Friday, August 07, 2015

A Tale of Two Chilis

Mom smoked like a Texas BBQ joint, and in so doing figured a way or two to take advantage. She entered a Marlboro chili contest,  and low and behold, won. First prize. Well, really my brother won. Mom entered using his name. She often did stuff like that for her kids. Lots of prizes were delivered including a propane gas grill, Boombox and CDs, and a lifetime year's supply of fillet Mignon.  Ironically, neither could afford to pay the taxes on the winnings so started selling off what they could. I grabbed the boom box and some CDs, my Uncle got the BBQ. Mom ate the steaks. Unfortunately I can't publish this recipe or even use its title, until Marlboro goes out of business. So instead I am going to share a recipe I acquired from my friends in California.


8 medium (about 4 ounces total) dried chiles

(I like using a combo of mostly New Mexico, California, Negro, with maybe a few Ancho or smoked chilis such as Moritas.. Habaneros for heat. Sometimes I’ll use arbols, cayennes, or cascabels. Cascabels have a wonderful nutty unique flavor though that I don’t like to mix with other chiles.)

4-8 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, whole or freshly ground
1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds, whole or freshly ground (optional)
1 cup  broth chicken or meat
Salt, about 1 teaspoon

Set a heavy ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat. Lay the unpeeled garlic on the hot surface and let it roast to a sweet mellowness, turning occasionally, until soft when pressed between your fingers it will blacken in a few spots, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While the garlic is roasting, break off the stems of the chiles, tear the chiles open and shake and/or pick out all the seeds. For less heat, remove all the interior light-colored veins. Next, toast the chiles (to give them a richer flavor) a few at a time on your medium-hot skillet or griddle: Carefully, don’t let them burn. Flip them so you do both sides. Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl, and either hot hot or near boiling water (or a light broth, I sometimes use a little chicken broth or drippings from a cooked pork roast) just until covered, or add cold water and bring to almost a boil, then turn off heat, to rehydrate for 30 minutes, make sure chiles are covered.

Then transfer chiles to a food processor or blender, along with the and the garlic. If you’re using a blender and the mixture just won’t move through the blades, add more water or broth, a little at a time, until everything is moving, but still as thick as possible. Avoid watery. With a rubber spatula, work the puree through a medium-mesh strainer into a the pot you will finish the chili in, you may need to do in batches. Discard or compost the skins and seeds that remain behind in the strainer. This is the essence of the chili, and this really can be altered in many ways to create a infinite number of flavor combinations. You will then add the meat and cook it down. At this point I like to add a little Mexican oregano, epazote, cumin, or maybe even some anise seed and adjust the flavors as it cooks. If it’s too watery cook uncovered until cooked down some, if gets too thick add a little more broth or water. If using beans I either use can and add later near when the meat is done. If using dried beans I cook them separate, strain then add and simmer together for little while to flavor meld.

That is my chili. Very similar to how you’ll find Rick Bayless doing it, except I was doing it this way long before he ever was a celebrity, I am not a copy of him. This also makes a base for a wonderful enchilada sauce sans the meat. On occasion I’ll add a little tomato paste to this to thicken or extend the amount up, but personally I don’t favor this. I’ll add some stewed or dice tomatoes to the chili though. This basic technique is the basis for making mole, mole of course having usually many more ingredients, nuts, raisins, etc. and really should be done with a real molcajete, outside, by an open fire. Truly.