...not a recreation of the Sistine Chapel!
But try telling that to Heston Blumenthal.
Diane and I recorded last week's Further Adventures in Search of Perfection - the one about chili con carne -- and watched it the other night with increasing amazement as he piled on layer after layer of daft, pointless elaboration.
The man hasn't a clue about how to cook with chilis, either: presented with something that used them - Oh look, they're in the name of the dish and everything! - he instantly reverted to Macho Man and went for the hottest he could find (or at least with the funniest name - Devil's Penis.) Someone should have let him try a Jolokia without telling him how hot it is; now that would have been really funny.
(click on read more for the rest...)
By over-doing it with the hot stuff, he made not only the addition of other chili varieties, used presumably because of their own individual flavour and character, an exercise in futility; he also defeated the intended purpose of every other tiresome time-wasting variation that he shoehorned in, by drowning all of them in one-note heat.
Von Blumenstein then stuck one of his sous-chefs - called Igor, I presume - into an MRI unit and fed him chili oil to see what would happen. It's called an endorphin rush, Heston, and it's an effect so well known there's been a sauce named after it for years.
Read the recipe and be
appalled amazed; be warned, it goes on and on. And on. I doubt many people will think "Oh, must try this one." If they've made and enjoyed a chili from a much less complicated recipe than this one (most, if not all chili recipes on the planet qualify for that description) they might think other things entirely... Especially once they consider that Blumie's gadding about for these two series is financed (in part or entirely?) by the BBC license fee. Nice work if you can get it.
Chilli con carne
Preparation time: overnight.
Cooking time: over 2 hours.
In this recipe, Heston uses grams for both solid and liquid measurements for pinpoint accuracy. To weigh liquids, any suitable container can be placed on digital scales and the scales reset to zero.
For the short-rib brine
300g/10Â½oz Jack Daniel's whiskey
8 beef short-ribs
For the kidney beans
300g/10Â½oz dried organic kidney beans
45 large on-the-vine cherry tomatoes
For the chilli powder blend
2-3 dried devil's penis chillies, de-seeded
2-3 dried bird's-eye chillies, de-seeded
1 tsp Somalian extra-hot chilli powder
10g/Â½oz sweet smoked paprika
10g/Â½oz Durango ground chilli powder
10g/Â½oz El Rey ground chilli powder
10g/Â½oz Madera ground chilli powder
20g/Â¾oz Pecos Red ground chilli powder
20g/Â¾ Rio Tejas ground chilli powder
For the stock
650g/1lb 7oz oxtail
1kg/2Â¼lb rib bones (ask your butcher to cut them so that they will fit into the pressure cooker)
flour, as needed
50g/1Â¾oz grapeseed or groundnut oil
1.5kg/3lb 5oz lean beef mince
25g/1oz unsalted butter
1 large onion, sliced
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
2 tsp chilli powder blend
1 bottle red wine (preferably Syrah)
5 long peppers (pipenlongum, available through online shops)
10g/Â½oz fresh chives
10g/Â½oz fresh flatleaf parsley
10g/Â½oz fresh tarragon
2 fresh bay leaves
For the braised short-ribs
8 brined beef short-ribs
plain flour, for dusting
3-4 tbsp reserved fat from the stock
2 tsp chilli powder blend
1 large onion, sliced
4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, sliced
3 large carrots, sliced
1 bottle red wine (preferably Syrah)
5 long peppers (pipenlongum, available through online shops)
1kg/2Â¼lb reserved beef stock
reserved kidney beans and their liquid
For the cipolline confit
250g/8Â¾oz peeled cipolline onions
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
For the roasted peppers
4 red bell peppers
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
For the finishing butter
120g/4Â¼oz butter, softened to room temperature
20g/Â¾ chilli powder blend
2 limes, zest and juice only
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Jack Daniel's whiskey
1 tsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp tomato ketchup
Â½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
For the finished chilli con carne
3-4 tbsp (plus extra if needed) reserved fat from the stock
1kg/2Â¼lb lean beef mince (preferably dry-aged and free of gristle - ask your butcher)
40g/1Â½oz chilli powder blend
3 whole star anise
1 large onion, finely diced
5 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced
50g/1Â¾oz fresh jalapeno chilli, finely chopped
40g/1Â½oz tomato purÃ©e
600g/1lb 5oz Jack Daniel's whiskey
reserved short-ribs and their braising liquid
reserved kidney beans and their braising liquid
reserved cipolline confit, drained of oil and cut into quarters
reserved roasted peppers
1 fresh jalapeno chilli, finely diced
finishing butter, as needed
For the muffins
560g/1lb 3Â¾oz canned sweetcorn
50g/1Â¾oz whole milk
200g/7oz double cream
250g/8Â¾oz plain flour
1Â½ tsp baking powder
190g/6Â¾oz caster sugar
100g/3Â½oz free-range eggs
pinch of salt
For the sour cream ice cream
500g/1lb 2oz low-fat sour cream
500g/1lb 2oz crushed dry ice
You will need the following special equipment: spice grinder, pressure cooker, muslin, oven thermometer, silicone muffin mould, food mixer, dry ice.
