During a six month period in 2003, I found myself living as a bachelor in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Our rental broker had assured us that the area was up-and-coming, sandwiched geographically as he described it, “between Park Slope and Bay Ridge.” Those familiar with the area know that this description covers a comically large area of land, which to this day is populated mostly by an enormous Dominican population, sharing elbow room with NYC’s vast “other Chinatown.” I haven’t been back in years, though I doubt that even a decade later, the area could be described as “up and coming.”
Though the area’s diverse food culture is somewhat celebrated now, as a young man in his twenties spending more than half of his income on rent, most of my meals were eaten at home, prepared in a kitchen with half-sized appliances and overrun with mice. These weren’t polite field mice wearing straw hats; these were indestructible, bullet-scarred, Warfarin-huffing Brooklyn mice, that wouldn’t even bother running when I turned on a light, and who would steal my wooden kitchen spoons when I went to sleep at night.
My newfound status as a single person meant that I was no longer burdened by the need to eat a vegetable every day (or take showers, or leave the house), and to save money, I would spend every Saturday standing in my tiny kitchen, drinking beer and cooking massive crocks of chili, that I would then eat for every meal for the rest of the week. Each weekend, I would try adding something new to the cauldron of bubbling tomatoes and spices: a dab of chocolate here, a little coffee there, or a bottle of dark beer (although at the time, I found the beer worked much better when I applied it directly to my stomach).
Chili making is a perfect fit for this kind of dabbling and experimentation with ingredients. Often, it seems like the more stuff that goes in, the better the chili at the end of an afternoon of simmering, or even better still, the next day. A good chili is so much more than mixing a can of tomatoes with some ground beef (and, provided you’re not from Texas, some beans). An amazing chili isn’t cooked, it’s built: Layers of flavor stacking one on top of the next, building complexity and resulting in a thick, spicy, beefy stew that tastes completely different between the time it first hits your lips, and the time you finally swallow a bite. A truly great chili starts with a flavorful cut of beef, whole spices, and as many different varieties of dried whole chiles as you can get your hands on. The recipe below is a good starting place, but it’s not perfect yet. That’s up to you.
As for Jillian? After a Summer of groveling, I managed to win her back, and we haven’t been apart (or been back to Sunset Park) ever since. She’s got me back eating vegetables every day, and she even likes my chili.
Beef Short Rib Chili with Beans
Makes a ton of chili
- 3 whole dried Ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into chunks
- 1 whole dried California chile, stemmed, seeded, and torn into chunks
- 1 whole dried Chipotle chile, stemmed, seeded, and torn into chunks
- 1-2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 small can tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds, ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, ground
- 2 whole cloves, ground
- 1 tablespoon extra-finely ground coffee
- 1 ounce chopped unsweetened chocolate
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 5 pounds bone-in beef short rib, silverskin removed and trimmed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 whole fresh serrano chile, finely chopped
- 1 (4.5 ounce) can green chiles
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 bottle stout beer
- 2 (14 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
- 2 (14 ounce) can red kidney beans
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine dried chiles and enough chicken stock to cover chiles. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat, cover, and set aside until chiles soften, about ten minutes. Transfer chiles and liquid to blender or bowl of a food processor, and add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, ground spices, coffee, and chocolate. Whir until completely smooth, about two minutes.
- In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat vegetable oil over high heat. Working in batches, add about half of the short ribs, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, turning, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate to cool, and repeat with remaining short ribs.
- Reduce heat to medium, and add onions, bell pepper, serrano chile, green chiles (including liquid), oregano, and bay leaves to Dutch oven with any remaining beef drippings. Cook until onions begin to turn translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for one minute more.
- Trim beef from bones, and roughly chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Add chopped beef and bones to Dutch oven.
- Add chile puree and beer, and stir. Bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, about one hour.
- Add chopped tomatoes, cider vinegar, and beans, and cook uncovered until beef and beans are tender and sauce thickens, 3-4 hours longer.
- Using tongs, remove and discard bay leaves and bones. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos, and/or sliced avocado.