All meat eaters seem to love chilli con carne. It is often one of the first dishes that people learn to cook, not least students. I guess that’s because it is easy to cook and you can get a pretty decent result without slavishly following a recipe.
However, if you get the recipe just right, forget pretty decent – chilli con carne can be divine! The secret is in getting the spice mixture right. The dish should be packed full of flavours that come to you in layers; think 3D rather than 2D. And you need the level of chilli heat to be spot on. Not enough and you just have a glorified beef stew. Too much and the burning masks the flavours.
Oftentimes people make chilli con carne using minced beef. I find you get a quite different and much richer result using cubes of beef rather than mince. It’s more refined too, good dinner party fare.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.2kg beef knuckle or beef shin, trimmed and cubed (your butcher will do this for you, just ask)
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Spice mixture made up with: 1 ½ tsp Pasilla chilli powder, 1 ½ tsp Mulato chilli powder, 1 ½ tsp Ancho chilli powder, 1 tsp Chipotle chilli powder, 1 rounded tablespoon ground cumin, 1 rounded tablespoon dried oregano and ½ tsp finely ground black pepper
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (preferably Mutti tomato pulp)
400ml beef stock
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
2 medium green peppers, stalks removed, deseeded and chopped into bite size pieces
2 x 400g tins red kidney beans, drained
Optional: a ladle or two of real tomato sauce or passata
Heat the oil in an oven proof casserole dish and brown the meat in batches, removing each batch to a bowl as soon as it is browned using a slotted spoon. Once all the meat has been browned add a little more oil to the pan if needs be and sauté the onions until soft and golden, approximately 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for one minute. Add the spice mixture and stir constantly for one minute to heat through and mix thoroughly with the onions. If it starts to catch, add a splash of stock.
Add the tomatoes, stock, sundried tomatoes and sugar and season with a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, return the beef to the pan and bring it to a simmer again. Cover and braise in the oven at 160° for two hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so, making sure the sauce isn’t sticking to the sides of the pan. Add a splash of boiling water if the mixture starts to dry out but make sure the sauce isn’t too runny.
After the two hours is up taste the dish and check the seasoning, adding salt if you think it needs it. If you find the dish too spicy for your palate, stir in a ladle or two of real tomato sauce (you can get the recipe here) or passata.
At this stage the dish can be chilled and stored in the fridge for up to three days or frozen until needed.
To finish the dish, slowly return it to a gentle simmer then add the green peppers and red kidney beans. Stir to mix well, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
I like to serve this with plain white rice but it is also good with potato wedges, baked potatoes, chips, various breads and even pasta. And of course everyone loves tortilla chips and grated cheddar cheese with chilli con carne!