February 6, 2013


Filed under:, , — cwage @ 5:02 am

I know what you're thinking. "Didn't he already post some stupid recipe for chili already? Again with this?" It's true. I'm gonna write about chili again. Like all true artists, I've grown since then. I simply must share my art with the world! (But not the chili.) As I mentioned in that post, I'm no purist. I put beans in my chili. I am not really even sold on something like chili requiring a recipe, per se. I think of making chili more like jazz. Sure, there are general rules, and, if you require it, a general melody to come back to. But otherwise just wing it, and have fun. Every pot of chili I make is the BEST CHILI EVER. Because it's always a little different.

I grew up with chili, but in the Midwest and the south -- and the chili I knew and loved reflected that: it had ground beef, tomatoes, and beans. It had little in common with either traditional Mexican dishes or Texas chili. There was nothing religious about it except that it could be made quickly out of cans and a tube of beef in an hour or so. It wasn't until my late 20's that I discovered the wonders of a more basic, authentic chili -- e.g. chile colorado, which my mom had actually made for me on occasion as a kid as well. You can google around for recipes, but for the uninitiated, it's basically the essence of chili: not much other than slow-cooked beef and chiles -- the combination of which delivers an amazingly complex bouquet of flavors on its own.

Lately I've started playing more with this, taking bits and pieces from the different styles I like. This weekend I made a batch of chili that is probably my favorite yet (although I say that every time). A rough recipe below, which this time isn't written in the style of a drunken fratboy:


  • 1-2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 9-10 dried New Mexico chiles
  • 3-4 dried Ancho (Poblano) chiles
  • 1 beef Chuck roast, cut into 1-2" squares. (feel free to use any other cut of meat -- I prefer chuck for stewing).
  • 2-3 cups of beef stock (I used homemade, storebought is fine, water will work in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Beans. Yeah, I said it. (optional, and to taste)
  • Cumin (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

The Chiles (not a Mole)

I won't call this a Mole, because I don't want a Mexican grandmother reading this and coming after me because I dared to compare what I did in 10 minutes to what takes her hours upon hours and generations of experience. And it's really not a Mole, but it's a Mole-like thing. That is, it's groundup chiles.

  1. Remove and discard the caps of all the chiles, and remove the seeds by shaking/clearing the pods with your finger. Getting every single seed isn't necessary -- they won't significantly add to the heat of the dish, but they can make it bitter.
  2. Put the chiles in a small saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover.
  4. Let this sit while you prep the rest of the chili and then come back here when you're ready to mix everything together. They'll be well hydrated by now.
  5. Transfer the now-hydrated chiles into a blender or something similar with a small portion of the water they were boiled in. I use a stick blender for a relatively mess-free cleanup. Blend the chiles thoroughly until they form a thick paste.
  6. (Optional?) Filter the paste through a medium/large-holed colander or sieve. Sometimes the chile peppers, no matter how well hydrated and blended, have little bits of pepper that didn't blend down. These can be annoying or distasteful to some, or get stuck in your teeth, so filter it out if you want to get rid of them and any stray seeds that made it through.
  7. Add this to the rest of the prepped ingredients (see below)

