My chilli (con carne)
The only thing that is certain about the origins of chilli is that it did not originate in Mexico. From tales of a Spanish nun ‘appearing’ to native Indians in the 1600s and giving them a recipe for chilli: chilli peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes, to an old legend from the 1700s of immigrants from the Canary Islands landing in southern Texas probably around San Antonio and brings the recipe with them. Historians do know that a chilli type dish was a popular meal among cowboys and pioneers in the Western frontier.
In the late 1800s, chilli stands became popular in San Antonio Texas with local women known and ‘Chilli Queens’ selling “Bowls O’ Red” and so the fame of Chilli Con Carne spread across the country. Since then Chilli has become a popular dish and has an association with Texas with the dish being named the official dish of Texas in 1977!
History lesson over, following is my version of this famous Texan dish, this recipe has been built and honed over the years and I like to think it is a pretty good one! I use minced beef but sometimes I also add some small cubed pieces of beef, you could also use turkey mince if you prefer or cut down the amount of meat and add more legumes or leave out the meat altogether and add a load more veggies, it is very flexible.
I like to make the chilli paste, if you cannot get hold of the dried chillies then, of course, you can leave them out and maybe just add a little more chilli flakes, to your own taste. I am a big fan of chilli (heat that is) and I enjoy a good kick of spice, I leave the seeds of the chillies in when I soak them if you are not a fan of the heat deseed the dried chillies before soaking them.
This makes a huge big pot of chilli and unless you are having lots of friends over you will want to probably freeze some portions, it will keep in the fridge for a few days perfectly well and also freezes perfectly well. My family live in Houston and I lived over there for a few months many moons ago, chilli is a big thing there and is normally served with sour cream, grated cheese and saltine crackers. In Britain and Ireland, most people would probably serve it with some boiled rice, don’t know where that came from. In this house, we serve it with some shredded iceberg lettuce, a little sour cream or Greek yoghurt and a few tortilla chips.
Whatever way you want to serve it one thing I can say is if you give this recipe a try and show it some love you will be rewarded with a pretty darn good chilli! Leave me a comment below and tell me how you like your chilli and what ‘fixins’ y’all like. It’s time to swap spit and hit the road, and remember always drink upstream from the herd.
As they say in France, adios amigos.
For the soffritto
- 4 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
- 1 large Onion, chopped
- 3 cloves Garlic, minced
- 4 medium Carrots, grated
- 5 ribs Celery, small dice
- 5-6 Mushrooms, small dice
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 kg Minced beef, best quality
- 2 Red or green bell peppers, cut into chunks
- 2 800g Tins of Tomatoes, best quality
- 400 ml Passata or 4 tbsp of tomato puree
- 800 ml Water
- 400 g Tin of red kidney beans
- ½ tsp Salt
For the chilli paste
- 3 Dried morita chillies
- 1 Dried chipotle chilli
- 3 Dried arbol chillies
For chilli spice mix
- 1 tbsp Fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp Cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp Coriander seeds
- 1 tsp Whole black pepper
- 1 tsp Chilli flakes
- 1 tbsp Paprika
- 6 Allspice berries or 1 tsp allspice powder
- 3 Cloves
- 2 tsp Oregano Mexican oregano if possible
- ½ tsp Salt
First, make the soffrito
- Add all the soffritto ingredients into a very large pot and saute on a low heat for at least 20-30 mins while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, stirring regularly, you want it all to cook down and become almost jammy
Prepare the chilli spice mix
- In a dry frying pan add the fennel, cumin, coriander seeds, whole black pepper, cloves, chilli flakes and allspice berries and toast for about 30 seconds on a medium flame, be careful not to scorch the spices
- Empty all into a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder, then add the salt, oregano, paprika and give it a final grind to incorporate everything, empty into a clean bowl and set aside, or you can use a spice grinder for this step if you have one
Prepare chilli paste
- Add all the dried chillies to a small pot and cover with water, bring to the boil and boil for a few minutes then turn off the heat and let them sit for 5-10 mins
- When the chillies have softened add them to the pestle and mortar with a few tbsp of the water you softened them in and grind to a smooth paste, or use a food processor to do this step
Time to finish the chilli
- By this time your soffritto should be perfect, add the meat to the pot and turn up the heat to medium, stir the mincemeat and brown it a little, being very careful not to burn the soffritto
- Next, add your spice mix to the pot and stirring constantly cook for 1 or 2 minutes, again be very careful not to burn the spices or the chilli will be bitter
- Add the tomatoes, passata, ½ tsp salt, chilli paste and water and give it all a good stir and cook on a low to medium heat for around 30 mins, stirring occasionally
- Add the sliced peppers and kidney beans, check seasoning and continue to cook for another 25-30 mins, stirring occasionally
- The chilli will then be ready, you can serve it immediately or let it cool and refrigerate, it also freezes great.