Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca

On a chilly, rainy Saturday morning, M and I set out for the local farmer’s market in Bellingham. On arrival, we found a thriving and well attended scene – it’s a thing I love about towns like this – Rainy weather does nothing to dissuade Bellinghamsters from their appointed rounds, any more than snow and cold did the Concordians of my youth.

Rain doesn't stop Bellinghamsters
What struck us as particularly vibrant was the surprising number of small farms represented, most of which were organic. The fall bounty of chiles, tomatoes, sausage, and cheese set my dinner plan in mind – Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca. We made our leisurely rounds, then headed home to cook.

Great produce at the farmer's market
You’ll find some variant of the Chile Relleno, ‘stuffed peppers’, all over Mexico. Most often, the chile used will be Poblanos, and rest assured that the people who share the same name, (folks from the State of Pueblo), lay claim to the origins of that famous dish. That said, the amazing number and breadth of relleno variants indicates that pretty much anywhere chiles grow, they are and have been stuffed for a long, long time.

Oaxacan Chiles
The typical chile relleno is stuffed with cheese, coated in an egg batter, and fried. You’ll see that throughout Mexico, and of course, up here in the states as well. The Oaxacan version, however, is a bit more robust – It is, technically, a chile relleno de picadillo, meaning stuffed with cheese and shredded or minced meat; everything from goat and lamb, to pork, beef, or chicken is used, as is chorizo, that singularly delightful Mexican fresh sausage. The other hallmark of Oaxacan rellenos is the range of chiles used; they grow a dizzying variety down there, and whatever looks good and is in season is as likely as not to end up stuffed. That’s a good thing for us all to embrace, frankly – Each chile brings a different level of taste, heat, and color to a dish, and variety is indeed a wonderful thing.

Fresh chorizo
Chorizo, or chouriço, is not indigenous to Mexico; it is an import from the Iberian Peninsula, where both Spain and Portugal lay claim to its origins. While the Spanish version uses smoked pork, the Mexican is made with fresh. There are as many varieties of chorizo as there are chiles, frankly, so defining The Real Recipe is a bit of a crap shoot. I’ve got a favorite recipe that I use, and I’ll share that here. I make Chorizo as a loose sausage, and you can too; it’s much simpler that way. If you’d rather buy and you’re from this neck of the woods, I’ll tell you that the Haggen’s version has been declared muy authentico by trusted Mexican friends, and after testing that claim, I agree wholeheartedly – It’s surprisingly good stuff. As promised, here’s my version.

Fresh Chorizo

2 pounds fresh ground local Pork
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1-2 teaspoons flaked or ground Chipotle Chile
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon flaked Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
3-5 Tablespoons Ice Water

Chill a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes prior to building the chorizo. Pork should be refrigerated right up to the point of assembly.
Combine all ingredients in the cold bowl and mix by hand until you have a homogenous blend. You should end up with a nice moist, deeply red sausage.
Transfer sausage to a airtight, non-reactive container and place it in the freezer for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Remove from freezer and refrigerate until ready to use.
If you’re not using the chorizo right away, wrap tightly in plastic, then aluminum foil and freeze.

Fresh Queso Blanco
The cheese used for this dish simply must be fresh queso blanco. This soft, non-aged white cheese also has its roots on the Iberian Peninsula, but has been wholeheartedly adopted throughout the Americas. Queso blanco is remarkably easy to make; if you’ve never given it a try, you really must. The caveat here is that ultra-pasteurized milk simply will not produce good cheese. You need something fresh and as local as possible – Since there’s no aging involved, and no culture added, this cheese will directly reflect the milk you make it from, (although you certainly can add herbs, veggies, etc if you like). While the ability to press this cheese will make a more consistent product, you really don’t need a dedicated press. Here’s how it’s done. Here again, you can find fresh queso blanco at many grocery stores these days, too.

