Chilli con carne – if Wikipedia is to be believed (and that’s a big IF), this dish traces its roots back to the Texas of 1850. According to the same dodgy source, they smaak it so much down South that it was designated the official dish of Texas by ‘House Concurrent Resolution Number 18’ of the 65th Texas Legislature in 1977. Fancy that.
Somehow I can’t imagine any legislature really occupying its valuable (taxpayer-funded) time with chilli. But then again politics has never made much sense to me, especially lately. Having watched the recent shenanigans of America’s presidential candidates with considerable fascination – especially the blonde chap with the questionable haircut – I guess anything’s possible.
True or not, chilli con carne is a bit of a winner in my book. Taking your cue from the name, at its most basic it really is just chilli with meat (carne). One step up they add tomatoes, essential in my view. And then there’s the option of bulking it up with beans. I do it with and without. Beef or ostrich mince is a no brainer for the meat part. But so too cheaper and wonderfully rich beefier cuts like brisket or shin. I cook it low and slow until the meat falls off the bone, then flake it with a fork. This is a go-to dish I make in huge quantities on a lazy weekend and freeze. Come a busy weeknight, I can have dinner on the table in ten.
All you need is…
1kg beef shin, bone in
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
½ cup finely chopped celery stalks
1 heaped tbs crushed garlic
1 tsp normal paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika (Woolies stocks it)
2 tsp powdered cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbs tomato paste
1 beef stock cube
2 large fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 heaped tbs fresh oreganum (use 1 level tbs if dried)
vegetable or canola oil, for frying
salt to taste
low fat smooth cottage cheese (I used the lovely one from Parmalat’s new range)
crunchy butter or cos lettuce, chopped
fresh coriander (cilantro)
Tabasco, for the brave
Heat a large thick-bottomed saucepan with some oil. Salt the shin generously. Fry the shin on either side until wonderful and caramelised. This is pure flavour, so be patient. (Tip: Fry it in 2-3 batches. If you put all the meat in at once, the temperature will lower too much and the meat will steam instead of brown, the exact opposite of what you want!)
Remove the meat and set aside. Now add the chopped onion to the same pan along with another glug of oil. (Tip: There is a lot of veggie chopping here, so I forego my beloved board and chef’s knife when I make this and bang the onions, carrots, celery and tomatoes in my food processor instead. One veggie at a time obvs.) Fry the onion for 5 minutes, then add the carrots and celery and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and fry for 2 minutes. Now add the beef along with all the resting juices, the stock cube, the chopped tomatoes, herbs and one cup of water.
Cover the pan, turn the heat as low as it will go and walk away. Cook for 2-3 hours until the meat falls off the bone. If the temperature is low enough and the lid tight enough, you should not need more liquid, but check it from time to time. Once soft, remove from the heat and use two forks to flake the meat. Return the meat to the pan, turn the heat up high and reduce until the chilli con carne is thick and glossy. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Serve with all of the sides and let everyone build his or her perfect chilli con carne wrap. (See TIPS, TRICKS & TRIVIA below for loads more ideas for this recipe.)