Wonderfully pristine snowfall this morning veiled the world in an innocent white that sparkled among the faded morning glow. I had one thought in mind el tazon de rojo con carne to warm up with from the moment the shovel came out to dig myself and my neighbor out to I got into the city to find everything sloppy slushy and gray and through my coming home reading summer passages for Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider.
The traditional southwestern ‘bowl of red’ is an oft’ alcohol fueled argument of elitist chefs. I myself only have one el tazon de rojo con carne idea but about one-hundred-and-one other chili recipes I could turn to. But this a larger than life smaller than my kitchen flavor and the in simple, earthy ideas is always a great thowback to come to. My short study in chili actually led me to learn a bunch of interesting idea, like, the original chili was simply a ‘stew’ that was based in the flesh of chilis, and that truly authentic chili was purely veggie dish. Over time, and Texas (I suppose), con carne (with meat) was introduced and that chuck was saddle softened (pounded to hell from riding, not ground). After that, chili became a hugely regional affair with each-and-every place plating their own unique one, right through Cinci’s bowl that almost resembles an oddly-contrived bolognese conception that might only even use just ‘red pepper flakes.’
Anyway, as the snow begins to cover the ledge in front of my kitchen window this evening I am charring some red peppers just for this affair, that includes the more than typical tomato, ground beef, kidney bean variety that your mom probably made. For any version of el tazon de rojo con carne needs to start with something red… and with that most evil of holidays based in red, let’s make it a damned spicy one!
stuff you need:
Red Serrano chilis (other red mild-to-medium chilis can substitute)
Habanero chili (or other hot fresh chili of your liking)
red bell pepper
red onion (in a pinch, any onion could do)
beef stock or veggie stock (depends on your preference)
beer (I like American amber lagers or red ales for this but anything would work, so if you like a porter, do it, it’s just a different flavor profile)
ancho chili power (any other chili powder works too like, cayenne, piri piri or chipolte depending on your heat tolerance – combine them if you like)
smoked paprika (hungarian if you like spicy, portuguese or moroccan if you like less spice)
fine corn meal (or Masa harina if you can find it)
dried chilis (of your choice)
fat (olive oil works, but so would the cut fat from your beef or butter)
agave (honey, maple syrup or molasses substitute ok too)
Preparing the beef:
You may chose to marinade your beef in hot sauce (if you don’t have hot sauce combine apple cider vinegar with chili power), or to pound some tenderness into it by hand.
Create a dredge that is about a 1:1 ratio of the fine corn meal and your spice mixture that consists of the chili power, paprika, black pepper, cumin. I usually begin the mixture as 1:1:0.5:0.5 and taste it to be sure before adding it to the corn meal – sometimes it needs to be adjusted, really depends on how your dried spices are in any given batch. Salt the corn meal and spice mixture as necessary.
Evenly coat the meat.
In the stock put bring a little bit of fat up to temperature and then begin adding the meat, largest pieces first.
Allow the meat to brown, but only cook it till it’s rare on the inside, it will finish out to being closer to well done in the braising part of the process.
Preparing the Veggies:
Get lots, and lots, and lots of chilis. Unlike the typical “trinity” in this case it’s more like a 3+:1:1 between the peppers to the onions and celery in terms of volume and because a single pepper will yield less than a single onion or celery stalk you’ll need a lot of peppers to get that volume ratio. Trust me. You’re using the flesh of the peppers as the primary component of the dish, that’s why it’s called “chili.” Don’t skimp!
There’s a trick to working with fresh peppers that is rarely given up in recipes, so I’ll attempt to lay it out here… if you have gas or oil for your stove or can use your outside BBQ this works better since you can char your peppers (the Bell, Serrano, Habanero) till the skins are blackened and bubbled from the flesh. If you don’t have a flame source crank up your oven’s broiler and roast them there. Remove from the heat and immediately place in a bag or other container to self-steam – just make sure the container won’t melt from the peppers heat. After a few minutes, you should be able to peel of the skin with ease and remove the inside ribs as well as the seeds if desired. Trust me, the charring sounds like a pain in the you ass, but it’s worth it and only a few minutes out of your time.
Similarly, for a really deep flavor you can char the onion and other veggies. You just want a nice exterior caramelization on them
chop the flesh of your chilis, the red bell and the onion, celery and garlic. you can use a coarser chop for longer cook times and a more rustic texture or a finer chop for shorter cook times or a more refined texture.
IF you didn’t roast all of the veggies, add the uncooked ones to the stockpot with the meat first and allow them to soften up, the onions will become translucent for example. Then add the roasted veggies.
If you roasted everything then they require no additional cooking, just add them all to the stock pot with the already browning meat along with the whole dried chili and the bay leaves.
Create your liquid for braising by combining the stock with the beer. I like about a 1:1 to start with. Add this to the stock pot so that everything in the pot is covered and there’s about 1″ or so of additional liquid.
Bring liquid up to a complete boil and than back it down to a simmer. This is so that the coating on the meat has an opportunity to incorporate into the mixture similar to how a roux would.
Allow the mixture to simmer. Taste it. Re-season it with the spice mixture you created for the beef from time to time, along with salt as necessary. Add addition beer as necessary to ensure there’s enough liquid to always cover the meat. Add additional corn meal to affect the consistency as desired (more meal with create a thicker stew – I usually look for something that is mildly viscus rather than pea soup like consistency but it’s a preference). Finally, during the cooking if necessary, you can add some of the agave – it will “sweeten” the mixture up, which in turn, will push the “hot” back further in your pallet. It won’t make it less spicy but it will change some of the way you perceive the spice. Add the cilantro – if it’s dried add it earlier, if it’s fresh add it later in the process.
Cooking time can be a quick and dirty 30 minutes or, for better flavor a full day affair. I usually know mine is close by the smell. I don’t think I can describe it, per se, it’s just one of those the nose knows kind of things – it smells a certain way and when I taste it it’s exactly here I want that flavor profile to be.
My favorite personal way to enjoy the el tazon de rojo con carne is to pour it over a piece of nice corn bread. If you don’t have a corn bread recipe there are a lot out there, I’m not a baker myself so the one I have is pretty lame. I do make it from scratch, and I do include some roasted veggies in it to add that extra depth, and it is done in cast iron – so there’s that. However, if you’re not a corn bread person, brown rice or grits are also options to serve.
Its also usually topped with a small amount of goat cheese (A Queso manchego would be good) The cheese helps thicken it up and little and add both a creaminess to the texture as well as helping to control the heat. You can get some of the same effect for texture with sour cream, greek style yougart, etc. or if you’re just a cheesy kind of person a multi cheese blend that starts with something like cheddar and montery jack will probably be pretty familiar. If you’re using fresh cilantro, add a sprig on top too, it’ll help make the red color pop more and reinforce the cilantro you cooked with.
If you are a vegetarian it is absolutely possible to do this without the beef. Seitan is one option which would be almost identical to the beef prep including the dredging and browning. In the same vein as the seitan, a really dense ultra firm tofu can work, or tempeh or other meat alternatives – just try and stay away from the super processed stuff. Cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms are another, but you can skip the dredging part of the prep and just brown them with the spice mixture. A third, my least favorite idea, is to use a veggie like eggplant – I hate eggplant – which i imagine you can dredge and prepare that way or you can just stew it as is.