You’ll need;
Non-reactive stock pot,
Steel mixing spoon,
Instant read thermometer,
Metal colander
Decent cheesecloth

Queso Blanco
1/2 gallon fresh whole milk, (no ultra-pasteurized)
6 teaspoons Live Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Salt to taste

In a stock pot over medium low heat, add the milk.
Stir occasionally and monitor temperature until milk reaches 185° F, about 10 minutes or so.
Reduce heat to low and add 2 teaspoons of vinegar, and stir gently. You will see curds begin to separate from the whey; going forward, stir very gently – The curds retain moisture, which you want, so stir them, don’t batter them.
After a minute or so add 2 more teaspoons of vinegar and stir.
Repeat with the last 2 teaspoons of vinegar after another minute or two.
Let the curds and whey rest for five minutes.
Once you’ve got well formed curds, continue to stir gently to keep the curds from clumping, (called matting in the cheese making parlance)
Spread cheesecloth over your colander. If you’d like to make ricotta with the whey, put the colander inside a mixing bowl; if not you can discard it.
Gently pour the curds into the lined colander. Add salt,(and any herbs or veggies), and mix gently by hand.
You can now hang the cheese in the cloth for 10 to 20 minutes if you prefer a dryer cheese. If not, (and thereafter if you do), it’s time to press the cheese. I’ve got a press, so that’s what I use; I realize 99% of y’all don’t have one, so here’s what you do:

Pressing the queso
Return the cloth wrapped cheese to the colander. Place a flat plate small enough to fit well within the colander on top of the cheese. Place a stock pot on top of the plate. Water weights 8 pounds a gallon. Start with one gallon of water and let the cheese sit for 20 minutes. Add 2 more gallons of water and continue pressing for 2 hours.
Remove cheese from cloth, wrap it in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Fresh queso will last for 3 to 4 days refrigerated.

And finally, the rellenos.

Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca for 4, (or a hungry two, or leftovers…)
4 Poblano Chiles
1/2 Pound Chorizo
1/2 Pound Queso Blanco
1 14.5 ounce can Tomatoes
1/4 Cup diced Sweet Onion
2 tablespoons minced, toasted almonds
2 cloves minced Garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Cinnamon
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to season
Olive Oil
Canola Oil or Lard for frying

For the Batter
4 Egg Whites
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour
Pinch Sea Salt
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour for dredging

To a sauté pan over medium heat, add chorizo and cook until lightly browned and no pink shows.
Add minced almonds and continue cooking until they’re lightly toasted.
Remove chorizo blend from pan into a small bowl.
Add diced queso to chorizo/almond mix, and incorporate. Set aside.

queso-chorizo blend
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan and scrape all the little chorizo remnants loose.
Add onions and sauté until they start to turn translucent.
Add garlic and sauté until raw garlic smell dissipates.
Add tomatoes to sauté pan and heat through, stirring to incorporate, until sauce starts to simmer.
Add cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally.
Heat oven to Broil and place a rack on a high setting.
Place chiles on a baking sheet and broil until the skins begin to blister, turning steadily to get all sides evenly seared.
Remove chiles from oven and set onto a plate to cool.
Set oven to bake at 300° F and set a rack to a middle position.
When chiles are cooled enough to handle, carefully cut the stem and seed cluster free from each chile and discard.
Carefully stuff each chile with equal volumes of the chorizo/queso mixture. Set stuffed chiles on a plate.

Rellenos ready to stuff
Add 1/2 cup oil or lard to a frying pan over medium high heat to 350° F.
Set 1/2 cup of flour onto a plate or shallow dish for dredging.
Beat egg whites, with a pinch of salt added, to a stiff peak, then add a tablespoon of flour and beat to incorporate.
Carefully roll chiles in flour, one at a time, then roll them through the egg whites to coat.
Carefully place chiles in hot oil and fry until golden brown, turning carefully onto each side, about 3 to 4 minutes total.
Carefully place chiles on a baking sheet and slide that into the oven. Bake chiles for 15 minutes at 300° F.
To serve, ladle a generous dose of tomato sauce into a bowl, and add a relleno to each.

Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca
Top with sour cream and fresh chopped cilantro.
I’m certainly not going to tell you how to eat your dinner, but I will say this – The real joy of this dish is to break up the relleno in the tomato sauce until you’ve got an even, kind of chili-like consistency – Doing that lets all the ingredients blend together in each bite – And it is amazing, indeed.

