Saturday, August 18, 2012

Red Chili

There are probably more recipes for chili con carne out there than there are chiliheads. I have a couple myself, and if I'm representative, that means the number of recipes exceeds the number of chiliheads by a factor of two. There are also any number of theories about the history of the dish, whether it's proper or not to include beans or tomatoes, etc. etc. and of course there's also quite a lot of fighting over these theories.

Personally, I subscribe to the 19-Century San Antonio school where it comes to history, and I add the beans and the tomatoes. Other than that, I don't tend to worry too much about it - unless someone brings up the idea of cinnamon or spaghetti, in which case I start looking for rope. (Cincinnati chili is not chili, and that's more than enough said about that.)

Also: this is red chili (hence the title) and of course there's green chili out there too, and it's a wonderful dish it its own right. I personally don't meddle with it, though, since my housemate has her own recipe and method that's perfectly wonderful, and I just leave that to her.

Anyway, here's the mise en place:

Yes, I did say there'd be beans. I will use pinto beans, kidney beans, or black beans, depending on my mood. This time it's pintos.

What you're not seeing is meat. I use about two pounds per batch; in this case beef and pork, and I'm trying something different - searing it on the grill rather than in the kettle.

By the way, the searing-on-the-grill method worked quite well. I recommend it, and will probably do it that way from now on.

And here it is after the sear, along with the spices measured out. What I don't show is the onion chopped and the garlic minced, but I'm sure you've figured that out already.

That's a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, and black pepper; a teaspoon and a half each of ground cumin and oregano, and six tablespoons of chili powder.

Yes, six tablespoons. That's a quarter-cup plus two tablespoons.

I use Penzey's medium-hot.

Six tablespoons.


For this iteration of the dish I used half smoked paprika and half Hungarian sweet. I thought it turned out pretty good - I like smoked foods to a point, but anything other than red meat I try to keep to a minimum as I think the smoke can really overpower the other flavor notes. I won't eat smoked cheese at all, for example.

But I digress. Here's the start of the main sequence of preparation, sweating the onion and garlic in a bit of peanut oil:

Then we add the tomatoes. Note that I use canned tomatoes (and a small can of tomato sauce). Fresh tomatoes are great, but there's certainly nothing wrong with canned, particularly in a dish like this.

Then the beer, and the spices. Yes, that's still six tablespoons of chili powder.

After cooking and stirring for a few minutes, It should look like this:

Then of course the guest of honor: the meat. You can use any kind of red meat, in any proportions, but I tend to stick with beef or beef and pork.

After simmering for a couple of hours, it'll look like this:

For the second stage, we open a can of beans and prepare a slurry of a couple of tablespoons of flour and enough water to make it flow. (Note beer for scale.) The canonical recipe (if there is one, which there isn't) calls for masa harina instead of plain flour, but I don't tend to keep that on hand.

By the way, I really like these European-style can openers. They're a little harder to use, but they take the top of the can off much cleaner - you can even reuse the can lid to store any leftover ingredients in the refrigerator.

And not only that, but there's no sharp edge left on the can at all:

Anyway, after simmering the beans and the flour slurry in the chili for about fifteen minutes, we're ready to plate. I take mine over white rice (another point of bitter contention amongst chiliheads) with some finely-chopped white onion on top.

You can also try grated cheese, green onion, jalapeƱos, whatever you like. I'm not going to kick about it, unless you start talking about cinnamon or pasta.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sausage and Peppers on the Grill

This is something I saw on the web: the idea is that instead of grilling sausages directly on the grill, you steam them in a foil pan with some liquid (or liquid-bearing vegetables) first. This allows you to get the sausages cooked reasonably through, and get some smoke flavor into them, before searing them - and it means less chance of burning the skins of the sausages or leaving the centers undercooked.

The method is supposed to be good for all manner of sausage dishes, but, again, we're making sausage and peppers. We'll start with some Italian sausage, an onion, a bell pepper, and a large clove of garlic. The fettuccine, parmesan cheese, butter, and cream you see here are for Fettuccine Alfredo, something I pretty much always have with sausage and peppers.

Oh, the high-dollar olive oil you see here was just for the picture. I switched it out for some cheaper stuff for the actual process - we really don't need the good stuff for this dish.

And yeah, I know that I could have chosen some much better sausage from a specialty-foods store. Just didn't have time for that.

(Note vodka cocktail for scale.)

We'll also soak some hickory chips in water for the smoker box:

Slice the onion and pepper and add it to an aluminum-foil pan. Mince the garlic and sprinkle it on the top:

Arrange the sausages on the top. I'd forgotten tomatoes in my mise en place, so I sliced up some homegrown ones and added them after the sausages.

