Campfire ChilliAugust 15, 2014
We recently spent a dreamlike weekend up at a friend's parent's home, perched on the edge of a lake in New Hampshire.
It couldn't have been any more of an all-American outdoor life idyll if it had tried. We were blessed with some fabulous weather, even though the forecast had predicted otherwise, a beautiful location and a universal attitude to having some good clean (well fed) fun.
The first night was whiled away in front of the fire, lubricated by the spoils of a stop off at one of New Hampshire's state liquor stores, and set the scene for what would be one the best weekends we've had since touching down just over a year ago.
Knowing there would be the chance to cook on a open campfire I got myself a cast iron dutch oven. Having lusted after the brightly coloured French variety, I was delighted to find a slightly more budget friendly un-enameled version from Lodge. Though not a shade of pastel, this is a proper, solid cast iron pot that will last forever and has not completely rinsed my checking account. I got mine from the ever obliging Walmart for about $50, along with the Lodge catalogue that now forms my bedtime reading and majority of my birthday wish list.... My birthday is in December.
To the chilli.
Ingredients: (Makes A LOT of chili, I used a 7 gallon dutch oven which fed 10 with some to spare)
3 1/2 lbs Beef- use a cheaper cut like brisket, shin or chuck. You want some marbling as slow cooking renders the fat gentle and turns cheap, fatty cuts into something spectacular.
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried chili flakes (more if you like it really hot)
1/2 table spoon instant coffee granules
Slug of olive oil
2 red onions
2 lbs fresh tomatoes
2 tins red kidney beans, drained
1 can beer
2 'cans' water
Potatoes to serve
Even though it's in the title, this can be cooked on a stove top or in the oven as opposed to a campfire. Though if you have the chance to cook over an open fire I really urge you to do it, it's so much fun to cook outdoors and creates a great bit of entertainment for everyone!
If your beef is not already chopped into hunks then cut it into roughly 2 inch cubes. Remove any very hard pieces of white fat but leave softer fat and any marbling as this will make the chilli unctuous and the meat very tender. Marinate the beef over night for the best flavour. Rub the spices, coffee and garlic but NOT the salt over you beef with the oil, squash into a dish and cover with cling film before popping in the fridge to infuse.
Salt leaches moisture from whatever it is near, that's why you salt aubergine before cooking it or why your salt may clump in its pot when stored near somewhere with moisture in the air, like by a cooking area or sink. If you add salt to your overnight meat marinades it will draw a lot of moisture from the meat and make it tough when cooked. It's best to marinade with herbs, spices, vegetables and oils, then add salt to taste during the cooking process.
If intending to cook in the oven then start the pan on the stove for the frying stage.
When you are ready to cook, heat up your pan and slug in a little oil. Throw in your sliced red onions and fry until translucent and soft.
Add in the meat and fry until it has a good dark colour on all sides. Add in the tomatoes, beans, beer and water and stir well. Pop the lid on an allow to come to a high simmer, when the liquid is bubbling but not boiling, turn down the heat if cooking on the stove or, if cooking in the oven, pop in a preheated oven at 340F. If you are doing this cowboy style on an open fire, move the pot to a less fierce part of the fire, the pot itself will retain a lot of heat you you can move it off the direct flame and it will continue to cook.
A lovely, simple side to go with chilli is baked potatoes. The best way to do campfire potatoes to neglect them terribly. Wrap them in foil, throw them on the embers or on the grill and leave them to bake alongside the chilli. If you are going for the long haul campfire chilli (over 2 hours) resist the urge to throw your tatties on until about 2 hours out from wanting to dig in. The two hour mark is the optimum time for lovely soft, buttery potatoes with great tender skins.
How long you cook the chilli really depends on how much time you have. As long as you keep and eye on the liquid level in the pan (you want everything to remain coated in the sauce, if things gets a bit dry add a little water) this chilli can slowly stew away on a low heat for up to 5 or 6 hours. At a minimum you want it to be cooking gentle for at least 2 hours. By this time the meat should be soft, tender and falling apart. The sauce will be thick and rich with tomatoes that have squashed down to a tangy sauce and the spices mellowed to give a lovely humming heat. Don't forget to season the chilli with salt prior to serving as it was left out of the marinade.
I always serve up chilli with sour cream regardless of it's heat, I like the hot and cold contrast and sour cream goes especially well on lovely rich baked potatoes!