BRINING THE SHORT-RIBS
1. Combine the water and the salt in a storage container and stir from time to time to dissolve the salt.
2. Meanwhile, tip the Jack Daniel's into a small pan and slowly bring to the boil. As soon as it has reached boiling point, carefully ignite the alcohol with a match. (This removes the harsh, raw notes of the alcohol, but take care because it will go up with a large flame and will burn for some time on the hob.) Reduce it by half, then leave to cool completely before adding it to the pan of salted water.
3. Place the short-ribs in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
4. Remove the ribs from the brine and place in a container of cold, fresh water. Allow to soak for six hours, changing the water regularly.
PREPARING THE KIDNEY BEANS
1. Combine the water and salt in a storage container and stir to dissolve the salt.
2. Tip the beans into the container, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. This soaking step will help the finished beans to cook evenly and keep the skins from splitting during the cooking process.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Fill a large bowl with iced water (if ice is not available, use the coldest water from the tap).
4. Pull the tomatoes off the vine, reserving the vine. Remove the cores with a paring knife.
5. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place in a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle two teaspoons of salt over them and leave until about 100g/3Â½oz tomato juice has collected in the bowl.
6. Place the tomatoes and their juice in a small pressure cooker. Put on the lid and place over a high heat. When it reaches full pressure, cook for 20 minutes.
7. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, remove the lid and place the tomatoes back on the hob. Cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes.
8. Leave the tomatoes to cool again, then tip into a container. Add the reserved vines and cover (this will infuse the fresh, raw aroma of tomatoes on the vine into the liquid). Store this tomato liquid in the fridge until the beans have soaked.
9. Strain the beans and tip into a small pressure cooker. Remove the vines from the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the beans. If necessary, add some water so that the beans are covered.
10. Put on the lid and place over a high heat. When it reaches full pressure, cook for 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Tip the beans and tomato sauce into a large container. Cover and store in the fridge until required.
MAKING THE CHILLI POWDER BLEND
1. Finely grind the chillies with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Measure out half a teaspoon of each into a container.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and store until required.
MAKING THE STOCK
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. While the oven is heating, toss the oxtails and rib bones in flour to coat lightly. Place in a roasting tray and roast for 40-45 minutes, or until golden-brown, turning regularly.
2. Meanwhile, place a large pan over a high heat for at least five minutes. Add the oil and wait until it starts smoking - it must be hot enough so that the mince browns rather than stews. Add 1kg/2Â¼lb of the mince in batches, in a single layer, and stir until browned. You might need to deglaze the pan with water between batches if any crustiness develops in the bottom.
3. Discard the fat left in the pan and add the butter. Melt over a low heat, then add the onion, leeks and carrots and cook for ten minutes, or until soft. Scatter over the chilli powder, stir to combine and cook for an additional five minutes over a high heat to release the aromas of the chillies.
4. Turn the heat back to medium and deglaze the pan by adding the wine and scraping up all the bits stuck to the bottom while bringing it to the boil. Once the liquid has reduced by two-thirds, tip it and the vegetables into a small pressure cooker.
5. Add the cooked mince and the reserved raw mince, the roasted bones and the long peppers. Pour in enough water to entirely cover the ingredients. Put on the lid and place over a high heat. When it reaches full pressure, cook for two hours.
6. Take the pan off the heat and allow to depressurise. Remove the lid and add the herbs. Allow to infuse for 30 minutes.
7. Strain the stock and cool over ice or in the fridge.
8. When cool, remove all the fat that has come to the top and reserve.
9. Tip the stock into a large pan and place over a high heat. Reduce by half, skimming constantly to remove any remaining fat and impurities. Leave to cool, then store in the fridge until required.
BRAISING THE SHORT-RIBS
1. Dust the ribs on all sides with flour. Melt the reserved fat in a large cast-iron casserole over a high heat. When the fat starts smoking add the ribs in batches. Sear on each side (1-2 minutes) until golden-brown. Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside.
2. Lower the heat to medium. Add the chilli powder blend to the pan and fry quickly for around two minutes to release the flavour into the oil. Add the onion, leeks and carrots and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables are lightly caramelised, stirring occasionally.
3. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil, scraping up all the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, line the inside of a storage container or pan with a piece of muslin large enough to hold all the vegetables. Once the wine has reduced by two-thirds, tip the vegetables out of the casserole into the lined container. Tie up the muslin and return the 'bag' to the casserole, also returning the liquid that has drained into the container.
4. Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1.
5. Add the short-ribs, plus the reserved stock and kidney beans in tomato sauce to the casserole. Cover the dish first with cling film, then with aluminium foil, and place in the oven for five hours.
6. Remove the casserole from the oven and leave to cool. Squeeze the excess juice from the muslin bag, then discard the bag and its contents.
7. Transfer the short-ribs to a large container. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beans and place them in a separate large container.
8. Skim off any fat from the braising liquid and strain through a sieve. Divide the liquid between the two containers, covering the beans and the short-ribs. Store the meat and beans in the fridge until required.
9. After the short-ribs have been stored for a few hours, remove the meat from the gelatinous liquid, brushing off any excess jelly, and place on a chopping board. Remove the meat from the bone and discard both the bones and any heavy connective tissue.
10. Using a fork, shred the meat into long pieces where it wants to separate naturally.
11. Return this shredded meat to the gelatinous liquid, submerging it to keep it from drying out. Store in the fridge until needed.
MAKING THE CIPOLLINE CONFIT
1. Season the onions with the salt and place in a pan in a single layer. Cover with olive oil.
2. Cook over a low heat until the onions are completely tender. Transfer to a storage container and chill in the oil.
PREPARING THE ROASTED PEPPERS
1. Preheat the grill until very hot.
2. Core and halve the peppers, and remove the white pith and seeds.
3. Put the pepper halves, skin side up, on a grill pan and brush them with olive oil. Place under the hot grill and leave them until they are black.
4. Remove the blackened peppers from the grill and wrap immediately in cling film. Set aside for ten minutes.
5. Unwrap the peppers and peel off the blackened skin.
6. Cut the peeled peppers into 1cm/Â½in cubes and store in the fridge until needed.
MAKING THE FINISHING BUTTER
1. In a small pan heat 20g/Â¾oz of the butter with the chilli powder blend and cumin, and fry lightly. Transfer this mixture to a heatproof bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
2. Blanch the lime zest briefly in boiling water, refresh in cold water and then mince finely.
3. Add the zest and all the other ingredients to the butter mixture. Fold together until everything is evenly mixed. Transfer to a storage container and keep refrigerated.
ASSEMBLING THE CHILLI CON CARNE
1. Place a large pan over a high heat for at least five minutes. Add the reserved fat. When smoking hot, add the mince in batches and cook until evenly browned. Between batches deglaze with water as needed and save all of the bits and liquid that is collected.
2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mince to a bowl or plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Deglaze the pan with a little water to remove the bits of meat stuck to the bottom. Add these bits to your browned meat.
3. Turn the heat down to medium and add a bit more of the fat. Add the chilli powder blend and fry briefly, adding more fat if needed.
4. Crush the star anise and bag it in a square of muslin. Add this and the onion to the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the onion is soft and caramelised.
5. Turn the heat down to low, then add the garlic, carrot and jalapeno chilli. Cook for about ten minutes, or until soft.
6. Add the tomato purÃ©e and cook until it becomes a deep brick-red colour.
7. Deglaze the pan by turning the temperature up to medium and adding the Jack Daniel's. (Be careful as the whiskey will flame.) Bring it to the boil, then scrape up all the bits stuck to the bottom.
8. Add the browned mince plus the short-ribs and their liquid to the pan. Stir in the reserved kidney beans and braising liquid and simmer over a low heat for 40 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt. At this point it is best to cool and store the chilli, and finish it later that day or the next. However, you can continue now if you wish.
9. If you have allowed your chilli to cool, reheat it over a low heat. Adjust the seasoning with salt and the chilli powder blend if necessary.
10. Add the cipolline confit, roasted peppers and diced jalapeno. Fold together, being careful not to break the delicate beans.
11. Fold in the finishing butter to give a fresh acidity and glossy sheen to the sauce. The amount that you add depends on your personal preference.
MAKING THE CORN MUFFINS
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5, using an oven thermometer to check it. Lightly butter and flour a large muffin tin or use a silicone muffin mould.
2. Melt 25g/1oz of the butter in a large pan or casserole. Add the corn and fry over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
3. Pour in the milk and double cream and simmer over a low heat for five minutes.
4. Tip the corn mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Push this mixture through a fine sieve and set aside. Discard what's left in the sieve.