 Drizzle with a little olive oil, and place the pan on the cooler side of a preheated grill. Cover and relax for a bit with the vodka cocktail.

After a while the vegetables will start to cook. As they do, they'll give off some liquid, which the sausages will steam in. Here they're about half done:

After a little while longer the sausages will start to get brown and crisp, and the vegetables will be done all the way through and start to caramelize a bit.

That's when it's time to move the sausages off to the grill and sear them a bit. Note that we also pile the vegetables up on the cooler side of the grill to prevent them from burning:

This right here is what you're looking for - the sausages are seared and even cracked a bit, but they certainly haven't been overworked.

The sausages go back in the pan with the vegetables, and taken into the house to wait in a warm oven while we make the fettuccine.

All set - the fettuccine is just boiled al dente, and tossed with butter and parmesan to taste along with a little pepper and parsley. The cream is added only if we need to loosen the sauce up a bit.

And here it is plated. This was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I think I'll use this method from now on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Redneck Sous Vide

I've been interested in sous vide ever since I first heard about it a few years ago. Certainly the principles are ancient and solid, and modern engineering has given us the ability to control temperatures and other environmental factors precisely - but the professional systems are priced in the thousands.

Lately, home sous vide systems have come within reach, but they're still a little dear for any but the most dedicated foodies - a bit less than $500 for a good machine; not really outrageous, but kind of the analog of a bread machine for many of us.

Yeah, bread machine. Remember those? You probably have one taking up space in an unused cabinet. Me too. In other words: a fancy gadget that you use once or twice or maybe even a dozen times if you're lucky, and then forget about. Half a kilobuck is a bit much for me to throw at something like that.

There are hacker plans out there for systems you can build with immersion heaters and hobby electronics, but who has time for that? Certainly not me.

Then I saw an article on the web that claimed you could do the same thing with a good ice chest, for certain foods and within certain parameters. The easiest and most straightforward example given was that of a strip steak: hold it at 130° F for an hour, sear it, and it'll be the best steak you ever had.

Well. Let's see about that. Here's my plan: a standard steak-and-potato dinner with mushrooms and a green vegetable, with the steak treated as summarized above. I chose a flat iron steak because (1) they're cheap and (2) they're damned good. If you're not familiar with it: it's a cut of beef from the chuck, with just a tiny bit of gristle right in the middle, but also with a lot of great flavor and surprising tenderness everywhere else. And they come in portions suitable for two people:

(Note Cuba Libre for scale.)

To prepare for the sous vide, we remove the steak from its packaging and seal it in a Foodsaver bag with some (not much) salt, black pepper, and dried thyme.

Submerge it in the cooler under a great deal of warm (130°) water. The more water we use, the less often we have to adjust the temperature with ice, or tap or boiling water.

(Aside: those of you who brew beer will be familiar with having to monitor and adjust temperatures like this, if you do all-grain. It's a pain in the ass, but worth the trouble.)

The silver object you see in the photo here is a brick wrapped in aluminum foil, to keep the steak envelope from floating to the surface. As it turned out, I didn't really need it (the package was heavier than water), and took it out after a few minutes.

We monitor the temperature with a standard probe thermometer. You can see the cable for the probe in the photo above, but the probe itself is under the steak package. The photo below is of the display. I have it set to raise an alarm if the temperature rises to 139°, but despite some quick adjustments we never got that high.

As an aside: check out this old knife! It's something like you might find in your grandmother's kitchen drawer - well-worn, but not something you'd ever use yourself, right?

Well, take a closer look. Yep, it's a Henckels. This came out of Susan's mom's kitchen, and I'm honored to have it in my drawer and to be responsible for keeping it sharp. I have no idea how old it actually is, but it's a damned fine piece of steel.

When the steak comes out of the Foodsaver bag after an hour, it really doesn't look all that appetizing - rather like something you'd see flopping out of a corpse on one of those CSI shows on TV. Bleah!

That's the problem with sous vide: you have to take the extra step to honor Dr. Maillard. So we sear it in a very hot cast-iron skillet (as hot as we can get it, a minute per side):

Let it rest just a bit, and slice it. It's starting to look a lot better now, isn't it?

Plated, with dressed potato, broccoli, mushrooms, and toast points:

Verdict: not too bad, but not really all that much better than simply grilling it over charcoal or gas. I'll probably try this again with the cooler method, perhaps with a chicken breast or the like, and try to control the temperature a little closer. I might even build an active system with the immersion heater. And if either experiment works out, I'll probably spring for the $500 storebought system - the reviews I've read on those have been nothing sort of evangelical, and I've certainly wasted much more money on much more foolish ideas in the past....