Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!)

Chili con Carne IllustrationOne of my friends has, despite my best efforts, a persistent and downright pesky lack of tolerance for heat. A whiff of even the mildest serrano chilli or teensiest pinch of cayenne has him running for the water trough with steam coming out of his ears. After one memorable lunch when I presented him with a chicken kebab which I promised was only mildly spiced but that had him nearly in tears, he has developed a healthy suspicion of my definition of ‘hot’.  On a cold and blustery afternoon when I was preparing to cook for 6 people whose spice preference ranged from ‘zero’ to ‘eyeball-meltingly-hot’ this recipe was developed with him in mind, having all the delicious warmth and spicing of a traditional chili, but with none of the actual – erm – chilli! It’s perfect not just for chilli-phobe adults but also kids whose palates have yet to adjust and appreciate the searing burn of fire.

Although fabulously tasty by itself, I accompany this chili with a super-spicy salsa, to be dolloped on each bite, or stirred in to taste at the table, to add fire strictly for those who wish for it. At the heart of the salsa are tomatillos – sharp green fruits that look like a cross between unripe green tomatoes and the papery lantern-wrapped physalis – but these are hard to find if you don’t spend your spare time frequenting chilli festivals (or growing your own under glass), so you can happily substitute nice ripe tomatoes, and just add a little extra vinegar or some lime juice to give it bite.  The ‘finishing butter’ adds a delicious richness and also limey freshness at the end, especially for those who are eschewing the salsa. Dried anchos are the key to the stew’s smokey depth and yes – I know they are technically a chilli – but this classification is misleading: they have the same heat punch of a bell pepper, which is essentially what they are! Pork skin may seem an odd addition to a stew (and is totally optional), but it melts down and vanishes during the long slow cooking, leaving a gorgeous richness and lending extra body to the sauce, and as pork shoulder in the piece almost always comes skin-on it seems a crime to waste it by omitting it.

Chili con Carne Illustration (annotated)Adjustable-heat Chili con Carne
Serves 8

1kg tomatoes, halved
3 dried ancho chillies
2 red or orange peppers
900g pork shoulder, in the piece, skin removed but not discarded
600g beef mince
2 large onions (white, red or a mixture), diced
3 sticks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground clove
2 heaped tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
500ml beef stock
1-2 cans red kidney beans, drained & rinsed (quantity depends on how much you like beans, I like a lot of meat with a bit of bean, some like lots of bean with a bit of meat)
Beef dripping or olive oil, for frying
Cider vinegar, to taste
Optional extras: grated cheddar, sliced spring onions and sour cream to serve

For the supercharged salsa:
3 tomatillos, diced (if you cannot get these use regular red tomatoes, just use a little extra vinegar, to taste)
3 long red chillies, deseeded & finely diced
3 scotch bonnets, deseeded & finely diced
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar

For the finishing butter:
125g soft unsalted butter
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 limes, zest & juice
15g parmesan, finely grated

Preheat the oven to Gas 6/200C/fan180. Roast the halved tomatoes with just a drizzle of olive oil on a shallow baking tray for 1 hour. Meanwhile soak the ancho chillies in boiling water for 20-30 minutes until completely soft then remove the stem, core and seeds (do not discard the soaking water). Blacken the skins of the red or orange peppers by placing under a very hot grill, or directly onto your hob if you have a gas burner (use tongs to turn them), place in a heatproof bowl and cover with clingfilm and allow to cool, then scrape off the blackened skin, chop the flesh into large dice and set aside.

In a large casserole dish, melt a spoonful of beef fat or heat a splash of oil. Brown the chunk of pork on all sides, and remove to a plate. Repeat with the skin, on both flesh- and fat- side (be careful – it will spit), and remove. Finally, and on a very high heat, brown the mince then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan. Reduce the heat to low and soften the onions and celery, then add the garlic, spices, oregano, and tomato puree and cook for a few more minutes until it is smelling deliciously aromatic.

Finely dice the fried pork skin, and return it to the pan along with the mince and the piece of pork. Pour on the stock and bring to the boil on a medium-high heat. Meanwhile puree the roasted tomatoes with the soaked and deseeded ancho chillies & just enough of the soaking water to make a smooth, quite liquid puree. Add this to the chili, along with the kidney beans.  Turn the heat down as low as possible, partially cover with a lid, then simmer gently on the hob or in a very low oven (Gas 1/140c/fan120) for around 6 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with a little extra beef stock or water if it looks like it’s drying out. When the cooking time is up, remove the chunk of pork and use two forks to shred it roughly, then stir it back into the chili along with the diced peppers you prepared earlier. Taste & season with salt & cider vinegar to cut the richness (it shouldn’t need pepper).

To make the accompaniments simply mix the ingredients for each together and serve alongside the chili. Some cornbread, small baked potatoes or tortilla chips are all suitable carby sides for this, it’s so hearty you wont need much of them though!


8 thoughts on “Chili-con-Carne for even the most hardened chilli-phobe (and chilli-lover!)

  1. A really interesting recipe. We always make our chilli con carne with beef only but I can see how the pork skin and pork could add a different depth of flavour. Thanks a lot. BTW, I couldn’t imagine a life with spices!

  2. I couldn’t imagine life without spices either, but I have a sister who finds even a little black pepper makes a dish too hot! I’ve been planning to track down some tomatillos and ancho chillies for a while to make some proper Mexican dishes. This sounds lovely.

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