5. With the rest of the butter, make beurre noisette. Put the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter stops sizzling (a sign that all the water has evaporated, after which it will burn) and develops a nutty aroma, remove it from the heat immediately. Strain it into a jug and leave to cool until needed. Discard the blackened solids in the sieve.
6. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the caster sugar.
7. Whisk the eggs and salt together, then pour into the dry mixture, along with the water and 225g/8oz of the reserved creamed corn.
8. Pour the beurre noisette into the muffin mixture and stir. (Try to avoid tipping in any sediment that may have collected at the bottom of the jug.)
9. Spoon the muffin mixture into the prepared tin or mould and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a pale golden-brown.
MAKING THE SOUR CREAM ICE CREAM
1. Crush the dry ice either briefly in a food processor or by wrapping in a tea towel and beating with a rolling pin.
2. Tip the sour cream into the bowl of a food mixer. Mix on a medium speed while adding small amounts of crushed dry ice until the sour cream is thick and nearly frozen.
3. Use a spoon to scrape the mixture into a rectangular mould, and place in the freezer to harden for one hour.
4. Unmould the ice cream and serve immediately.
Well, I suppose he has to justify his Michelin stars and the prices to match, but there's an old saying about silk purses and sow's ears. Texican Chili con carne is no sow's ear, but it's no silk purse, either; more a tooled-leather saddlebag decorated with silver conchos. Gucci or Vuitton need not apply. Its peasant, or at least migrant-cattle-herder (cowboy) roots can't and shouldn't be ignored no matter how much it's dressed up, because they'll pop out when you least expect it and give you a surprise. My Fair Chili, anyone?
Quite apart from all the Ooh-look-at-me-aren't-I-clever additions (cipolline confit? finishing butter? carrots!? OMGWTF?), what made both of us roll our eyes was his surprise, expressed not once but twice, that cumin is such a major spice in chili. He didn't know? He didn't think to do a little bit of research on basic chili ingredients before fronting a program about it?
That's like being surprised to find people sometimes sprinkle vinegar on fish and chips. And it's not exactly a new development, either:
Cumin: cumin is what gives chili its distinctive flavor. This musky seasoning is usually used as a ground spice; however, chili connoisseurs toast the whole cumin seed in a small dry frying pan, then grind it before adding to the chili. Toasting the seed enhances its flavor.
- The Real Chili Cookbook, Marjie Lambert 1996.
Cumin: this spice is as essential as chili powder. The generous use of cumin is a hallmark of Tex-Mex cooking, clearly separating it from the more subtle touch south of the border.
- The Mahattan Chili Co. Southwest American Cookbook, Michael McLaughlin 1986.
The dispute over the most authentic chile con carne is topped only by the "with or without beans" debate. The original recipe probably included a few wild onions, garllic, chili peppers and meat, Cumin, a treasured spice kept under lock and key in the kitchen of the Governor's palace in San Antonio, became a key ingredient.
- Cuisine of the American Southwest, Anne Lindsay Greer 1983.
(from a pre-WW2 recipe, chili seasoning for 3lbs of cubed beef): 1 level teaspoonful of powdered oregano, 1 level tablespoon of crushed cumin seeds, 1 level tablespoonful of salt, 1 level tablespoon of powdered cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoonful of Tabasco sauce, chopped garlic cloves to taste, but at least two.
- A Bowl of Red, Francis X. Tolbert 1966.
It's possible to fill an entire bookshelf - an entire wall of bookshelves - with volumes just about chili variants; I've got almost a dozen of these, among the couple of score of more generic "hot and spicy" cookbooks.
One thing's clear: the more traditional a chili is, the plainer it is, until you reach the basic version. This is simply meat (not minced, but chopped into Â½-inch dice, though it's possible to buy very coarse "chili-grind" in the US) cooked with hot peppers, oregano, cumin, chopped garlic, and nothing else. No onions, no tomatoes, and definitely no beans. There are theories about that: one is that putting beans in, or serving them with, your chili suggested that you were stretching things, being either too poor or too cheap to buy enough meat. Another (this is the Deep South, butting against the Mexican border, so no surprise that it's racist) is that they were "beaner" or "greaser" food, so not eaten by white folks. Your choice.
Truly-trad chili is too stark for any but purists (or researchers), but it's possible to go too far in the other direction. That can raise passions: I don't know the exact US equivalent of a football hooligan or lager lout, but if you want to experience a Full and Free Exchange of Opinions, chili is as good a way to start as any. And they usually have guns, too.
It's just as well Blumenthal went to a chili cook-off in Washington DC rather than one in Texas. If they'd found out what he had in mind for the State Dish, he'd never have got out alive.