to use the freshest dried beans you can find, which sounds a bit like an oxymoron. But the dried beans you buy might have been sitting in the store for several years before the arrive in your kitchen. So try to get them from a place that sells them relatively quickly. Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo recommends using beans that have been dried within one year, if possible. Any dried beans over two years old may not soften.
If you live somewhere where the water is mineral-rich (hard) like it is in Paris, the locals add a pinch of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the cooking water, although when I told Steve that we did this in France, he shook his head vigorously “no”. So next time he comes to France, I’m inviting him over to cook some beans for me : )
In his book he discussed various methods of cooking dried beans, from using clay pots to pressure cookers, which he’s not a fan of because the bean liquids apparently don’t get reduced. I haven’t tried one so can’t comment, but one great tip he does offer is to use a large enough pan so that the beans and their liquid have plenty of room to circulate hot air above them. Choose a pot large enough so that half the pot is empty when cooking the beans.
Related Recipes and Links
Chipotle Chilaquiles (Matt Bites)
Southern Buttermilk Cornbread (Andrea’s Recipes)
Gluten-Free Cornbread (Gluten Free Mommy)
Black Bean Chili (Rancho Gordo)
Turkey Chile (Simply Recipes)
Cabbagetown Cornbread (Wegman’s)
Vegetarian Black Bean Chili (Cowgirl Chef)
Rancho Gordo (Facebook)