Cooking at the Gathering

So, a couple weeks ago, I didn’t post, because, as luck and joy would have it, I was 1600 miles from home, at my other home for a few precious days. Formally known as The Luthier Community Gathering, this is an annual event held in the north woods of Minnesota. Hosted by Grant Goltz and Christy Hohman at their incredibly eclectic and homey spread, this is several days of companionship, renewed and new friendships, music, incredible house made beer and ale, and of course, food.   

Over the years, I’ve become the official Chef de Gathering, and it is a joy of joys to do. Over the three days of the main event, we feed somewhere around 30 to 40 folks for dinner, and maybe 12 to 20 for breakfasts and lunches. While some folks bring a little of this and a little of that, Chris and I provide the mainstays, (and usually Monica, who couldn’t make the trip this year due to a new job). And rank has its privilege – I get my own incredibly cozy Chef apartment, and an incredible kitchen to work from.


 For such a big crowd, the process is incredibly easy. At some point, we’ll touch base and decide on theme, main ingredients, etc – it rarely takes more than a couple minutes. I say, “Hey Chris, what are we gonna build?” She fires off some options, inspiration takes hold, and off we go. 

 The real joy comes not only from feeding good friends in a great kitchen, but in the gathering of ingredients. Grant and Christy run a Community Supported Agriculture, (CSA), operation on their spread, so the variety and scope of produce is truly stunning, as you can see.  So, picking ingredients means just that; heading out on the trail with basket in hand, and coming back with the bounty. 

  
  
 This year marked the first truly amazing mushroom harvest, from logs inoculated and set up last season – Shiitakes, an almost embarrassing wealth of gorgeous, just picked beauties – I put them in everything I could think of, (and I did say ‘almost’).

  

  
Our mutual friends, John and Lissa Sumption, have a working CSA close by, (King’s Gardens), so literally anything we don’t have right on hand can be had with a phone call. During my visit, Mark, the very talented local butcher, stopped by and dropped off some goodies, for which he took produce in barter. The results speak for themselves.  

  
 Our recent piece on apples contains several of the recipes we did this year. Here’s the recipe for smoked Guacamole – It’s become a must-do for the event ever since we debuted it seven or eight years ago.


The Annual Gathering is open to any and all who love music, good friends, and good food. Here’s a video and a song that pretty well sums up the vibe. It’s held in August every year. This year, a dear friend from my wildfire fighting days, Nancy Swenson, made the trip out – First time we’d seen each other in thirty four years!

¡Ceviche!

Ours pals Chris and Grant hail from northern Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, most of which have great fishing. Among the various options to go after, panfish are a personal favorite. They’re fun, feisty, and you can harvest a very decent catch relatively guilt free, ’cause those suckers breed like there’s no tomorrow.

But wait a minute, you ask, what are panfish anyway? Great question! The term has some wiggle room is the broadest answer; panfish mean different things to different regions and fishers. Some folks will tell you it means any species that, fully grown, fit well in the ol’ cast iron frying pan, while others claim it’s because the fish themselves are frying pan shaped. I’ve heard Crappie, Blue Gills, Sunfish, Perch, Pumpkin Seeds, and Small Mouth Bass all referred to as pan fish. To me, any of these small, plentiful species qualify for the term.

Anyway, I digress; back to why Chris got in touch. She wrote, “We caught lots of Crappies. The fillets are thin and the flesh is quite soft, but they’re nice and sweet. Any tips?”

Sure do; while a simple butter poach is lovely, or a sauté in olive oil, lemon, and dill, sometimes it’s fun to go a bit farther afield and try something new. Ceviche is the ticket. This favorite of the coastal Americas derives from an Incan dish of fish cured with salt and chiles, and marinated in passion fruit juice. The modern incarnation in its simplest form is fresh, raw fish cured in citrus juices and seasoned with chiles. Ceviche is fabulous with any white fleshed fish, and that certainly includes the pan varieties. 

If you’ve never tried making or eating ceviche and are maybe a bit squeamish about it, don’t feel bad, so was Chris; she wrote, “Have never had anything like that before, so I was wary. Not anymore! I knew you wouldn’t steer me wrong!” (That’s my kinda endorsement). 

