I started this blog in 2010, shortly before April Fools’ Day (you can read more about that here). This was the first recipe I posted because it was my prized creation, a work-in-progress that I’d been tweaking since the winter of 2003, when I went to a holiday party at my friends’ house. We’d lived only about a block apart before, in delightfully outdated apartments on Columbia Street with terrible kitchens but impressive views of the airport and the bay beyond. (On New Year’s Eve, we could watch about six different fireworks shows from the floor-to-ceiling living room window, cross-legged on the floor and using a cardboard box as a table because we couldn’t afford furniture.)
My friends had just moved to an adorable rental house on Centre Street, and I missed being able to walk to their parties. I drove that night to the holiday party and drank hot tea all night since I was recovering from a cold and therefore the designated driver. Simmering away on the stove all night were two concoctions: mulled wine and beef chili. This was back when San Diego still got really cold on winter nights, cold enough that we were all wearing scarves and knit hats and gloves. We hung out on the porch all night, our breath coming out in puffs between sips of wine and chili. I didn’t get to try the wine that night, but the chili was the best version I’d ever eaten.
Jesse had made it, but when I asked him for the recipe, he said it was Cassie’s. I think she’d gotten it from her mother. I haven’t seen either of them in years, but every time I make this chili, I think of them and how much fun we had that night almost twenty years ago.
I recently received a comment from a reader who said that this chili is a go-to recipe at their house. It’s a go-to recipe at my house, too. Every year, I look forward to the weather getting cool enough for chili. (That’s not usually until December in San Diego.)
This year, I decided it was time to update the original recipe, which calls for four 15-ounce cans of cooked beans. This translates to approximately one pound of dried beans. Because of this, I now prefer to use a single bean variety instead of four. You could cook four ounces of four different kinds in one pot, but they would cook at varying speeds based on their size and other factors. I mix it up by using a different kind of bean each time I cook this recipe, rather than all in the same batch.
If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can use pre-ground seeds, but they taste much better when toasted and freshly ground. For the hot sauce, Cholula or Tapatio are traditional choices. If you prefer a less spicy version, Rancho Gordo makes a really good one.
- 1 pound dried beans (Rancho Gordo’s Domingo Rojo is an excellent choice)
- 2 large yellow onions
- 2–4 medium carrots
- Extra virgin olive oil (I like Trader Joe’s California EVOO)
- 1 head of garlic (about 8–10 cloves), peeled, halved, and divided into two piles
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt (if you’re using Morton kosher salt, use half the amount I call for)
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 2 jalapeno peppers
- 10 ounces hot Italian pork sausages, uncooked, casing removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 4 tablespoons New Mexican red chile powder
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, crushed
- 1½ pounds beef stew meat, uncooked, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons Mexican hot sauce
- 2 pounds Roma tomatoes, halved or roughly chopped in a food processor, or 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- Freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
- Corn tortillas (if you live near a Mexican market, buy them freshly made there)
Rinse the beans in plenty of cool water, checking for small debris. Transfer to a large, heavy-bottomed cooking pot such as a Dutch oven. Cover with about an inch of water. You won’t need to soak them long if you buy good-quality beans like Rancho Gordo’s. Don’t let them soak for longer than 6 hours.
When you’re ready to get started, chop one of the onions and all the carrots. You should end up with approximately a cup and a half of each, for a total of 3 cups. In a large soup pot, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant. Add the chopped onion, chopped carrots, and a couple of the garlic halves. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables have softened, stirring and reducing heat as necessary to avoid charring.
Pour the beans and their soaking water into the soup pot and set aside the soaking pot for later use. Stir well and add more water as needed until the beans are covered by about 2 inches of water. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a hard boil. Keep the beans at a boil for about 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cover, keeping the lid just slightly ajar so steam can escape. Check the beans every once in a while, stirring and reducing heat as needed to keep it as low as possible while still getting the occasional simmering bubble.
The beans should take about an hour to cook, longer if they’ve been on the shelf for a while. You’ll know they’re done when they’re soft but still al dente. Stir in 1 tablespoon of Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or ½ tablespoon Morton kosher salt. Cover, remove from heat, and set aside.
Chop the remaining onion and jalapeno peppers. Put the empty soaking pot on the stove over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Warm until the butter has melted and the oil is shimmering. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes, covered, stirring frequently and reducing heat as needed to avoid charring. Add jalapeno peppers and one of the piles of garlic, setting the other pile aside for later use. Stir well to combine.
Push the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add sausage. Brown on all sides, about 5 minutes, raising heat as needed. Meanwhile, toast the cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds in a frying pan over medium-low heat for a minute or two, being careful not to burn, until fragrant. Grind and sprinkle over the sausage. Add chili powder and oregano and stir to combine.
Push the sausage and vegetables to the sides of the pot, add stew meat, and brown on all sides, about 5 more minutes. Add hot sauce and the tomatoes and their juices. Stir well and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Transfer the beans and their liquid into the pot. Add chicken stock, stir well until ingredients are combined, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until stew meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Use a garlic press to add the remaining garlic, or mince and add. Stir in 1 tablespoon of lime juice and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Simmer for a few more minutes and taste. Continue to add lime juice and salt as needed. Serve in bowls, with corn tortillas on the side for dipping.
Makes 12 servings. Per heaping 1-cup serving: 359 calories, 14.8 g. fat, 4.8 g. saturated fat, 55.5 mg. cholesterol, 718.5 mg. sodium, 32.8 g. carbs, 8 g. fiber, 5.9 g. sugars, 25.9 g. protein