The Chili

  1. (Optional but unnecessary step): Dredge the cubed beef in flour. Some people do this because they feel it insulates the meat while searing and makes for a better, more flavorful crust even though science says otherwise and they are wrong on both counts. It can help thicken the resulting chili, but my tastebuds and certainly my waistline don't require the flour.
  2. Coat a large stockpot with vegetable oil (I used peanut because it's what I had on-hand), and bring to a medium-high heat.
  3. Add the beef to the pot when the oil is shimmering (Just kidding. I have no idea what this means, but every recipe I read says it. Shimmering? What is this, Twilight?) Just add the meat to the damn pan when it's hot.
  4. Thoroughly brown all of the beef (do it in batches if you have a lot -- it's best to keep the temperature really high here). Remove and set aside.
  5. Lower the heat (let it cool so you don't burn anything) and add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, maybe 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the beef stock to deglaze, and make sure to scrape up any little delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the beef chunks, the not-Mole chile paste, and if necessary, enough water to cover all the beef.
  8. Bring everything to a low boil and then adjust to a low simmer.
  9. Simmer until the beef is cooked and can be easily pulled apart with a fork. In the past, at this point, I've painstakingly pulled all the chunks apart with a pair of forks, until I had the GENIUS idea to just grab a potato masher and go to town. Don't go overboard, though: mash just enough to get a healthy balance of stringy beef incorporated in the dish along with some bigger succulent chunks.
  10. Add in any canned or pre-soaked beans at this point, and let them cook a bit.
  11. Add salt and cumin to taste. I am loathe to give specifics about cumin, because I like a lot of cumin. Do what you feel.
  12. Add the teaspoon of cocoa powder towards the end of cooking.

Et voila! er .. Y aqui! Note that there are no tomatoes in this recipe. After the past few years of experimenting with rehydrated dried chiles and of noting the amazing complexity of the flavors and richness of the color you get, I am now convinced that tomatoes really have no place in chili. So far I think the cocoa powder is a decent addition, but I am not 100% sold on it. It makes sense, given the presence of chocolate in many mole recipes. It stands out noticeably, though and it's very easy to overdo it. I am not convinced that the crappy Hershey's cocoa powder I am using is doing justice to the dish.

The result is a beautiful deep red chili, with beans interspersed with delicious chunks of beef. Ground beef could have easily sufficed if browned and added in order to save time. It's surprisingly unspicey -- new mexico and poblano chiles of course are very mild. Had I been making this only for myself, I probably would have added some dried habaneros, but I was happy to supplement my bowl with cayenne powder for kick. Enjoy!

August 13, 2012

hot chicken fried steak

Filed under:, , , , , , , — cwage @ 7:43 pm


So, I will freely admit that this dish had its genesis purely in the amusement I derived from the name: what possible dish could have a nest of more confusing terms than "hot chicken fried steak"?! I'm sure I'm not the first person to be amused by the concept, or even try it. Its construction was pretty straightforward. I took a basic southern-style chicken-fried steak recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I made it, and then I made up a traditional Nashville hot chicken style paste. Et voila.

So how was it? Uhm. Not very good! I mean, not bad. It was basically about what I expected. This may be, in part, a symptom of the fact that I am not a huge fan of chicken-fried steak to begin with. There's something about breaded beef that just doesn't work as well as chicken, or even pork. Beef stands out too much on its own, and it gets in the way of the flavor of the breading or the heat. Something about chicken and sweat-inducing heat just really works in ways that it doesn't with other meat.

I would make hot chicken fried chicken, but then you're basically back to what Bolton's makes and slaps on a stick.

And for all the northerners reading this and going "what the fuck", here's how it works: Fried chicken, you've had. "Chicken fried steak" is a process by which you take a cheap cut of beef, tenderize it rigorously and fry it "in the style of fried chicken", hence: chicken fried steak. And "chicken fried chicken", then, is a chicken breast cooked similarly: tenderized flat and fried in the manner of chicken fried steak. Simple, right?

All in all a fun experiment, but I wouldn't add this one to your classics of southern cooking anytime soon.

June 11, 2012

hot chicken that i made and then ate

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:32 pm


A few corrections since I wrote this:

  • First, nashville style hot chicken is a uniquely southern food, so in my attempt to make the actual fried chicken base, I looked up a recipe for "Traditional southern fried chicken" -- i.e. buttermilk brined, heavily dredged in flour, buttermilk, and flour again. The result is a very thick, very bready fried chicken which is fine on its own, but absolutely wrong for nashville-style hot chicken. Opinions vary, but in my opinion the archetypical nashville-style chicken has to have a thin, flaky breaded crust (more on that later).
  • Second, no sugar. That was a huge mistake -- I'm more open to creative additions of sugar or honey these days, but it's way too easy to overdo it (as I did). Sweetness will detract from the spice and heat.

