Before you scoff at the title of this recipe, let me assure you, I’m also more than a little suspicious of recipes entitled ‘best ever’, ‘perfect’ or ‘ultimate’.
As a committed foodie, when I’m inspired to make a recipe, I want to make the very best version of the dish. I don’t want something mediocre or ‘just ok’, I want the lightest sponge, the most flavoursome sauce, the thinnest pancakes. So, I do what everyone does when they need to research something.
I take to google.
Now google has a lot to answer for when it turns up these so called ‘best ever’ recipes. Aside from The Guardian’s marvellous ‘How to cook the perfect’ by Felicity Cloake (check it out here) I find zero evidence that most of these recipes have been compared, contrasted, finely tuned and refined to anywhere near the degree that their superlative title deserves. Many an enthusiastic cooking session has been started in eager anticipation of creating the most faultless culinary offering, only to find a soggy Yorkshire pudding or a mediocre gravy dampen my dreams of gastronomic excellence.
And to put it bluntly, bad food makes me sad.
Especially when it’s billed as THE BEST.
So rest assured that when I call this the ‘best ever’ Chilli Con Carne, I truly believe it is. It’s taken years in the making (my husband being chief critic), but I believe that these refinements have made the most smoky, unctuous sauce with a complex,almost ferrous depth and just the right amount of heat.
There are three off piste additions, though I think (after my voracious googling), reasonably authentic and absolutely essential to deliver the rich complexity of the dish. I’ll explain this triad of magic makers so that you’re not tempted to miss them out and forego the pleasure of the finished product.
Off Piste Addition Number One: Roasted steak mince
Ok, so the first ‘addition’ isn’t actually an ingredient, it’s a process. I use steak mince from the market (cheaper and MUCH better quality than Supermarket offerings) rather than the more authentic diced (ok, so I still have a slight affection for the British pub version of ‘Chilli Con Carney’) and rather than fry it off in the pan, I roast it slowly in the oven. I saw Tom Kerridge do this at The Good Food Show, and it really does add a nutty, caramelised chewiness to the nubbly meat. You can pop it in the oven the night before with that night’s dinner to save turning it on just for the mince.
Off Piste Addition Number Two: Dark Chocolate
Anyone who is reasonably well acquainted with Mexican cuisine will be familiar with the idea of a mole, where chocolate is added to a meat sauce to make it rich and flavoursome . I make no secret of the fact that I’m somewhat chocolate obsessed, but even I would balk at the idea of dairy milk flavoured stew. Fear not, the addition of chocolate here will give your sauce a silky, almost umami richness. Ensure you use at least 70% cocoa solids though, or I can’t guarantee that your sauce won’t end up tasting more like chocolate custard.
Off Piste Addition Number Three: freshly brewed coffee
I know, this is probably the most unusual of my outlandish additions, but I promise I’m not just playing a game of ‘how many of my favourite things can I get in one recipe’. Coffee’s bitterness really balances out the sweetness of the tomatoes and chocolate and adds yet another dimension to this dish’s super complex sauce. Again, it’s only the smallest amount of coffee (I keep a little aside from my morning brew) but it makes all the difference to this dish.
A word about costs. I know it seems there are a few luxury ingredients here, but minced beef is a very economical way to eat meat, and the beauty of this kind of dish is it can be padded out with more pulses if necessary. The dark chocolate must be good quality to achieve the cocoa solids required, but you only use a little bit, and I have found that supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl offer some fantastic chocolate at fantastically reasonable prices.
So there you go. A knock you out, smack you in the face, kiss you on the lips Chilli Con Carne. I think it’s the best ever. At the very least, it’s full of my favourite things (I feel a bit like Julie Andrews now), and I hope it floats your boat too.
Best ever Chilli Con Carne (serves 4)
400g beef mince
1 tablespoon freshly toasted and ground cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 roughly chopped onion
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed
2 fresh red chillis, split, (seeds removed or not, according to your taste) and chopped into thin slices
1 green pepper sliced into small chunks
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
410g red kidney beans, tinned
1 fresh bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon brown sugar
100 ml beef stock
50g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
50ml freshly brewed coffee
Place the mince in a roasting tin and roast in an oven at 190°C for about 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so, to get a very dark, even colour all over the meat.
Fry the onion, pepper, garlic, chilli and spices in a tablespoon of oil, adding a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Let the spices really permeate the onion, but be careful not to let the garlic burn. Add the meat to the pan, along with the tomatoes, puree, beef stock, coffee and sugar.
Let the pan come to a simmer, then turn down the heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes.
Drain the kidney beans and add to the pan, along with the chocolate, broken into small chunks. Heat through until all the chocolate has melted and then turn the heat off. Let the flavours meld together for at least 10 minutes, then serve with fresh coriander, a big dollop of sour cream and plain rice.