Nonetheless, what makes folks nervous is the lack of cooking involved in making ceviche. Technically speaking, cooking requires heat, so ceviche isn’t cooked, but it’s not raw either; it’s fish cured in a citric acid bath. Fact is, both processes initiate a chemical reaction called denaturation, which alters the proteins in the fish chemically and physically. The end result of either method is fish that becomes firm to the touch, opaque to the eye, and a ‘cooked’ taste.

So, how long should fish be marinated in citrus juices in order for denaturation to take place? That depends on the variety of fish you use, and how well you like your fish cured. Just a few minutes in citrus juices and your fish will start to go opaque, though the interior will still look raw and the flesh won’t have firmed up yet. Just as with cooking, you can marinate too long, leading to a tough texture and an overpowering citrus note. The key to even, dependable results is to always butcher your fish down to roughly bite sized pieces. Doing so increases the fish’s surface area and makes it easier for the citric acid to do its thing. Generally, the flakier and softer the fish, the faster it will cure in citrus. Watching for the complete opaque appearance and firm feel you expect when you cook fish will give you good results.

The freshness of the fish you choose to marinate is a critical consideration, because citric acid curing doesn’t kill bacteria the way cooking does. If you’ve got any concern about this, it’s best to freeze your fillets at or below -4° F for a good week prior to making ceviche. That will kill potential parasites like tapeworms and roundworms. Alternatively, you can do a quick blanch with your fish, dropping the fillets into boiling water for a full minute, then immediately plunging them into ice water to stop the cooking process, before you marinate it. This quick shock also helps softer fleshed fish maintain a firmer texture when cured.

There’s a world of variety waiting for you to explore once you wade in. Just varying the citrus creates truly unique dishes, so try lemon, lime, blood orange, grapefruit, or yuzu. Same goes with the chiles; from light heat and fruity to truly fiery, each one creates a different finish. A touch of a varietal vinegar does the same thing. A bit of mango in your finished mix beautifully compliments the sweetness of the fish, and on and on.

Here’s the one I did up for Chris; It’s a pretty classic swing at the dish, and super easy to make

1 Pound Fish
6-8 Limes
2 medium varietal Tomatoes
3-4 Green Onions (Sweet Onion is fine as a sub)
1 stalk Celery
1-2 Jalapeño Chiles (Again, you can vary the variety as you like)
1/2 Cup fresh Cilantro

Cut fillets into bite size pieces. 

Place fish in a non-reactive bowl and cover completely with lime juice.

Refrigerate covered for 6-8 hours, until the fish has turned completely opaque.

When the fish is ready, fine dice all the remaining veggies and mix well, including the olive oil.

Discard the marinating juice from the fish.

Add the juice from 2 fresh limes and the cured fish to the mix and toss gently.

Serve with fresh tortillas, crema, guac, and ice cold beer!

 

Here’s Chris’ gorgeous plate, made with Golden Jubilee heirloom tomatoes.

Catfish? yeah, catfish!

I’m a goin’ fishin’…

Catfish kinda piss me off fishing-wise. I’ll do the bobber thing and all, but when those big suckers hit, they just kinda tug, ya know? I’d like a little more action, personally. That’s probably because once, and once only when fishing for bass, one hit my fly and took me for a ride that was better than the large mouth I was after. He was 6 pounds and fought like a real cat – why can’t they all do that?

Anyway catfish is one of those things people either like or they don’t, like oysters or single malt scotch. I think it’s the gamy flavor that does it. There’s not a lot about the fundamentals of that taste you can alter, because they’re bottom feeders, and as such, wild or farmed, they taste like they do. Here are a couple recipes, one for purists, and one for the not-so-sure.

Love Catfish? Then this ones for you. All too often, catfish is overloaded with breading and heavy flavors that disguise the fish. Strip all that away and try this; the butter poach, fresh citrus and light herbs will complement rather than cover.

4 Catfish fillets
1 fresh Lemon
3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon dry white Wine
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
A few twists fresh ground Pepper
A shake or two Tabasco Sauce

Preheat oven to 200° F

Heat a cast iron skillet large enough to handle all 4 fillets over medium flame.

Cut lemon in half, then cut half into 1/8 pieces for the table. Zest and juice the other half and set aside.

Melt butter in skillet; watch the butter closely. As soon as it finishes foaming, put the fillets into the pan.

