Winter comfort food
Need some down-home cooking to combat the cold weather we’re having throughout much of the US? Well, there’s nothing better than good old meat and potatoes.
We could just fill our plates with a slab of beef and a mound of spuds. But why not go for something with more flavor? Like this chunky Meat and Potatoes Chili. It has all the savor of traditional meat and potatoes, with the zing of chili. Win win.
And speaking of winning, if you haven’t already planned your eats for the Super Bowl festivities, this would be a great dish to prepare. You can cook it a day ahead, then reheat it—so you won’t miss a minute of the game. That’s a touchdown in my book.
Recipe: Meat and Potatoes Chili
To emphasize the beefiness of this chili, I’m using meat cut into chunks (rather than ground into hamburger). The potatoes also are cut into good-sized pieces, so this is a dish with texture.
Much of the flavor in this chili comes from dried, powdered red chilies—i.e., chile powder. This differs from chili powder, which is a mix of chile powder, plus cumin, coriander, and other flavorings. I discuss this in more detail in our post on Chili Basics. See Notes below for a discussion of chile powder possibilities for this recipe.
Prep time for this recipe will vary depending on how quickly you work. The most time-consuming process is cutting up the beef and browning it (you can save time if you buy the meat already cubed). Figure on a good 20 minutes for cutting up the meat, and at least another 20 for browning it. While you’re browning, you can do much of the other work, so total prep should take you under an hour. Cooking time adds another couple of hours (mostly unattended). BTW, you can cut up and brown the meat ahead of time, then proceed with the recipe the following day. Or you could cook the whole dish a day ahead, and then reheat it right before serving.
This recipe yields a lot—at least 4 quarts, and probably more like 5. So it will feed a crowd. Leftovers freeze well when stored in airtight containers.
- 2 to 3 pounds of beef for browning (exact quantity not critical; I like chuck roast for this dish, but see Notes for alternatives)
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, but see Step 1)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil for browning meat (a flavorless oil like canola)
- 2 large onions, peeled and diced (~2½ cups; I like yellow onions in this recipe)
- 2 tablespoons additional neutral oil for browning onions
- ~1 teaspoon additional Kosher salt (or to taste; about half this amount if using regular table salt)
- ~½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 2 - 3 large jalapeño peppers, diced fine (optional)
- 3 - 5 garlic cloves, minced fine or sliced
- 2 - 4 tablespoons mild or medium chile powder, or a mix of the two (to taste; see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons ground oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried chipotle chile powder (or to taste; may omit if you don’t like spicy)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cans beef broth (may substitute water, with or without beef base; see Notes)
- 2 to 3 pounds potatoes (exact quantity not critical; boiling potatoes work best, although baking ones work too)
- 3 to 4 15-ounce cans of dark red kidney beans (or 1 pound dried kidney beans cooked; see Notes)
- additional salt, pepper, and chile powder to taste
- water for thinning chili (optional; omit if you like a thicker consistency)
- optional garnish of your choice (see Notes for suggestions)
- Remove the beef from its packaging. Cut the beef into cubes or rectangles of ½-inch or so (specific size isn’t crucial; it’s more important to have pieces that are all roughly uniform in size—so they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook). Dry the beef chunks thoroughly. Then salt them lightly (just enough to season the meat a little).
- Place a large skillet on the stovetop and heat on medium. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil. You’ll use this skillet to brown the beef chunks, a process that takes some time and attention to do well. That’s because the better the crust you put on the beef chunks, the tastier they will be. (See Notes for discussion of the Maillard reaction.) Begin by adding a few beef chunks to the skillet (don’t completely fill the skillet at this time, because when you add the meat, the oil will cool somewhat). Once the oil reheats, add as many beef chunks as you can without crowding the pan (pieces should not touch each other—if they do, they’ll steam rather than browning). Brown each chunk until the first side has colored nicely, then (using tongs) turn the chunk over and brown another side. Do this until all sides of the beef chunks are nicely browned. Remove the chunks from the pan and drain them on a paper towel-covered plate. Continue adding the rest of the beef chunks to the skillet, adding more oil if necessary, until all the meat is browned. When you’re finished browning, you’ll probably notice that some browned bits of meat have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Here’s how to use them (by deglazing the pan): Drain the grease, then heat the pan. Add ½ cup or so of water and simmer, stirring to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat, and let the skillet sit until you’re ready to use the browned bits (you’ll add them in Step 9).
