Good old chilli con carne, that much loved suppertime favourite… But doesn’t it deserve more from our affections than its present incarnation as a humdrum ‘spicy Bolognese’? Well, I thought so too, so I set out to make a more authentic version, and find out what wine would work with it best.
Inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe I once saw on TV that used beef brisket, and having read through the Guardian’s ‘Perfect Chilli’ article, I set about creating a chilli that would not only respect the dish’s origins, but would taste amazing and be super easy to make.
First off, for a dish that is in essence ‘chilli with meat’, it’s imperative to get some decent meat in there. I used two good sized cuts of beef skirt, and two thick slices of off-the-bone beef shin, bought from Penleigh Farm butchers in Frome. These are cuts that require a good slow cooking to get them tender, but they’re also packed with flavour, and I think a chilli should be big on flavour.. To help the meat on its way, I liberally doused them with smoked paprika, minced garlic, thyme, oregano and cumin seeds. Then left them in the fridge overnight (but anything over an hour would do).
When you’re satisfied the meat is suitably riddled with flavour, fry it off in plenty of oil in a good sized pan. When coloured, put it into a casserole dish and add two diced onions, one whole head of celery and a bulb of garlic to the same herb and spice-flecked pan (I just whizzed these in a food processor briefly – which I know is controversial, but I was in a hurry, and this isn’t an Escoffier recipe!) and sweat down. Add a couple of bay leaves and (ideally Mexican) dried chillies, and when sufficiently wilted, add one tin of chopped tomatoes*, the same volume of beef stock and the same of red wine*.
Reduce this fabulously aromatic ‘sludge’ down by a third to get rid of some of the water and pour it over the beef in the pot, with plenty of salt and pepper and any further herbs that you have around (I went for thyme and sage). Jiggle it around so that everything’s mixed, and cook in the oven at 125° for around 4 hours (I cooked mine for about an hour and half in the evening, then switched off the oven and went out, letting it do its thing for another five hours). The longer the better.
When cooked, the meat should fall apart easily. Grab two forks and shred it into as fine pieces as you want (a few chunks, especially of the shin, are always nice though). Then add three chopped bell peppers (I went for red, orange and yellow) and one tin each of kidney beans and black beans (but use any you like really, chickpeas work well). Give it another 30 mins in the oven to cook the peppers, then check the seasoning, add a bit more chopped fresh chilli if you want more hot spice, squeeze in a lime and chuck in loads of chopped coriander. Lovely!
*Authenticity police: yes, I know that ‘traditionally’ chilli con carne wasn’t made with tomatoes, or red wine, but it seemed right to me, and with this quantity of meat, neither dominated the flavour, but just helped to give depth and body to the dish as a whole.
So, what to drink with this seriously flavour-packed, meaty and nicely spicy (but not crazy hot) dish? Well, I experimented with three wines to find the right one and, while they all worked well to lesser or greater degrees (hey, I’m getting pretty good at this!), one was clear winner for me.
First up, I figured we’d better go to south America, so I opted for this weighty Carménère ‘El Grano’ from Domaine Duveau. Made in Chile’s Rapel Valley by a French winemaker based over there, this a pretty unique wine: big, but subtle and quite vegetal. While its ripe berry fruit flavours are pronounced, on the palate there’s a Cabernet Franc-esque ‘greenness’ that makes this is a really interesting wine. It worked well with the chilli, giving plenty of bite to cut through the meat, with enough richness to wrap around the spices and then that intriguing green edge balancing the savouriness.
Next up I plumped for an unoaked Spanish red, the lovely Rioja Tempranillo from Hacienda Grimon. While offering plenty of fruit in its full-bodied richness, it’s a well made and nicely balanced wine that shows sweet cherry and tangy wild berry flavours, underpinned with a dusty, smoky Spanish earthiness. It worked a treat with the chilli, proving the perfect foil to the rich depths of the dish, without dominating or working against it in anyway.
Lastly I tried the bold Madiran ‘Charles de Batz’ from Domaine Berthoumieu, a weighty and distinctive wine from South West France made from the Tannat grape. This is a voluptuous beast of a wine, very concentrated and rustic, with powerful stewed fruit, wild herb and smoky warm oak nuances. While it stood up well to the complexity of flavours in the chilli, they didn’t get on so well as both seems to fight for the palate’s attention, and the firm tannins got into a bit of a tussle with the chilli’s spice.
Top of the bill was the Rioja then, a good value, unoaked red that shows Spain’s Tempranillo grape in all its splendour. But the Carménère was a smasher too. I think the Madiran would be best with more simply flavoured meats Maybe a simple casserole of beef shin cooked with wine and garden herbs. Hmmm, maybe that’ll be my next post… Enjoy!