So, I decided to try my hand at making hot chicken. I loosely based it around this recipe. Before I get into the specifics, though, I want to pat myself on the back a little. Not for successfully making hot chicken, no, but rather for the fact that when I first tried it 5 years ago, I said to myself: there's nothing mysterious about this chicken. Magical and wonderful, yes, but not mysterious. It's obviously a shit-ton of cayenne pepper slathered over fried chicken. So while it may be heretical to downplay the mystery around Nashville's primary culinary claim to fame, I have to say: it ain't complicated. I honestly had a much harder time getting the fried chicken right.

That said, a few details, photos and questions:

  • The assembled ingredients.
  • I marinated the chicken in buttermilk and a random assemblage of salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. I added a little bit of ghost pepper sauce for the hell of it, but it was barely perceptible. The buttermilk marinade had been recommended to me often as a rather traditional way of doing things, but I'm not convinced of its merit. I'm no stranger to the science of how brining and marinating works, and I'm not clear on how buttermilk could have really penetrated the meat that much. It did provide a slightly goopier base for dredging in the flower and aiding a crispy crust, but that's about it. I think next time I'm just gonna brine it like normal.
  • Safety first. I don't fry stuff a lot. You never know. Sometimes I set stuff on fire.
  • An optional but highly recommended accompaniment. Chef's little helper.
  • The resulting paste. Shortly after this photo I realized I needed to make more, and I did, and had a Sugar Accident. I accidentally dumped way too much sugar into it. In the spirit of my "eh, fuckit" attitude to cooking, I just rolled with it. This was a mistake. The sugar was a bit overwhelming and turned the gritty/smokey pepper flavor into a sortof sickly sweet crust in the end. The chicken was still good, but the sugar bumped it out of contention for "Great". Ah well. Similarly, I had a lot of trouble getting it hot enough. I added a bunch of chile to round out the flavor a bit, but I felt like I couldn't add enough cayenne to get the kick I wanted. Maybe the cheap Kroger cayenne I bought was old. Maybe I need to experiment with blending in some hotter peppers?
  • This was probably unnecessary and pointless, but I added some cayenne to the flour before dredging. I figured it couldn't hurt, but maybe the pepper could burn and add a bitter flavor. I didn't notice. I probably won't do it again though.
  • Dredged and ready to fry. Of course, I made a huge mess.
  • I had the slightest bit of trouble actually frying the chicken. I was having trouble getting even the individually cut 8ths (legs and thighs) to cook thoroughly without the crust starting to burn. I had the oil temperature pegged at right around 330F. Do I need to go lower to give the meat more time to cook before the crust burns?
  • And, as usual, I'm incapable of making reasonable portions of anything and wound up with Way Too Much Chicken. Normally this would be a good problem to have, but I have to admit, it's not great. The excess sugar in the crust is a bit much for me. But I'll suffer through it. Somehow.

So there you have it. I feel pretty confident that I can nail it the next time around. As I said above, this dish is not a complicated one, so I think I need to resist my urge to experiment and fuck around. The secret is in the simplicity: a shit-ton of pepper and fried chicken. What more do you need?

June 7, 2007


Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 11:04 pm

Does anyone know where to get this stuff in Nashville? I haven't really looked, but why look around when I can ask the Internet?

I have been wanting to try it for a while, especially now that I ran across this recipe for squash-blossom/huitlacoche quesadillas:

Chihuahua cheese
Flour tortillas
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon corn oil or other oil
Squash blossoms
1 can huitlachoche

I have to try that..

March 19, 2006


Filed under:, , — cwage @ 6:06 pm

I love guacamole. I mean, given the opportunity, I will eat it, in almost all of its forms.

But when it comes to making guacamole at home, I am a purist. Ingredients:

  • Avocado, mashed

Salt to taste. I like cilantro and I like lime. I don't think they have any place in guacamole. In fact, I am not sure that my ideal conception of guacamole really qualifies as guacamole, since it's not much of a mole at all. It's just mashed avacado.