beef

best chunky beef chili

Guess what everyone. It’s winter. Surprise!

best chunky beef chili | winter in brooklyn | Brooklyn Homemaker

We just made our way through a bitter cold front here in New York City, and though it was a bit warmer for a few days, today we’re supposed to be hit with another, along with several more inches of snow. I’m no stranger to harsh winters.  I’ve lived in New York for my entire life and went to school in upstate’s Adirondacks, where I lived in the coldest town in the entire state. Winters in Saranac Lake often saw night-time temperatures dipping 20, 30, even 40 degrees below zero. The lakes would freeze so solid that people used them as extra parking during winter games, packing dozens of cars and trucks onto the ice when the parking lots filled up.
There were nights that were so frosty that the three block walk home after work would cause the condensation in my breath to freeze into my facial hair and turn my upper lip into a mustache-sicle. Winters in Brooklyn are nothing in comparison to the extremes upstate, but that doesn’t stop me from being affected by the seemingly unending frigid days and nights.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

If there’s one thing that I’m consistently inspired to do by cold weather, it’s to cook. And to eat. I love making soups, stews, braises and any number of hearty slow-cooked meals during the winter, and one of my favorite cold weather meals is chili. Traditionally chili is thought of as a warm weather meal, something eaten in Texas and the Southwest, but maybe that’s what draws me to it in winter. Cranking the heat and sitting down in flannel pajamas to a big steamy bowl of thick spicy chili helps me forget that outside the wind is whipping snowflakes through the streets of Brooklyn.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemakerbest chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chili is a dish that people take very seriously. Web searches will turn up thousands of pages on the subject. The legendary outlaw Jesse James is said to have declined to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas because the town was home to his favorite chili parlor. The American mystery writer Rex Stout once said that, “Chili is one of the great peasant foods. It is one of the few contributions America has made to world cuisine. Eaten with corn bread, sweet onion, sour cream, it contains all five of the elements deemed essential by the sages of the Orient: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter.” That is a big reputation to live up to for such a simple, unfussy food.

Chili has a long history in the United States and there are a great many opinions about how this dish should be prepared. I’ve even seen people go so far as to say that adding beans to chili is sacrilegious. The thing is though, that I don’t really care what the chili experts say. I’m not from Texas. I don’t live in the old wild west. I like chili how I like it, and if some “purists” think I’m doing it wrong, so be it. It doesn’t change the fact that this recipe is friggin delicious.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

In my defense, not that I  believe I really need defending, not everyone takes chili so seriously. Texas native Carroll Shelby had ideas about chili that were closer to my own and said, “The beauty of chili to me is that it’s really a state of mind.”  “It’s what you want when you make it. You can put anything in there you want, make it hot or mild, any blend of spices you feel like at the time. You make it up to suit your mood.”

I was a vegetarian when I lived in the Adirondacks, and chili with lots and lots of beans was one of my favorite ways to warm myself up on cold days. When I lived in Ithaca, New York, I worked at a restaurant that won a chili cook-off with a recipe that used chunks of stew meat instead of ground beef. My love of spice has grown since I’ve moved to a part of Brooklyn that is heavily dominated by Mexican and Puerto Rican culture. All of my past experiences have helped guide me to the recipe we have here today. Chunky beef chili made with stew meat instead of ground beef, with a variety of beans, and a healthy dose of heat and spice.

When I was growing up, chili was only ever made with ground beef, so when I first saw it made another way and started trying it myself, the idea of using stew meat was completely novel to me. Later I realize that it’s not really so uncommon, and that it’s probably how the dish originated. The idea used to be so foreign to me that I wanted to try to change the name to reflect its unconventional ingredients. The problem was that there’s no delicate way to combine the names chili and stew. No one wants to belly up to a steaming bowl of “Stewli”, no matter how delicious.

No thank you.

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

So. Chunky chili it is!

This recipe is thickened with corn flour, but if you don’t have corn flour feel free to use all-purpose flour. I used stew meat that was already cut into chunks at the grocery store, but ended up needing to do some cutting of my own to bring the chunks down to the right size. Most stew meat bought in grocery stores comes in pieces about two or three inches in size. This recipe works much better with smaller pieces and I cut them all down to about one inch cubes. I made this recipe with beef this time around, but I’ve made it with venison before and it’s delicious. If you love venison, by all means, knock yourself out.

I think this chili translates to a slow cooker recipe really well too.  I would suggest that you brown all your veggies and meat ahead as stated in the recipe, and follow the steps through to where you scrape up the browned bits from the pot with half a cup of beef stock. Then you would transfer the browned meat and onions to the crock pot, add the remaining ingredients, and cook on high for four hours, or low for eight. The only thing that might be tricky is to get the chili to the correct consistency, so you may need to add more corn flour to help thicken it.

