Chili, made well, is serious business. You can’t just throw a pound of 80/20 ground beef, a can of tomatoes, and a can of beans into a slow-cooker, wait an hour, spoon the resulting bucket of beef slurry into a bowl, and call it a day. The best chili depends on the slow, careful stacking of flavor, building tons of complexity and ultimately ending with a kind of can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it smoky spiciness that your guests won’t quite be able to figure out.
The first, most crucial step is to build your seasoning base using dried chiles, and if you have a few different types available, use them. Bag after bag of dried chiles fill our pantry; they are an impulse buy for me that I just can’t resist, and I pick up new varieties whenever I see them. You don’t have to spend your time cruising Mexican supermarkets in order to build your collection, though. This recipe uses a combination of five easy-to-find dried chiles that most major supermarkets should carry: One ancho chile, one chipotle, one anaheim, and two chiles japoneses. Already, the flavors from this mix will knock any store-bought chile blend out of the running in terms of complexity, with fruitiness coming from the ancho, smokiness from the chipotle, sweetness from the anaheim, and heat from the chiles japoneses.
In addition to big chunks of beef chuck, this chili gets a lot of its body from the inclusion of a few different varieties of mushrooms. It’s a great opportunity to bring some dried porcinis into the mix, an ingredient I am using more and more anytime I want to add a dose of rich, mysterious umami (I wish I hadn’t used that word) savoriness to what I’m cooking. We even use the soaking liquid from the porcinis to boost the flavor of the chili, along with a little lager beer and a little bacon, for good measure.
As you glance at the recipe, it will seem like there are a lot of steps. That’s because there are. They’re mostly quick and easy, though, and worth every extra minute. This chili is quite possibly the best I have ever made. I know you’re going to love it.
Bacon and Mushroom Beef Chili
Serves 6; Adapted from a recipe by Soup Addict
- 4 – 6 dried chili peppers (I used 1 ancho, 1 chipotle, 1 Anaheim, and 2 chiles japoneses)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 3/4 cup hot water
- 1/2 cup beef stock
- 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
- 5 slices uncooked, thick-cut smoked bacon, chopped into 1/2” pieces
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 small poblano pepper, diced
- 5 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 4 ounces fresh miniature portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 1 1/2 – 2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1/4 pieces (or use packaged “stew meat” from your butcher)
- 6 ounces lager beer
- 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Prepare your chile peppers: Remove stems and seeds, and soak with the bay leaf in a bowl of hot water, about 20 minutes.
Prepare your porcinis: Break mushrooms into one inch pieces, and add 3/4 cup hot water. Set aside to soak.
Prepare your spice mix: Mix the paprikas, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Cook the vegetables: Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a 4-5 quart dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until the fat begins to render and the edges begin to turn gold. Add onions and cook until soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the diced peppers, shitake, and mini portobellos, and stir. Cook until mushrooms are brown and soft. Remove the lid, and add the rehydrated porcini mushroom pieces to the pot, reserving the soaking liquid.
Brown the chuck: Season the chuck generously with about a tablespoon of the spice mix, reserving the rest for later. Heat remaining two teaspoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, add meat to the skillet in a single, loose layer, making sure not to crowd the pan.
When the first batch is browned, add it to the bacon-mushroom mix. Repeat with the second batch of meat. After all meat is cooked, pour the beer into the pan to deglaze, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan that you can find. Add the mixture to the bacon-mushroom mix, along with the beef stock, the canned tomatoes, and the reserved soaking liquid from the porcinis.
Make the spice paste: Transfer rehydrated peppers and bay leaf to the jar of a blender. Top with about a half a cup of the chili pepper soaking liquid, and blend well. Scrape the paste into the chili pot.
Give everything one last stir, cover with an oven proof lid, and place in the oven. Cook for one hour, then stir in remaining spice mix. Return to oven to cook one hour more.
Before serving, remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Ladle out individual servings and top with your favorite garnishes: sour cream, cheddar cheese, and green onions.