Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Basics: Chile Sauce

Garret Dillahunt is an actor I first noticed in the TV series "Deadwood." He played Jack McCall, the man who killed Buffalo Bill. He was also another minor, slightly crazed character named Francis Wolcott. In the same series.

Now, it took me a little while to recognize him in the second role, but eventually I got it. And now I see him all the time in character roles here and there. He's not shiny, but he does a workmanlike job in the parts he gets.

And that's an apt metaphor for the way I cook. I have basic recipes that appear over and over again, slightly tweaked for different uses, but staying pretty much the same from incarnation to incarnation.

For instance, the chile sauce recipe I used for turkey enchiladas after Thanksgiving made more than I needed for the recipe, so I froze the remainder for another use. It could have made another great pan of enchiladas when I had some leftover roast chicken. And it's fabulous for huevos rancheros, drizzled over the layered tortilla, black beans, cheese and egg. But when I found big hunks of chuck roast on sale at the store, all I had to do was mix the leftover sauce with some puréed tomatoes to make a wonderful braising sauce for a batch of chili.

That may have been the same night we saw Mr. Dillahunt in a rerun of NYPD Blue.

Beef Chili

I used to make chili with beans and meat, but in the last couple of years I've become a convert to the all-meat version. I serve it with bowls of warmed kidney beans and rice alongside, as well as some chopped raw onions and grated cheese.

For the sauce:
6 dried ancho chiles, seeded and torn into pieces
2 small hot red chiles, seeded and torn into pieces (optional)
3 1/2 c. boiling water
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. (6-8) garlic cloves
4 tsp. oregano
3 Tbsp. paprika (I use 1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish pimenton and 2 Tbsp. regular paprika)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, puréed

For the chili:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 3/4" cubes
1/2 c. flour
Salt and pepper

Place the torn chiles in a heat-proof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Soak for 30 min. until they are soft and pliable. Drain them, reserving the soaking water, and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add remaining ingredients and 1/2 c. soaking liquid and process till smooth, gradually adding the rest of the soaking water. If you have a larger processor, add the pureed tomatoes or simply stir them together with the chile sauce in a large mixing bowl.

Add salt and pepper to the flour in a small mixing bowl. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium high heat. In batches, put the pieces of meat in the flour mixture to coat lightly, then brown them in the hot oil, making sure that the pieces are not crowded or they'll steam instead of browning. Remove to a plate and brown the next batch. When all the meat is browned, put it back in the Dutch oven with enough chile sauce to almost cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Freeze any leftover sauce for later.

Read more recipes in The Basics series: 20 Minute Tomato Sauce, House Vinaigrette, Caesar Salad and Strata. 

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