Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America the Beautiful

Well, here we are, entering what seems to be a new era in America, or at least in American politics.  Let's hope it lives up to the hype.  Either way, I'll be sorry to see Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression go.

In honor of this most American of days, I made that most American of dishes for my election night gathering last night: chili.  Now I'll be honest.  I don't order chili in restaurants, and rarely do I get excited when I hear that it will be served at a dinner party.  It's usually too thick, too heavy, to bland, too hot, too something.  And something about the beans that it usually involves turns me off.  It just strikes me as a rather clumsy, thoughtless dish.

So imagine the unbridled joy I felt when I came across Bobby Flay's recipe for Red Beef Chili.  It's an intensely flavored thick soup with pieces of beef hidden throughout rather than a bean-studded stew, so it addresses all of my usual objections to traditional chili.  It requires the use of four different types of fresh chiles and four different types of chile powders, so there are several layers of heat, which to my mind (or mouth) makes it quite a compelling dish.  I would include a photo, but frankly it tastes a lot better than it looks, so I'll just leave you with this lovely still life of Thai bird chiles instead.      

And a happy discovery that came out of last night--Tom's very American contribution of Snickers pie and election themed cupcakes from Magnolia were excellent chili accompaniments.  And happy discovery number two?  Snickers pie makes a good breakfast (or so I've heard).

Bobby Flay's Red Beef Chile
Serves 6

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds of beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (the recipe specifies bottom round, but I don't know what this is so I just ask for stew beef at the meat counter)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
12 oz. dark beer
2 tablespoons finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 large red onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 poblano, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon seeded and chopped habanero
1 Thai bird chile, seeded and chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chipotle pepper puree
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon pasilla chile powder
1 tablespoon cascabel chile powder*
1 teaspoon New Mexican chile powder
5 cups homemade chicken stock, or canned low-sodium or water
16 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and pureed
2 tablespoons maple syrup, or more, to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.  Season the beef with salt and pepper, and saute until browned on all sides (I generally find that I need to do this in two batches, otherwise the beef steams rather than browns).  Sprinkle with cumin and stir well.  Deglaze the pan with the beer and bring to a boil.  Stir in the chocolate and cook until beer is almost completely reduced (this will take about as long as it takes you to prepare the vegetable puree in the next step).

In a separate pot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the onions to the pan and cook until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the poblano, habanero, Thai bird, and jalapeno peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the chipotle puree, ancho powder, pasilla powder, cascabel and New Mexican chile powders and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil and boil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.  Puree with an immersion blender (or puree in standing blender in batches, with the center of the lid removed, covering the top with a tea towel).  Add the beef mixture back to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and simmer for 1 hour, or until thick and beef is tender.  Remove from the heat, add the maple syrup, and adjust salt to taste.

*Of all the ingredients, the cascabel powder seems to be the most difficult to find.  If  you have the time, you can order it online here.  Otherwise, just add some more of the other chile powders (I tend to add an extra half tablespoon of ancho chile powder and an extra half tablespoon of pasilla chile powder in place of the cascabel powder).  Alternatively, you can purchase the whole cascabel peppers (they sell them at Kalustyan's) and grind them up to a powder in a coffee grinder.

Bobby recommends serving this with a cumin crema, which is basically just a cup of Mexican crema (substitute creme fraiche if, like me, you have no idea where to get Mexican crema) mixed with a tablespoon of toasted cumin seed and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper.  I'm sure this is delicious, but sour cream works well also.

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