Tilt the pan enough to make the butter pool; with a spoon, ladle hot butter over the fillets repeatedly, as the butter begins to brown. Continue ladling evenly over all the fillets until the butter is quite brown, but don’t let it start to burn. This poaching process will take about 4-5 minutes.

Transfer the fillets to an ovenproof platter and slip that into the oven. Turn the oven off and keep the door closed.

Return the skillet to a medium-low flame. Add the white wine, lemon zest and juice, salt, pepper, and. Tabasco. Whisk with a fork to incorporate. When all is well blended, add one more tablespoon butter, blend that and heat through, then remove the skillet from the heat.

Serve a fillet or two each, as you see fit. Drizzle each fillet with the pan sauce. Serve promptly with some more of that dry white wine, fresh crusty bread, and a nice green salad.

 

Not so sure you love catfish? Try this zippy cornmeal fried version. Between the buttermilk soak, crunchy light coating and the house made rémoulade, you’ll be hooked for sure.

4 Catfish fillets
1/2 Cup fine ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/2 Cup Wondra Flour
1-2 teaspoons flaked Tabasco Chile, (crushed cayenne chile is OK, but not as fruity)
1 teaspoon sweet smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Pepper
2-3 Cups Vegetable oil for frying
1 fresh Lemon

Place oil in a 10″ to 12″ cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, with a candy or heat-proof thermometer handy.

Preheat oven to 200° F; fit a wire cooling rack within a baking sheet lined with paper towels and have that ready beside your skillet.

In a mixing bowl, add the cornmeal, flour, chile, paprika, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish and combine thoroughly.

Cut fillets in half lengthwise, so you’ve got 8 pieces total. Pat each half fillet dry with a clean paper towel.

Toss each fillet one by one into the coating mix, making sure they’re evenly and thoroughly covered. Tap each fillet off on the edge of the bowl to remove excess coating.

Check your oil temp; when you’ve got 350° F, adjust your heat to maintain that.

Fry fillets in twos, so that the oil doesn’t lose temperature to too much fish being introduced. Fry each side for about 2-3 minutes until golden brown, flipping once.

Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer finished fillets to the wire rack. Sprinkle each lightly with a but more sea salt. Place in the oven to stay hot until all your fillets are done.

Serve piping hot with lemon wedges, rémoulade, and a cold, local Extra Special Bitter Ale.

 

House Made Rémoulade

Rémoulade is, at heart, a mayonnaise with more goodies added to the mix. This classic sauce was created in France, but it’s been adopted and adapted to New Orleans cookery in many forms. Our take has a little sweet and a little heat and goes perfectly with cornmeal crusted catfish. If you’ve never made rémoulade at home, it’s time to try; it’s one of those little secrets that separates the pros from the wanna bees, and it’s really pretty easy to do. Here’s how.

PRODUCTION NOTES:
1. Get the freshest eggs you can when making mayo or rémoulade at home. This is an emulsion, which depends on the ability of the proteins in the egg yolks to stretch and encompass the oil; old eggs just don’t have the elasticity you need for this dish.
2. Have all your ingredients at room temperature before you start; that’ll allow the primary ingredients of this emulsion to mesh readily.
3. While you can make mayo or rémoulade with olive oil, the stronger flavor isn’t always complimentary; a light vegetable oil like canola will better allow the herbs and spices to shine in this recipe.

1 Cup Vegetable Oil
2 fresh, large Egg Yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 fresh Lemon
1 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
1 Jalapeño Chile
1 small sweet Onion
2 teaspoons Capers
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Grains of Paradise

Zest and juice one half of the lemon.

Top, core, seed, and mince the jalapeño.

Mince 1 packed tablespoon of the onion.

Mince the capers.

Those ingredients can all be combine and set aside at this point.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and the Dijon mustard; whisk to incorporate thoroughly.

Continue whisking and slowly add the oil by pouring a very thin stream into the middle of the yolk and mustard blend. Watch the mixture, and pour slowly enough that the oil is constantly fusing with the yolk and mustard blend. Those proteins in the egg yolk, uncoiled by your whisking, are wrapping around air bubbles and the oil, allowing all of that to blend and remain combined. You’ll progress from a little yolk and mustard to a thicker, deeper pool of liquid with that mayo consistency you know so well.

