Hi everyone, and welcome back to a rich and spicy episode of Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make whatever you want me to with my immersion circulator. After many weeks of contending, chilli con carne finally won out as the topic du jour (or topic du semaine?), specifically Texas chilli con carne.
I'm pretty happy with the route I took. There was some concern over cooking chilli con carne this way as:
- Using sous vide only does not allow for browning.
- There's no way for anything to evaporate, so there's no concentration of flavours, which could lead to a lack of "character".
Obviously, the "character" has to be added before everything is slopped into the bag. As reader Antifaz pointed out (seriously, you guys make my job so easy) I have a torch now, and torching stuff beforehand can add major flavour and character by way of browning. I suspected that this, coupled with using concentrated, very flavorful, not-very-liquidy ingredients was our best bet, and I (well we) was right.
I will admit it, I am a little torch crazy right now. I may even start a spin-off column — Will It Torch? — because my last three meals have been prepared using only a butane torch. I'm kidding. (Sort of. We'll see if Alan deletes this paragraph or not. [Ed. Note: Fire is awesome. Carry on.])
Anyway. I torched many of the things, including the meat, an onion, garlic and some peppers. The rest of the ingredients (which were inspired by Kenji's Texas chilli con carne recipe) were all flavour-blasted as well, and not a drop of extra water was used in the creation of this dish.
I'll be the first to admit that this recipe has a ton of ingredients, but I'm not mad about it. It's also not the most streamlined sous vide recipe we've ever tackled, but I'm not mad about that either. I'm not mad about it because the chilli con carne is very, very good, and I will most likely be making it for the next few months. Enough of my babbling though, let's get to the (kinda long) recipe:
Sous Vide Chilli (serves four):
- 900g of beef chuck, cut into cubes and trimmed of excess fat and gristle (save time and make your butcher do this)
- 1 onion, cut into quarters
- 1/2 fresh Poblano pepper
- 1 fresh Anaheim pepper
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 dried Habanero pepper
- 2 dried New Mexico peppers
- 2 dried Arbol peppers
- 2 whole canned Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce + 2 tablespoons of sauce
- 2 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base
- 1 tablespoon chilli oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 tablespoon masa
I told you it was a lot.
As mentioned above, the first thing you're going to want to do is torch your first five ingredients, removing the stems and seeds from the peppers once they're torched. (I just put everything in a big, sturdy (not nonstick) pan and blasted it with that glorious flame.) For the onions, separate the layers of each quarter with tongs and get some good colour on each one.
For the Poblano, char then halve.
Put the torched meat in a 4L freezer zipper bag and set aside, and throw the other charred stuff in the bowl of a food processor. Remove the seeds from the dried chillies (I just cut off the stem and shook 'em out; I don't know if this is the "correct" way to do such) and crumble them up over your charred stuff.
Next, add all other ingredients except the masa to your food processor and blend it all together. Pour your spicy, flavour-packed paste in the bag with your chuck, and put it a circulating water bath set to 149 degrees Fahrenheit (as suggested by the ChefSteps sous vide temperature guide).
Not pictured: The plastic wrap I covered the bath with. (By the way, thanks for all the emails and comments telling me to do that. I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it on my own.)
A safety note: Please be careful when transferring your spicy mixture to the bag, and wash your hands thoroughly if you spill. That stuff would wreak havoc on your eyes and any other mucus membranes it happened to come in contact with.
To determine the best cooking time for this stuff, I checked on the chilli con carne at the four, eight and twelve hour marks. After four hours of cooking, the meat was just a touch too chewy, and the "sauce" or "broth" or whatever the heck you want to call it still had a pretty aggressive bite to it.
After eight hours, however, the meat had softened to a delightfully tender point, and the flavours had all rounded out and melded together. It was spicy — but flavourfully so, not just hot for hotness' sake — slightly sweet, with a bit of acid to cut through the richness and keep you coming back for another bite. The flavour didn't really change after an additional four hours, so you could stop at eight and be happy. Finish it off by stirring in a tablespoon of masa, and serve.
Actually pretty perfect.
Going back to my favourite question: Will chilli sous vide?
The Answer: Yup, but you'll need a little extra equipment, and a lot of ingredients with "character". While you don't technically have to own a butane torch — you could brown the meat in a skillet and the veggies in the oven — it sure makes the process a lot faster, and it's a lot of fun. You will need a food processor though, or at least a blender, to create your paste, but I feel like any sous vide-owning home cook would have also be the type of person to own a food processor.
I'm no chilli con carne connoisseur, but damn this was some of the best chilli I've ever eaten, and I really appreciate not having to scrub a big pot afterwards. It's going fast (I ate it for breakfast this morning) so I'll probably make another batch this weekend. I've got a whole bunch of dried chillies now anyway.