When the cottonwood trees along the Animas River in Durango look like this, it’s time to pull out the winter sweaters and scarves, remember to take the camera everywhere, check the wood pile, and make a bubbling pot of tasty homemade chili.
Yesterday I made this, first batch of the season. The beginning of many chili nights to come.
It’s an original recipe that was inspired by time spent in Santa Fe talking with mom and pop cafe owners. After a dozen or so test chilis it became an ‘I’d Order That.’ I found the right seasoning combination and rarely vary from it.
A few years ago it won the honor of being featured on The Fountain of St. Louis’s menu for one week. A beautiful, landmark restaurant that used to be an auto showroom and is now an art deco treasure of St. Louis. They held a chili contest and I was elated when mine made the cut. I love that place from their hot roast beef melt, retro cocktails, to the World’s Smallest Hot Fudge Sundae. When I asked why they chose my recipe, what caught their eye, they said that it was my ‘secret ingredient.’ More on that in a sec…..
I start by browning 1 pound of ground beef with no-salt chili powder, cumin and brown sugar. That’s chili powder with an ‘i’ that is pre-seasoned with garlic and cumin and all sorts of spices. The kind we use for taco seasoning.
Tip: use no-salt chili powder so you have better control over the saltiness of the chili and can taste and add as you cook.
My secret ingredient — masa harina, the fine ground corn powder used to make tortillas. It adds a wonderful layer of flavor to the chili, something people taste and ask ‘what is that?’ And it thickens the batch beautifully. I realize it’s not such a secret when listed on the header of a recipe: ‘With Masa Harina.’ But this is the first time I’ve listed it that way, it used to be called Santa Fe Beef Chili.
A pretty palette of spices. Onion powder, red chile powder, garlic powder, celery seed, mustard, salt, black pepper, cayenne (optional.) The red chile powder with an ‘e’ is pure ground red chile, that’s it. Chili powder with an ‘i’ has garlic, onion and other spices.
1 can of tomato puree, a little white vinegar and 2 cups of water.
It all goes into the bubbling pot of browned meat for 5 minutes, then reduces to simmer for an hour. I stir every 15 minutes. And write down exactly when an hour is up, because I always lose count with the stirring schedule. ‘Was that the second stir or the third?……Am I done? Wait a second….?
Some favorite toppings — sharp grated cheddar, chopped scallions, sour cream, diced roma tomato. Especially the cheddar and sour cream for creamy coolness over the spicy hot chili.
This time of year when the nights are in the chilly mid-30s, this really says comfort, warmth, and seconds please! With a handful of tortilla chips. And a bottle of hot sauce (Cholula Original) on the table is always a good idea.
I’d Order That……
BEEF CHILI with Masa Harina
- 2 Tblsp vegetable oil
- 1 lb. ground beef 80/20
- 3 Tblsp no-salt chili powder
- 1 1/2 Tblsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 (10.75 oz) can tomato puree
- 3 Tblsp masa harina (or corn meal)
- 1 Tblsp onion powder
- 1 Tblsp pure red chile powder (or plain paprika, not smoked)
- 2 tsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp Dijon or brown mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- grated pepper jack or cheddar cheese (for topping)
- sour cream (for topping)
- chopped scallions (for topping)
- diced roma tomato (for topping)
Makes: 4 one-cup servings
This recipe is for Beef Chili, however, adding a cup of corn, black beans, or pinto beans work very nicely. Your preference.
I don't drain the meat because 80/20 ground beef doesn't create an excess of pan drippings, and also virtually everyone I've spoken with advises that draining away the fat disposes of too much flavor. But it's really up to you. Drain or not drain, it's still going to be darned good chili.
This recipe calls for both no-salt Chili Powder and Red Chile Powder. Chili Powder with an 'i' is seasoned with all sorts of spices like cumin, garlic, and oregano -- like taco seasoning. By using no-salt you have better control over the seasoning and saltiness, as you taste and cook and cook and taste.
Red Chile Powder with an 'e' is pure ground red chile -- the only ingredient listed on the package. If your local market doesn't carry it, use plain paprika as a substitute. But not smoked paprika as it will overpower and totally foodiebomb the other flavors.
Note: using an emulsion blender to create a smooth consistency works great for topping hot dogs and bratwursts.
|Pour oil into a large pot and bring to medium high heat. Add the ground beef, chili powder, cumin and brown sugar. Cook, stirring often until the meat is evenly browned.|
|Add the remaining ingredients, except the topping ingredients of cheese, sour cream, tomato and scallion.|
|Stir at medium high. The chili will begin to bubble. Cook and stir for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover pan with lid.|
|Let simmer for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.|
|Serve in bowls. Top with grated cheese, a dollop of sour cream, diced tomato and chopped scallion. A bottle of hot sauce on the table is never a bad idea.|