Once all of the oil has been incorporated, whisk in the lemon juice and zest, Tabasco, salt and grains of paradise, until thoroughly combined.

Add the onion, jalapeño, and capers and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and grains of paradise as needed.

Transfer the rémoulade to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to marry. Rémoulade will keep refrigerated in that airtight container for 2 or 3 days.

Urban Chili

Ask the question, “What is Chili,” and you might has well have asked, “Is Tex-Mex a real cuisine?” You’re in for an earful either way.

Chili con carne is essentially a stew containing chili peppers and meat, usually beef. The Spanish word chile stems from the Nahuatl language and refers to those glorious fruits of the genus Capsicum, family Solanaceae. Carne is Spanish for meat, of course, and there you have it. The original recipe was basically Tex Mex pemmican, a blend of dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers and salt, pounded together, formed into bricks and left to dry; out on the trail, you’d just add water and boil up a pot of the real deal.

In 1893, at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, The San Antonio Chili Stand gave a bunch of Americans their first taste of chili. The passion spread like wildfire and Texas-style chili subsequently conquered the Southwest. In 1977, Concurrent Resolution Number 18 of the 65th Texas Legislature made Chili con carne the official Texas state dish.

Chili has migrated in every direction since and changed according to whim and region. Even in Texas there are folks who add, (Gasp! Blasphemer!), tomatoes and even beans to their recipe. Other common seasonings include garlic, onions, and cumin. The variations are endless and it’s a guarantee that any and all of them provoke heated debate among aficionados as to what, if anything other than their tried and true variant, is actually chili. If you want to really see culinary sparks fly, go to a chili cook off, anywhere, and just taste and watch…

All that venerable history aside, I am a damn Yankee. My first taste of chili was fairly true to its roots, courtesy of the Mountain Pass Canning Company, who bought and greatly expanded the Old El Paso brand, the first company to offer a full line of Mexican cuisine in the US. That was the gateway; fifty years later, here’s where I’ve taken it. This is a bean and vegetable chili, because that’s how I like it. You can omit any veggie or bean in it that offends your righteous sense of chiliist tendency, and it’ll still be good; not as good as mine, but good.

The key to chili seasoning is, of course, chili powder. Store bought, even if it’s ‘gourmet’ is more often than not crap, in my not even close to humble opinion. The key to great chili powder is to use only freshly blended, house made chili powder from top notch ingredients. Below you’ll find my preferred formulation. I suggest you try this first in a small batch and see how you like it; then tweak it as you prefer, put your name on it, and share it with your pals. The first and most important decision to make here is what chiles to use; the heat factor and major flavor note of your chili powder will be determined by that. I use our home grown and preserved chipotles for our powder; this gives a nice fruity, smoky flavor that I like a lot. Changing just this aspect of your homemade powder will make major differences in your final product. Chiles and Cumin are an absolute necessity, as is some amount of Mexican Oregano, the rest is up to your imagination; have fun with it.

Urb’s House Made Chili Powder
3 Tablespoons ground Chiles of your choice
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika
½ teaspoon ground Mexican Oregano
½ teaspoon ground Garlic

Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder and process until you’ve achieved a uniform, smooth powdered texture. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 or 3 months.

Alright, on to the chili; what I hope you’ll find is some steps that maybe are new to you, overall or for this recipe. It may seem a bit labor intensive, but i think you’ll find it pays off in terms of the surprising depth of flavor you’ll achieve.

1 to 1.5 Pounds Beef, (I like Sirloin for mine)
2 28 Ounce cans RoTel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles
1 15 Ounce can Black Beans
1 15 Ounce can Dark Red Kidney Beans
1 12 Ounce bottle Dark Ale, (Porter or Stout)
2-5 Jalapeño Chiles
4-5 miniature Sweet Peppers, (Vary the colors, because it looks nice and that matters)
1 small Sweet Onion
12-16 large Black Olives
6-10 sprigs fresh Cilantro
1 fresh Lemon
1-2 Tablespoons House Made Chili Powder, (See above)
1/2 Cup Wondra Flour for coating
Vegetable Oil for sautéing
1.5 Ounces Dry Sherry
2 Bay Leaves
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Empty the tomato and chile blend into a large mixing bowl and process to a smooth consistency.

