Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cowboy Chili

photo by Jen P. at Flickr

Silver sage a' gleamin' in the pale twilight; Coyote yappin' on a hill,
Lazy winks of light along the pale skyline; Time for little doggies to be still.
Oh hey, we're on a holiday.
Coyote's nothin' scary, She's singin' to her dearie.
Hey oh, the lightnin's far away
So settle down ye doggies til the mornin'. *

I used to sing this coyboy's lullaby to my babies at bedtime, when the view from our house looked something like the above photo. We lived on five acres outside town and had a drop-dead gorgeous view of the front range. Of course, this setting led to many fantasies about cowboys and ranches (we weren't much of the cowboy- or ranch-types, although we did board horses for awhile). We really did hear coyotes quite often and the stars were brilliant without any light pollution. The view was particularly magnificent at the end of the day when we would rock our babes to sleep while watching the sun sink behind the mountains. I suspect they had many sweet dreams of riding the open range. I know I did.

Cowboys spend lots of time out on the trail, where the evenings can get downright cold. One thing every cowboy needs is a good chili recipe. It has to be hearty, meaty, warming and robust. It should be at least somewhat spicy, although for the tenderfoot-types, the heat can be turned down.

Following is my favorite recipe for chili, which has a red chile and tomato base. It takes some time to cook and it is hard to be patient when the aroma starts to fill the house. But, your patience will be rewarded when you dig in. A side of corn bread (make it in a cast iron skillet!) is all you need. Well, that and maybe some Gene Autry music in the background.

Note: ancho chiles, which are mild and on the sweet side, are frequently mislabeled pasilla chiles in markets. Look for a chile that looks like this guy below (from The Cook's Thesaurus). If you have not cooked with dried chiles before, this recipe is an excellent introduction. You will soon be addicted to the sauces you can create by varying the dried chiles.
Cowboy Chili
Serves 8

4 ancho chiles (dried)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1-2 chopped chipotle chile in adobo
bottle dark beer
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1-3 tablespoons chile powder (depends on your level of tender-footedness)
1 large (16 oz) can tomato sauce
2 cups low sodium beef broth
Cayenne Pepper to taste (optional--again, the tenderfoot thing)
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) pinto beans

Remove stem and seeds from chiles and place in a bowl; cover with hot tap water. Cover chiles with a plate to keep them submerged. Let soak for 20 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon oil into a dutch oven or large pan; when hot, add 1/2 the meat, salt and pepper and brown. This is an important step: do not crowd the meat and take your time browning it to fully develop the flavor. Remove browned meat to a plate and repeat with other half.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to pan and add onions, garlic and carrots. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.

While the vegetables are cooking, remove chiles from water and place them in a blender. Add the chipotle chile, a bit of the soaking water and some of the beer (about 1/2 cup each). Puree to a smooth consistency. Add water or beer as needed to make the sauce pourable.

Strain the chile mixture into the pan with the vegetables and stir together. Add cumin and chile powder and cook and stir until the sauce darkens and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the beef to the pan and stir.

Pour in the rest of the beer as well as the tomato sauce and beef broth. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper and cayenne if necessary. If the chili seems thick you can add extra water.

Add beans to the pan and stir. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes.

*I have been unsuccessful at finding the source of this song and the CD it is on seems to be long-lost from our collection (I think it was on a CD of lullabies from around the world). If anyone knows the author/artist, please let me know.

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