By the time they finish reading this post, I expect that a few of my old friends from Houston will be packing a box of shells, securing rifles in their gun-racks, and starting the long journey north to have a word with me. They will undoubtedly think that I have lost all my marbles, and am in desperate need of a little “Come to Jesus” parley (that’s more or less an intervention for those of us that speak plain English). Having just read the words “Frenchman” and “Chili” in the same phrase will have left them just this side of insanity, and I suspect that once they’ve recovered from their apoplexia, they’ll be feelin’ the need to set me straight. If you never hear from me again, then you’ll know they found me.
Why, you must be asking, am I willing to take such a risk by sharing this recipe? Because the Frenchman I am referring to is Chef Daniel Boulud, and his chili is the best I’ve ever had!
I know…I know, I am as surprised as the rest of you (well, maybe not you Texans), but the texture, depth of flavor, and spice of this chili will make a believer out of you in short order. Yes, this king of French cuisine does know a thing or two about chili, and I’d wager that this thoughtful and simple recipe will have you singing “La Marseillaise” every time you have a bowl.
Our kids love this dish as well, and there is plenty of chopping, mixing and measuring to keep yours busy in the kitchen with you while you’re making it. If any of you are sensitive to spice you’ll want to scale back on the chili powder a bit. This is not a hell-fire hot chili, but it does pack a punch, as any good chili should.
Smoky Beef Chili:
- 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons masa harina (fine corn meal)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 pounds beef chuck roast: 2½ pounds cut into ½-inch cubes; 1½ pounds ground (ask your butcher to do this) finely chopped
- ¼ pound slab bacon, cut into large chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into large cubes
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried regular oregano or Mexican oregano
- 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- ¼ cup homemade chili powder *
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 5 large tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 1- 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, roughly chopped with juices)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Homemade Chili Powder:
- 4 dried ancho chili peppers
- 4 dried pasilla chili peppers
- 4 dried guajillo chili peppers
- 2 dried chilies de árbol
- 2 dried pequin chili peppers
- 1 small dried habanero chili pepper
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Grate the zest of the limes, then juice both limes. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups water, the masa harina, and the lime zest and juice.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium cast-iron pot over high heat. Add the beef cubes and ground beef and sear until golden brown on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the beef to a plate and wipe the inside of the pot clean with paper towels.
- Lower the temperature to medium-high. Add the bacon to the pot and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, and salt and cook until the onions are softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the chili powder, stir to combine, and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Stir in the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Return the beef cubes and ground meat to the pot and add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and masa harina mixture. Bring to a simmer.
- Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven to braise for 2 hours, stirring once or twice. Sprinkle with the cilantro leaves right before serving.
Homemade chilli powder:
- In a dry skillet over medium heat peppers on all sides for 5 to 7 minutes, making sure that they are lightly toasted, but not burned. Transfer them to a plate to cool. Remove and discard the seeds from the peppers. Blend the peppers in a spice grinder to a fine powder.