Pour the stout or Porter into the pot. Let it simmer and foam until the raw alcohol smell has burned off.

Reduce the heat to medium low, then toss the tomato chile sauce in with the beer.

Empty the beans into a single mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly, then add them to the pot. And by the way, do you read the ingredients on the cans you buy? Do so. As you can see here, there’s nothing weird in here, but it’s nice to be sure, and nicer yet to rinse and just deal with the ingredient in question, yes?

Rinse all veggies. Skin and top onion; top and deseed and vein the chiles and peppers, (If you really like your chili hot, leave the seeds and membranes on the jalapeños). Cut all those veggies into a uniform fine dice, as well as the olives.

Skin, tip, and mince garlic. Chiffonade the cilantro. Zest the lemon, cut it in half, juice both halves and set the juice aside.

Place a large skillet over medium high heat with a tablespoon of oil therein and allow the oil to heat until it shimmers. We’re going to build a variant of a sofrito. Not to be confused with the Italian Soffritto, this South American/Mexican/Caribbean aromatic base consists of, in this case, the onion, jalapeño, sweet peppers, garlic, and bay leaves.

Toss the onion, jalapeños, and sweet peppers into the heated skillet and sauté until the onions begin to look translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté. When the garlic has lost its raw smell, add the sherry and stir steadily. The sherry will deglaze the pan, and combine with the oil and notably thicken; once that happens, toss the sauteéd veggie blend into the pot.

Cut the beef into roughly 1/2″ cubes. Place Wondra into a large ziplock bag. Add the beef and shake until all the flour evenly coats the beef.

Place the beef into the skillet, evenly spaced so all your chunks have direct contact with the heated surface. What you’re going to do now is critical to the flavor and thickness of great chili. You’re going to sear that beef, and that means truly sear, not just brown. If this goes as it should, almost no fat or juice will render out of the beef; all that flavor is retained and gets transferred to your chili. You need to allow at least 5 minutes for each side, and maybe even up to 7 or 8. Let it cook for as long as it takes for a truly dark brown, crisp crust to form, then turn all the pieces and start work on a new side. Work the beef until each and every side has developed a nice, deep brown crust, then toss it into the pot.

Now grab a ladle full of the tomato/chile/beer blend and toss that into the hot pan the beef was cooked in. It’s gonna sputter and his a bit, so keep on your toes. Deglaze the pan with the mix, scraping up all that good stuff left behind by the beef cooking. Once it’s all incorporated, pour it into the chili pot.

And finally, it’s top off the seasonings time; start with the cilantro, lemon rind and juice. After stirring that well into the chili, it’s time for chili powder. Use 1 tablespoon first, let that blend for about 30 minutes, and see how that strikes you; add more if you like. Adjust salt and pepper as desired.

And then it’s time to simmer. Turn the heat down to low and let ‘er go. I like to leave the pot uncovered, but that’s me. You can cover or not as you see fit. Take a look and have a taste, and give a stir every hour or so. I call 4 hours the absolute minimum, and 6 to 8 far better. Built like this, the depth, breadth, and intensity of flavors is truly spectacular.

Serve it with house made cornbread, extra cheese, jalapeños, onions, cilantro, and sour cream. Ice cold beer goes great too, especially the lighter stuff like a nice pilsner or lager.

Then just wait until tomorrow, because it gets even better.

 

Hot Dogs

I love hotdogs, I surely do, buuuuuuuut… My Sis worked in a hotdog factory once; I don’t think she’s eaten one since. If you think pink slime is bad… And anyway, have you checked the prices on these pies lately? Nasty ones are going $4 to $5, and quality almost double that. Time to get busy then; you make ’em, you know what’s in ’em, and they’re way better than anything you can buy.

This is a take on the snappy, lightly smoked, garlic and paprika-flavored all-beef dogs served at Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King in New York City. Made with good local beef, these hot dogs are just about the juiciest, most flavorful you’ll ever enjoy. My version was adapted from Ryan Farr’s original recipe. Mine has some changes for flavor and to save you some time and effort; I’ve converted original weights to measures for almost all the ingredients, tweaked the process a bit for home cooks, and altered the spices; I also used powdered smoke from Butcher & Packer, which saves you a bunch of work smoking the dogs, (If you own a smoker and enjoy that process, by all means do that; the smoking/internal temps and times are the same, either way.) Here’s how you make them.