- Meanwhile, peel and dice the onions.
- Warm a large Dutch oven—one that holds 6 quarts or more—over medium heat (this is what you’ll be using to cook the chili).
- When the Dutch oven is warm, add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil and allow it to heat (it will shimmer when it’s hot). Then add the diced onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is slightly brown (5 - 8 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash the jalapeño peppers (if using) and cut them lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop the peppers into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Place the peppers in a bowl until you’re ready to use them, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin. You may want to reserve a slice or two of the pepper for garnish.
- Peel the garlic and either mince it finely or slice thinly (I usually slice garlic because I like larger pieces).
- When the onion is slightly brown, add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for a minute or two.
- Add the browned beef chunks to the onion mixture, then add the liquid from the deglazed pan (from Step 2).
- Add all the spices—chile powder(s), cumin, coriander, oregano—to the beef and onion mixture, then stir to combine and cook for a minute. (If you’re concerned that the amount of chile powder may be too much for you, add half at first—see Notes for more details.)
- Add the canned tomatoes (both diced and crushed), plus the beef broth (or water-based substitute) to create a nice soupy consistency.
- Bring the chili mixture to a simmer, and cook for an hour (or somewhat longer—timing is not critical).
- After the chili has been cooking for about 45 minutes, wash and peel the potatoes and cut them into cubes of ½-inch or so. Place the potatoes in a bowl of cold water until ready to use (to prevent discoloring).
- Meanwhile, pour the canned beans into a strainer and rinse them well (see Notes if you want to use dried, cooked beans).
- At the hour mark, drain the potato cubes. Add the potatoes and beans to the chili, then taste. If necessary, add more salt, pepper, and chile powder. Add water if too much has evaporated or if you prefer your chili to have a thinner consistency. Set a timer for 45 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, check the potatoes to see if they’re soft and the meat to see if it’s tender. If not, continue cooking.
- When the meat is tender and the potatoes are soft and fully cooked, the chili is ready to serve. Taste and adjust seasoning. You can keep the chili on a low simmer for an hour or more if you’re not yet ready to serve it. See Notes for garnishing suggestions.
- Chile powders: You don’t need to use a specific chile powder for this recipe. I use both mild and medium Hatch chile powders, as well as chipotle powder. (No need to mix the Hatch powders; you can use one or the other if you don’t want to buy both.) Ancho chile powder (which is sold in many supermarkets) also has great taste and is fairly mild. If you can’t find chipotle powder, you can substitute cayenne (but use only half as much), or just leave it out. Chipotle powder has a nice smoky flavor that adds an interesting dimension to this dish, but it’s not essential.
- Using only 2 tablespoons of chile powder produces a batch of chili that I regard as mild in flavor, with just a slight ping of heat to it. But that’s my palate—your taste will differ (in fact, I always use 4 tablespoons because we like spicy). You may know from experience that the quantity of chile powder I call for is too much or too little for you. If you’re concerned about the heat level, use half the amount specified, then taste after the chili has been simmering for about 10 minutes. This is a good point to adjust the chile powder level. Don’t wait until the end to adjust, because chile powders need time to simmer in order to develop the full depth of their flavor.
- You can substitute chili powder for the chile powder(s) in this recipe. If you go that route, use 3 to 5 tablespoons of chili powder. Reduce the cumin, coriander, and oregano by about half, or eliminate them altogether (since these flavors are already incorporated into chili powder). The taste of the finished dish won’t be as crisp if you use chili powder, but you’ll still be pleased with it.
