Back in the early 1960’s, there was a TV programme called The School Around the Corner, on RTÉ (Ireland’s then sole broadcaster). It was presented by the affable Paddy Crosby. On the show, he would interview schoolchildren. He had a way with him and managed to extract stories from the young ‘uns. Stories that were charming in their innocence. One infamous interview had a young lad telling a story about a horse that fell into a hole in the road. The horse was beyond saving. A vet was called and he decided to shoot the horse. Paddy asked the innocent child “Did he shoot him in the hole?”. “No” replied the youngster, “he shot him in the head”.
As with so many of my conversations about food, this one took place while I was out on the bike, chatting my butcher friend, James Lawlor. As the weather is turning here in Ireland, the chat was all about autumnal food. As chilli is high on my list of cool weather favourites, I asked for advice about the meat.
I suggested perhaps using big, whole chillies (as I have a stock of them). James laughed, seeing some joke in what I said. Then he suggested, “You’re on to something there. Why not try a big holes chilli.” I have to admit, I did snigger like a schoolboy looking at a lingerie catalogue before he explained. “The holes in the normal mincer plate are 5mm. Why not try using the 10mm plate we have and see how the beef turns out?” So a plan was laid for (careful how you write it…) Big Holes Beef Chilli.
- 1 kilo of coarse (very coarse by the standards set here) ground beef.
- Half a kilo of beef pieces cut up nice and small.
- 100 grammes or so of pancetta (a home prepared present from Stefan over at stefangourmet.com)
- 2 dried ancho chillies
- 4 to 6 smaller hot dried chillies
- 2 tins of tomatoes
- 1 tin of kidney beans
- 4 onions
- 2 teaspoons of smoked sea salt
- 2 teaspoons of red peppercorns
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons of dried tomato flakes (optional)
- 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
- Half a pint of concentrated beef stock
- 2 bottles of beer
Side note on the sliced beef: The coarse ground beef gives a particularly good “bit of chew” that one would not get with a finer ground beef chilli. By adding the sliced beef too, we get a really nice consistency. It’s worthy of consideration.
The process is pretty straightforward. But, it does take a bit of time to complete. First, slice the pancetta into nice small pieces and fry it, in a large lidded saucepan, to release its fat.
Add the chillies to a bowl and pour in about a half pint of boiling water. Leave to stand for about a half hour.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and reserve. Fry the beef, in batches, in the pancetta fat. The beef tightens up and shows its chunkiness.
Slice the onions into quarters or eights.
Add the chillies and water to a blender and blitz to a smooth paste.
Dry fry the cumin seeds and pound them in a mortar.
Crush and slice the garlic.
Remove the browned beef from the saucepan with a slotted spoon. In the same saucepan, fry the onions and garlic, over a low heat, until very soft. Add back the beef. Then add the other ingredients bar the beans.
Stir everything in and bring the heat up until the chilli reaches a simmer. You can now simmer the chilli for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally or do as I did. Pop it into a 150ºC oven for two hours. Remove it and simmer uncovered for half an hour. This will thicken the sauce.
Add the beans and stir to incorporate. Bring it back to a gentle boil to be sure everything is nice and hot. Serve it with rice and some cheddar cheese.
This big holes chilli is undoubtedly a big, whole chilli. It’s a lesson in punctuation and a pretty fine autumn dish too. Enjoy.