Preparing the Casings.

Casings can be found as both natural and collagen style; I really have not had very good luck with fake casings. They taste fine, but are much less forgiving than natural when it comes to stuffing. For hot dogs and franks, you need a roughly 24mm or 1″ casing. They generally are sold in pretty large volumes that are more than a casual user will need. This offer through Amazon is the best priced, moderately sized I’ve found.

Snip off about five feet of casing. (Better too much than too little; any extra can be repacked in salt and used later.) 

Rinse the casing under cool running water to remove any salt clinging to it. Place it in a bowl of cool water and let it soak for about half an hour. 

After soaking, rinse the casing under cool running water, (Under 70° F). Slip one end of the casing over the faucet nozzle. Hold the casing firmly on the nozzle, and then turn on the cold water, gently at first, and then more forcefully. This procedure will flush out any salt in the casing and pinpoint any breaks. Should you find a break, just snip out a small section of the casing with kitchen shears.

Place the casing in a bowl of enough water to thoroughly cover the casings. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water; this will soften the casing a bit, which makes it a bit more forgiving for us amateur stuffers. Leave the casing in the water/vinegar solution until you are ready to use it. 

Rinse casings thoroughly before stuffing. 

 

NOTE ON MEAT: If you can’t find the neck, plate, or shank cuts, you can substitute chuck for all of the meat and fat called for; they’ll still be spectacular dogs.  

2 Pounds boneless lean Beef, (Such as neck, plate, or shank), cut into 1-inch cubes

5 Ounces Beef Fat, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 teaspoons Murray River Flaked Salt

1 teaspoon Sweet Smoked Paprika

1/2 teaspoon Granulated Garlic

1 teaspoon coarsely ground Smoked Pepper

1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder

1/4 teaspoon Celery Seed

1 Gram Pink Curing Salt, (Weigh this, don’t try to convert to a volume!)

1/2 teaspoon Hickory or Mesquite Smoke Powder

8 Ounces crushed Ice

10 feet of rinsed sheep Casings

 

NOTE: 

The ice above if for the actual recipe, not for bowl chilling. Just want to be sure we’re all on the same page with that… 

Place the meat and fat on a rimmed baking sheet, transfer to the freezer, and chill until crunchy on the exterior but not frozen solid. 

In a small bowl, add the salt, paprika, garlic, pepper, onion powder, and pink salt; stir to combine. 

Nest a large mixing bowl in a bowl filled with ice.  

Grind the meat and fat through the small die of the grinder into the bowl set in ice. 

Add the spice mixture to the meat and stir with your hands until well incorporated; the mixture will look homogenous and will begin sticking to the bowl. 

Transfer the meat to the bowl of a food processor, add half the crushed ice and process until all of the ice has dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. 

Add the remaining crushed ice and continue processing until the mixture is completely smooth, 4 to 5 minutes more. Note: The temperature of your meat during this mixing step is critically important. Temperature must never rise about 40°F. Work efficiently during this step of the process. This is as important for food safety as it is for a homogeneous blend. And yes, it looks kinda nasty raw; welcome to force meat…

 

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture into a nonstick frying pan and spread into a thin patty. Cook the test patty over low heat until cooked through but not browned. Taste the sausage for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Press a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface of the meat to prevent oxidation, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, (If you own a vacuum sealer, use that instead.)

Stuff the sausage into the sheep casings and twist into links about 5″ to 7″ long.

 

Preheat your oven to 175° F. Spread the links out on a baking sheet and slow cook them until the internal temperature of the sausages reaches 145°F, about 45 to 60 minutes. 

Remove the sausages from the oven, and transfer them to a bowl of ice water; shock for about 30 seconds, then set to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Refrigerate uncovered, overnight. Your dogs are now fully cooked and ready to be vacuum sealed, refrigerated or frozen. To prepare for eating just heat through on a grill or in a steamer.

Since you went to all the trouble, don’t you think homemade buns are in order too?