- For this dish, you want a cut of meat that holds its texture during the long cooking process. I really like chuck roast in this recipe. It’s flavorful, relatively inexpensive, and when you cut it up it’s easy to follow the natural muscle separations, which makes things go faster. But any stewing cut will work. Top or bottom round should also work well. If in doubt, tell your butcher what you want to make—he’ll have some suggestions. And if you don't want to cut up your own chuck roast, the butcher can do that for you, too. (You can also buy the cut-up "stew meat" the butcher has already packaged, but the quality usually isn’t as good as chuck roast. And the pieces of meat tend to be too large—you want pieces that can fit in a soup spoon, not pieces so large you need a knife and fork to cut them.)
- Browning meat caramelizes the surface, which concentrates and improves flavor. If your browning skillet is too crowded, however, the meat will just steam—and you’ll miss most of the benefit of browning.
- Ideally, bits of meat will adhere to the browning pan, forming a crust that is extraordinarily tasty. In fact, this crust may have more flavor than the meat itself. That’s because, as you brown meat, a process called the Maillard reaction is taking place (it’s named after Louis-Camille Maillard, who described it in 1912). Essentially, this reaction helps intensify the meat flavors—which are left on the skillet as crust.
- We can release these flavors by deglazing the frying pan with a liquid (water in this case, though you can also use wine). Liquid both loosens the crust and dilutes it. We can then pour the scraped crust and deglazing liquid into the cooking chili, recapturing all the flavor that was left behind.
- BTW, because browning meat can take a while, I often use two skillets so I can do two batches at once, thus cutting down on the total time needed.
- Instead of beef broth, I often use beef base diluted in water. Beef base is stock that’s been cooked down until it becomes a paste—and IMO, it’s better than most canned broths. You can usually find it in the soup aisle of your supermarket. I like the brand called Better than Bouillon, but I’m sure there are other good ones out there. (BTW, I receive no compensation for recommending this brand; I’m just an enthusiastic user of their products.) You can also substitute plain water for beef broth or base—though of course this will have less flavor.
- Canned beans are easy to use in this recipe and have acceptable flavor, but make sure you wash off the gunk they’re packed in (Step 14). Dark red kidney beans work best in chili, though I sometimes combine them with light red kidney beans and pintos just to have a nice mix of flavors and colors. If you prefer to substitute dried beans for canned (I often do), prepare a pound of dried beans.
- How to prepare dried beans? The easiest way is the “quick-soak” method: Sort through the beans, looking for dirt or stones; then rinse off the beans and pour them into a 4-quart (or larger) pot. Fill the pot with water to within a couple inches of the rim; place the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then turn off the stove and cover the pot; let it sit for an hour. Once the hour is up, drain the beans; place them in a smaller cooking pot and cover them with about an inch of water. Add a peeled and halved onion and several cloves of garlic (peeled or not) for flavoring, then bring the beans to a simmer. Simmer until they’re tender—typically about an hour to an hour and a half for kidney beans. Drain the beans, then add them to the cooking chili in Step 15.
- Kosher salt is more coarse than regular table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If you’re substituting table salt for Kosher, always use less—about half as much. If the dish isn’t salty enough, you can always add more later.
- If you like thick chili, cook it a bit longer to evaporate more of the liquid. If you prefer a thinner, soupier mix, you can add some water at the end to achieve the consistency you prefer.
- There are many garnishes for chili that not only look great, but add a flavor boost. A slice or two of jalapeño pepper, a handful of oysters crackers, some grated cheddar cheese, a sprinkle of diced raw onion, or a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt all work well.
“Terrific chili,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “There’s nothing like meat and potatoes.”
“Lots of good texture with the beef and potato chunks,” I said. “Plus they contrast so well with the fiery chile.”
“Speaking of which,” said Mrs K R, “I suppose you’re getting fired up to watch the Super Bowl.”
“Just a week away,” I enthused. “Denver versus Seattle—this should be a classic.”
“And as I understand it, the game is being played in New Jersey,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, where the New York City teams play their home games,” I said.
“Why don’t they play in New York?” she asked.
“The NFL moves in mysterious ways,” I said. “Although one of the New York state teams plays their home games in New York.”
“And that team would be . . . .?”
“The Bills,” I said. “They play in Buffalo. Except when they don’t. Then they host their games in Toronto.”
Mrs K R chewed thoughtfully.
“And you wonder why I don’t understand football,” she said.
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