Since I’m usually just feeding myself and Russell, this recipe made plenty of leftovers for us, and I have to say, I think this chili improves with age. The second day the flavors seemed to have really married perfectly and the meat was even more tender and delicious. I suppose this is what he meant when John Steele Gordon said that “Chili is much improved by having had a day to contemplate its fate.”

best chunky beef chili | Brooklyn Homemaker

Best Chunky Chili

adapted from Emeril Lagasse for Food Network

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 to 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
Salt
Cayenne
2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
2 tablespoons corn flour (or all-purpose)
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock
28 oz  can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
15 oz can red kidney beans
15 oz can black beans

Directions
In a large heavy bottom stockpot of dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables start to wilt. Add jalapenos and garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with salt and cayenne. In a large bowl, stir together corn flour, chili powder, & cumin, and toss and coat meat in the mixture. Brown the meat for 5 to 6 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the beef stock and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits of beef and corn flour stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in remaining stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the liquid uncovered for the first hour, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and simmer for another hour or until the beef is fork tender.
Taste and re-season with salt and cayenne if necessary. If the chili is too thin, simmer uncovered until it’s thick enough. If too thick, thin it out, a tablespoon at a time, with beef stock. Garnish the chili with the grated cheese, sour cream and avocado. Serve with cornbread.

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Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Hi guys! I hope you had an amazing holiday! I sure did.

boeuf bourguignon | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell and I spent the day at home with our pups opening presents and eating and drinking and eating. and drinking.

In the morning we exchanged gifts, called family, ate bagels and pfeffernusse, and snuggled with the dogs. I gave Russell a fancy pants super-powered blender that he’s had his eye on, so of course we had to see what it could do. When the clock struck noon we ran around the corner to see if the liquor store was open, and came home with some tequila & triple sec, along with some lime juice and frozen strawberries. Within minutes we had some delicious and perfectly blended frozen strawberry margaritas! I think they’ll have to be a new Christmas tradition!

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After lunch, with a good buzz going, I got started on dinner.

I decided it was high time I tried my hand at Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguinon. This recipe is kind of an all day event so I thought it would be the perfect thing for Christmas. We had the whole day to hang out at home and do nothing, and at the end we’d have a phenomenal meal to top it all off.

You basically start by browning some bacon, then some beef, then some veggies. Then you throw it all in the pot with some herbs, tomato stock, beef stock, and red wine. Almost a whole bottle of wine. Julia’s my kind of woman. Then it goes into the oven for a good long time and gets all happy, while you cook some tiny white onions in beef broth and then brown some mushrooms on the stove top. When the stew comes out of the oven the broth gets strained out and reduced in a saucepan, and everything goes into the pot together.

I used a California Merlot, but you can really use any full-bodied red wine. The originally recipe recommended Chianti because that was so readily available to American home cooks in the 1960s. I went for the Merlot because I figured it would be closer to the flavor of a true Burgundy, but you can use whatever you want. It cooks for so long that the flavor changes completely anyway.

boeuf bourguignon | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know that Julia is untouchable and that it’s, like, against the law to make any changes, but if I were to make this again I think I’d either just toss the small white onions in at the same time as the carrots, or skip them all together. They’re kind of fussy, took a while, required my attention when I could have been playing with the dogs, and I didn’t really think they added anything special. I know I’m not allowed to say that, but there it is. The stew was absolutely phenomenal and I think they got kind of lost with everything else and didn’t seem to be worth all the extra effort. But that’s just me.

I’m glad that I followed the recipe exactly the first time, and you totally should too, but if I make this again (I will) I’ll make this one tiny tweak.

boeuf bourguignon | Brooklyn Homemaker

I made this using my La Chamba oval roaster. This is not a proper enameled cast iron dutch oven like Julia would have used, but it worked really well for me. If you’re not familiar, La Chamba pots are oven and stove top safe cookware handmade in Columbia from volcanic black clay. It’s made of magic.

When I first got this roaster I was a bit afraid of using it over a flame. I tried my best to use caution and keep the flames low and safe, but it’s hard to brown anything over a low flame. Most braising recipes call for the meats and vegetables to be browned in the pot to build flavor before the liquids added, and my initial fear made for some, well, subtle braises. Anyway, after using this pot a few times I’ve learned that it can handle pretty much anything I can throw at it. High heat, high flame, hours in the oven, you name it. The only cautions I’d offer up are that it won’t take temperature shocks well, so don’t take it from the refrigerator to the stove top, and that you do need to use some kind of cooking oil or liquid when cooking in it.

boeuf bourguignon in la chamba roaster | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, fussy onions or not, this recipe is seriously unbelievable. It took every ounce of strength in us not to eat the whole pot of stew in one sitting. It was a lot of work with all the browning and cooking and straining and reducing and all, but it was well worth it. Seriously amazing. The time in the oven mellows the flavor of the wine and it just comes out tasting super rich and hearty, and not at all like what you started with. I served it over mashed potatoes with a couple big glasses of, you guessed it, red wine.

I’m not really someone who cooks much beef at home, and have never been a huge fan of beef stew. I’ve tried a few different recipes and have never really loved the results. This recipe has changed everything. The meat is crazy tender, turning to mush when it sees the fork coming at it. It’s hearty and rich and wonderful. It’s so amazing that I don’t have words. I can’t even begin to describe how good this is. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

This will have to be another new Christmas tradition for us.

boeuf bourguignon | Brooklyn Homemaker

Boeuf Bourguignon

adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 small white onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.