One of the ways that my brother and I used to weather the boring moments of childhood was–I wish I were joking–to practice telekinesis. (I wonder, do children these days have boring moments? Do they bide the time doing similarly weird shit? Discuss.) We’d be sitting at a relative’s house, or at a restaurant, and one of us would say to the other, “I bet you can’t get that fork to move across the table.” Or, “try to make the plate levitate.” And we’d concentrate really hard, with constipated looks on our faces, trying to will matter into obeying our psychic commands.
This memory comes to me tonight as I lie on the couch, swaddled in sweaters and blankets, with mummy-arms stretched out over my laptop keyboard, wishing and hoping that somehow, some way, the chili I made yesterday that’s sitting in the fridge would open the door, float over to the stove, turn on the range, and heat itself up for me.
Even though it was a relaxing, nicely-paced weekend, I’m feeling . . . ragged. Not for any particularly good reason, but I’m sure it’s due in part to having dragged my butt to the gym four times this week (2x the usual). And there’s the weather, which encumbers me with coats and scarves and hats and just makes everything feel like more of a production. And this craziness of putting up a blog post every. single. day. It’s been great to be reconnected with this space and with our readers, but folks, this little blogger is getting tuckered out.
But the chili. The chili. That was a production, but well worth it. It gave me a good chance to slow down and chop and tear and measure and mix. It filled the house with the most seductive, warm, spicy aromas. And after more than four hours in the oven, and several hours to rest, the flavors mingled beautifully and the texture was velvety and [if I only concentrate hard enough, a steaming hot bowl of it will appear in my hands any moment now . . . ].
Texas Beef Brisket Chili
Modified from Bon Appetit, October 2008, via Epicurious
As is my habit, I made a bunch of modifications to the recipe, which are indicated below in brackets. The reasons for the modifications were: in order to save some dough, to eliminate a trip to a big grocery store, and to cook this beast of a recipe in my favorite 5-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven.
This recipe has lots of steps, so I suggest starting it first thing in the morning–or better yet, a day or so in advance–so that the flavors have a chance to mingle.
A final note: butternut squash in another otherwise all-beef chili might sound odd to some. It certainly doesn’t adhere to any chili traditions I’m familiar with. And yet. And yet. Butternut squash is a really good vehicle for ancho chiles; it absorbs the sauce really nicely and is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to the deep, rich, and spicy sauce.
6 large dried ancho chiles [to the local readers: Sparrow sells packages of 6 ancho chiles for $1.99)
6 ounces bacon, diced [I used applewood smoked bacon]
1 1/4 pounds onions, chopped (about 4 cups) [I used 2 medium onions]
1 5-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, cut into 2 1/2- to 3-inch cubes [I used just under 4 pounds]
Coarse kosher salt
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (1 3/4 cups) [I used a can of whole tomates that I diced myself]
1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer [I used Dos Equis lager]
1 7-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
4 cups 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)
Garnishes: [I only used fresh cilantro]
Fresh cilantro leaves
Chopped red onion
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Warm corn and/or flour tortillas
Place chiles in medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Soak until chiles soften, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Mine were soft in about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat until beginning to brown. Add onions. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle beef all over with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot; stir to coat. Set aside.
Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in blender or food processor. Add 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; blend to puree, adding more soaking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot. Add tomatoes with juices, beer, green chiles, and cilantro stems. Stir to coat evenly.
Bring chili to simmer. Cover and place in oven. Cook 2 hours. Uncover and cook until beef is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add squash; stir to coat. Roast uncovered until beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Season chili to taste with salt and pepper. Tilt pot and spoon off any fat from surface of sauce.
If you’re making this ahead of serving it, cool for 1 hour. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.
If using garnishes, set them out in separate dishes. Rewarm chili over low heat. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.