Hi everybody! I'm back! No, I wasn't on some fantastic trip eating beautiful food and visiting breathtaking sites. I wish my absence could be explained by something so interesting. Rather I was in a boring old culinary funk. (sad face) For the past few weeks, virtually everything I've cooked was completely underwhelming. Not to say any of the dishes I prepared were downright bad, they were just indifferent shrug inducing. Meh. Feh. Nothing I'd ever bother making again. Each successive dish held the hope that maybe THIS one would be really good, only to have the results be frustratingly dull. I've had bouts of lackluster before, but this one was going on and on. "Have I tired of cooking?" I wondered with concern.
I decided that I needed to go back to something basic and foolproof, something that would make me feel accomplished again. When I was first starting to cook I found soups to be the most accessible thing I could make. Other than the perils that came with chopping, making a pot of soup felt well within my limited grasp of the workings of a kitchen. Just add a succession of ingredients, stir for a while, then pour in a bunch of stock, A half hour or so later, boom, soup!
Trying to decide what to make, I thought of this recipe in Nancy Silverton's book A Twist of the Wrist. Her book features a number of, we'll call them special guest stars. Exciting and renowned chef's like Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, Charlie Trotter and Jean-George Vongerichten all contribute recipes. This chili (yes, fine. It's not a soup - close enough, though) comes from my dear, dear Suzanne Goin. I liked that it's her version of Chasen's legendary chili. For those who don't know, Chasen's was an Hollywood hot spot that began in the late 1930's as a humble little shack that specialized in chili. Over the years the restaurant blossomed into more of a fine dining sort of place but still, even as their prices climbed higher and their clientele more famous, chili was Chasen's signature dish. An often repeated anecdote concerns Elizabeth Taylor requesting 10 quarts of the chili to be packed in dry ice and sent to her in Rome, where she was filming Cleopatra at the time. I would call that an endorsement.
Suzanne's version of Chasen's chili is pretty similar to the original although there are a few key Sunday Suppers at Lucques-ian touches, like her freewheeling use of fresh thyme and crumbled chiles de arbol. She also cuts down the butter, from 1 stick to 1 tablespoon. Maybe all that butter is why Liz loved Chasen's chili.
3 15-ounce cans pinto beans, NOT drained
3 cups chicken broth
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, diced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound ground beef (look for fat content to be around 20%)
3/4 pound ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Gebhardt chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 lime, sliced into 6 wedges
Combine the beans (INCLUDING their juices) and the chicken broth in a large stock pot and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the tomatoes and return to a simmer. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer while preparing the rest of the chili.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, chile de arbol, and rosemary sprig and cook for 1 minute. Add the bell pepper and saute for 5 minutes until softened. Add the onion and thyme and cook stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 8 minutes.
Stir in the parsley and garlic and cook for another minute to soften the garlic, making sure to constantly stir so the garlic does not brown.
Transfer the pepper and onion mixture to a bowl and remove the rosemary sprig.
Melt the butter in the same skillet over high heat. Pinch small clumps of the pork and beef into the skillet and cook until the meats are brown all over, stirring occasionally. Try not to break up the chunks of meat too much. You may have to our off some of the juices into a small bowl, so the meat can caramelize.
Season with salt and pepper and then add the pepper and onion mixture as well as the reserved meat juices back to the skillet, scraping up the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon. Stir in the chili powder and cumin, and cook for about 10 minutes to meld the flavors.
Add this mixture to the simmering beans, then simmer the chile covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover the pot and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, Taste and season with more Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
To serve, ladle the chili into large bowls, spoon a dallop of creme fraiche over each serving, strew with the chopped chives and tuck in a wedge of lime. It'd be lovely served with some cakey, corn-studded corn bread.
So this is pretty much a classic beef (and pork) chili with beans but with more depth and much more flavor. Call it the quintessential chili. The little nuggets of ground beef and pork have a great rugged texture and the pinto beans are plump and buttery balancing out a subtle, slow moving heat that magnifies with each successive spoonful (not that that stopped me from shaking in a gutsy dose of Tabasco, more so out of tradition than necessity). The creme fraiche (or sour cream) melts into the thick broth adding even more body while the sweet/acerbic lime juice tempers the meaty richness.
Chasen's original recipe starts with dried pinto beans and instead of regular ground pork and beef, calls for coarsely chopped pork shoulder and the best center cut beef chuck, trimmed of all fat and then ground through a special meat grinder. I can imagine that would really take the chili to the next level although it would also lengthen the cooking time considerably. One day I shall try it but in the meantime, this version is pretty great.