Authentic: of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.
What is authentic? I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means as I’ve been mulling over what to write to accompany this recipe. When it comes to food there are “rules” that apply to many dishes but what happens when those rules are ignored? Does it make the dish that you are preparing any less real because somebody says it must contain an ingredient that you haven’t included? Of course I’m not talking about getting rid of a main ingredient like the mussels in your moules marinières. Or indeed the steak in your tartare. Instead I’m talking about changing something that makes the dish your own; a dash of this, a pinch of that. Perhaps playing around with spices or adding something new can take that flavour journey to a new level. How “authentic” was that Spaghetti Bolognese you had growing up? Does the answer really matter if it tasted good? Of course it doesn’t. Authenticity comes more from how good food makes you feel. Authenticity comes from the love and effort that goes into a dish, not necessarily the ingredients. Authentic food is good food, how you define this for yourself marks you out as the kind of cook that you are.
All this being said I still harbour a love for indigenous ingredients and try to get as close to the original recipe as possible. This ultimately goes back to my philosophy about food; we all know what a chilli tastes like, so how do we make the best chilli possible? Authentic chilli is a hugely divisive one; tomatoes or none, beans or not, and further debate ensues on the inclusion of ingredients such as chocolate, coffee, and spices such as cinnamon. I actually include all of the above and more but if there’s one major piece of advice I could give you for improving your chilli is to look past chilli powder as your only source of heat and flavour. As I spoke about in a previous post, ground chilli powder (and other pre ground spices) loses its flavour pretty quickly. I have recently discovered the wonderful complexity of various dried whole chillies. We seem to think of chillies as one dimensional, offering us nothing but searing heat. Some like Arbol do that job. Others are deep and smoky like chipotle. Ancho are mild and provide a sweet, raisin like flavour. Or Mulato are mellow and chocolaty. Combined together they make a chilli paste that is deeply rich, smoky and sweet, with layered heat, and will be a flavour revelation taking your chilli to new and interesting heights. (See note below on where these may be available)
I like my chilli to have a smoky edge to it and the inclusion of smoked paprika, smoked sea salt, and the chipotle peppers (if using) all help hit those notes. In terms of the choice of meat, it’s entirely up to you. Minced beef is nostalgic for me so that’s why I’m including it but feel free to use a braising steak such as shin diced into 1 inch pieces. Or why not try something like oxtail for an even richer flavour?
Like some other dishes this may seem complicated at first glance but I have broken it up into stages to help as much as possible. The ultimate goal of any dish is that it tastes good. So, before any purists come knocking on my door, this is my recipe for beef chilli and you too are welcome to change any aspect of it. Unless you want the best chilli ever. Then leave it as is. Or change it. As you wish…
Note on ingredients
Many larger supermarkets stock different types of dried chillies now and I got Ancho and Arbol chillies in my local Tesco in Oranmore. Otherwise, my friend Kieran recently pointed me towards a website called www.souschef.co.uk which stocks a huge range of different indigenous products to make your dish as “authentic” as possible. It’s well worth checking out and their delivery charges to Ireland are not extortionate. Just for clarity, I feel it’s important to note that I am not affiliated with any company, nor have I been asked to endorse any product here. All advice on products that I give are based on my experience of what works for me. Feel free to experiment and change as you see fit.
For a vegetarian version
Replace the beef stock pot with a vegetable stock pot mixed with 1 tbsp of marmite. Replace the minced beef with same quantity of quorn mince or alternatively up the bean content
2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg minced beef
2 onions, chopped
1 quantity of spice mix (see recipe below)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp dark brown muscovado sugar
1 quantity of chilli paste (see recipe below) (*optional)
1 glass red wine
1 Knorr Rich Beef stock cube
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tins kidney or pinto beans
1 shot strong espresso (*optional)
20g dark (70% cocoa solids) good quality chocolate* *This is generally 2 squares of a 100g bar
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 dried hot chilli (such as Arbol)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp celery salt (or equivalent sea salt flakes)
½ tsp smoked salt (optional)
2 tsp coriander seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 tsp good quality cocoa powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika (dulce or picante/ or 1 of each)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black peppercorns
Toast the whole spices: dried chilli, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a dry clean pan over a medium to high heat until fragrant. Add to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar with the other ingredients in the spice mix and grind to a fine powder.
1 dried guajillo chilli
1 dried ancho chilli
1 dried mulato chilli
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (*optional)
Remove the stalk from any chilli that has one. Place a dry clean pan (the same one as you used to toast the whole spices for the spice mix) on a high heat. Once hot add the dried chillies to the pan and heat until blackened and blistered, turning occasionally. Put the chillies into a heatproof bowl and top up with boiling water. Leave to sit for at least 20 minutes until hydrated. Place in a food processor or blender, add some water from the bowl (a couple of tablespoons should do) and the chipotle peppers and 1 tbsp. of the adobo sauce. Blend until you have a smooth chilli paste