Chili without spices

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Seasoned AmericaOne of the first cookbooks that really taught me there was more to cooking than combining a few off-the-self ingredients was Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America. Published in 1991, he reinterpreted a broad range of American melting-pot cuisines and “kicked them up a notch” (a few years before Emeril entered the scene). Not only did he emphasize cooking with homemade stocks, something that many home cooks today still see as extravagant, but all of his recipes had two lists of ingredients, the spices and then everything else.

Suddenly visions of a Justin/Paul project dance in my head. Web developer by day, renegade cajun by night. 365 days. 160 recipes. Moving along…

In Seasoned America I learned that chili could be made with cubes of beef (instead of ground) and without beans (remember, I grew up in the Northeast). His “seasoning mix” for Texas Red calls for two types of ground chili peppers (guajillo and arbol), dried sweet basil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, black pepper, cayenne paper, ground cumin, dry mustard, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon. As a budding teenage cook, I thought this was awesome. The more complex, the better.

Which brings me to this post. I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to create a chili without any spices at all. Or tomatoes. Just chilies and meat. “That’s how they did it in the old days.” Except 99% of the chili recipes out there call for half a dozen dry spices. I want to make a chili with as many fresh, local, natural ingredients as I can. A chili without spices. Chile con carne sin especias? Let’s call it California Red.

So I did some research, specifically on the chilis, and then compared the ingredients across recipes, settling on a typical San Antonio style. Then I Justin-ified it. I’m not quite sure how the final dish will turn out, as I’ve not yet made it, but it looks good on paper. And I cheated a little. The recipe calls for cumin seeds, which is technically a spice. But one which requires toasting and grinding, which by my logic, elevates it.

California Red: a chili without spices

  • 9-12 ancho chili peppers (dried poblanos—fat at the stem, skinny at the tip), remove stems and seeds, soak in beer for 3-4 hours, puree (smoky alternative: add 2-3 chipotles)
  • 2 pound chuck roast, cut up into 1″ cubes, dusted with flour, browned in oil (or bacon/pancetta/lardon fat)
  • 3 onions, chopped, caramelized in olive oil
  • 1 head of garlic, roasted, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted, ground
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients and simmer for 3 hours. Thicken before serving using a mixture of a 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 water.

Chili without spices, aka California Red
The finished product, garnished with sharp white cheddar