Every cook believes he personally makes “the best” chili. That same cook may spend years perfecting a complex spice mixture or uncovering the ultimate secret ingredient. I applaud him for his efforts. And I will eat his chili with much enthusiasm and great satisfaction.
But let me tell you a little secret: I’ve never met a chili I didn’t like. From my mom’s ground beef version (seasoned with a store-bought spice pouch) to the famous “bowl o’ red” I enjoyed in Texas, I’ll take them all. Heck, I’ll even take the chili from Wendy’s, as long as it smothers a warm baked potato. Honestly I’ve never understood the snobbery this simple dish seems to carry. I mean, come on, it’s just a hearty bowl of comfort food meant to warm your bones on a brisk day. Even better if it’s made with love!
When it comes to my own “perfect” chili, however, I do have some personal preferences I seem to adhere to.
First, when given the choice I prefer chunks of slow-braised beef to the traditional ground. I love when there’s big bites of tender meat rather than ground beef drowning in a sea of sauce. I use spicy andouille sausage for a little Southern kick; it really adds a subtle punch that ground pepper just can’t pull off. Lastly, I always use a various mix of beans. I know that somewhere out there the purists are flinching, but it’s what my mom does so I do too. Other than that, every pot I make seems to be different. It’s what I love most about chili. No two batches are ever alike. Just like the cooks that make it.
Here’s my standard base recipe. Use it as a jumping off point and go make it your own!
Beef and Andouille Chili
Yields: 8-10 servings
Prep time: 1 hour (including browning the meat)
Total time: 3 – 3 ½ hours
Kitchen tip: Freeze the beef for approximately 45 minutes before cubing; it will be much easier to dice.
Canola oil, or another high heat cooking oil
2 ½ pounds braising beef (preferably chuck or sirloin), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
8 ounces andouille sausage, diced
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12 ounce) bottle lager-style beer
1 (28 ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons good-quality chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (15.5 ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Thinly sliced scallions, including green parts
Grated cheddar cheese
Cornbread or crushed tortilla chips
In a large Dutch oven or cast iron pot, heat a few tablespoons canola oil over medium-high to high heat. Thoroughly pat the beef dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Working in small batches, sear the beef cubes until all sides are deep brown and a dark fond is forming in the pot. Add more canola oil to the pot if it looks like it is starting to burn. Remove the beef to a separate bowl after browning each batch. After the beef is cooked, add the andouille to the pot and sauté for another 3 – 4 minutes. Remove the andouille and set aside with the beef.
Lower the heat to medium. Add a couple more tablespoons of canola; toss in the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Pour in the beer to deglaze the pan and remove the fond from the bottom of the pot.
Meanwhile, use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the tomatoes into chunks while still in the can. Add the beef, andouille, tomatoes and juices, chicken stock, chili powder and cumin into the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer the chili for 1-1/2 hours. Add the beans and season with cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook the chili for an additional 30 minutes to an hour, until the beef is very tender and the beans are warm.
Remove from the heat. Bring to room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator. The chili will naturally thicken up as it cools. (I recommend serving this chili 1-2 days after cooking. It just keeps getting better and better.)
To serve, reheat on medium-low until warm. Serve with scallions, Cheddar cheese, sour cream and cornbread.