Chilli con Carne: a simple how and why
Cooking is liberating. The first meal you make away from home could be the start of a new journey into the culinary world, or it could be your descent into microwave meals after you mess it up. Do yourself a favour, eat well. An important aspect of university is health: mental, emotional, and physical. Good food can help with all of those. It is for this reason that I, today, wish to provide my own form of public service.
This is my mother’s Chili con Carne recipe that she cooked for us as we were growing up. An excellent mix of flavours, as healthy as you want it to be, and, above all, so easy even I could do it. As well as this I’ll do my best to explain why each step is included in the order that it is in a small explanation below the method. This is as much a simple recipe as it is a demonstration of key techniques that can be applied to so many dishes.
· 50g Rice (Any kind works well, white is easier to cook than brown rice and much faster)
· 500 to 700g Beef mince (20% fat works best)
· 2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
· 2 tins of red kidney beans
· 4 cloves of garlic
· 2 onions
· olive oil
· (optional 25g butter because butter makes everything better)
· 30g smoked paprika
· 30g mild/hot/whatever chili powder
· Salt and pepper for seasoning (put it in near the end so you can see what it tastes like after the flavours are developed)
Some vegetables to grate in (put in as much or as little as you want):
· 1 carrot
· 1 aubergine
· 1 stick of celery
1. Chop (or dice if you don’t like large pieces of onion) onions and garlic and fry them on low heat in some olive oil until the garlic is lightly browned (put the garlic in a few minutes after the onion as it cooks way faster)
2. Throw in the meat and turn the heat up high, make sure you keep stirring from now on so the onions and garlic don’t burn, it happens easily. The point of the high heat is to render out all the fat from the meat so it can be used as flavour. Make sure to break the meat up so you don’t get any large balls of meat in the final product
3. After you hear some crackling and spitting then you know all the fat is rendered out and the meat will start turning a deeper brown, this is good, that stuff is flavour. Just don’t let it get too brown because, you know, burning does not taste nice.
4. Add the 2 tins of tomatoes and grate in the rest of your vegetables and all of the spices along with enough water to bring the water level up to cover everything.
5. Cook everything over medium heat with a lid on for as long as you want (literally like minimum 30 minutes on high heat just to thicken the sauce to 4 hours low heat to bring you to heaven). Be careful about burning the bottom of your pan, make sure to scrape the bottom with a wooden or plastic (please don’t use metal!) utensil.
6. Cook the rice (2 parts water to 1 part rice, lightly salted water, high heat until it boils then low heat for 10 minutes, keeping covered with a lid the entire time)
7. Eat your delicious food, save the rest.
Why do we do each step?
In a more technical recipe I do my vegetables in a separate pot to the meat and only mix them when both are cooked to how I like them. However, for this simple recipe I just cook the onions and garlic enough to get rid of their acidity and “raw” flavour that I don’t really enjoy and then chuck the meat in. This works well enough as the meat generally mixes everything up and stops the onions from burning when you turn the heat up in order to fry the meat, however, if you do vegetables separately until they are all soft and browned to your liking you can crank the heat to max and really get some beautiful browning on the meat. Deep brown colour is perfect, sugars are caramelising when this happens and it adds and changes the flavour of whatever is being browned.
The crackling sound is coming from all the water having been extracted from the meat and vegetables and now the meat is frying itself in its own fat. It’s important to reach this stage without burning the meat anywhere so continue to stir and break up the meat.
After the meat is brown enough I add the water and just let it simmer away. This is also a key step as it lets all the flavours mix, the longer the better. You can make the rice whenever you think the food is ready or will be ready in 10 minutes.
This is a meal that actually gets better over time (probably for about 4 days before I’d feel a bit iffy eating it if it hadn’t been properly stored in a sealed container) the 3 day you eat it (we’re students, come on don’t judge), it tastes way better than the first day. Just make some new rice and you’re good to go.
This meal is really healthy too, really balanced nutrients (and if you think it’s not then just add more vegetables), and it’s the perfect meal for a large group of people to share.