Sunday, May 1, 2011



Friday night, an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate featured two different bowls of chili, and it struck me that a big meaty bowl of chili was the perfect "welcome back to meat" meal - but that I'd already done my grocery shopping and hadn't bought ground beef, skirt steak, or a chuck roast, the cuts I'd usually use for that.

So I surveyed what I had on hand and in the freezer. Beef back ribs. Marrow bones - the short kind you can scoop the marrow out of without special tools. And half a pound of ground pork left from making ma po tofu. I had ground chicken but suspected it wouldn't do well with slow cooking.

The back ribs went immediately into the slow-cooker overnight. In the morning I transferred them and enough hot stock to cover them into a bowl, and crumbled the ground pork straight into the rest of the hot stock in the cooker, along with the marrow bones, Penzey's Chili 3000 seasoning, Mexican oregano, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), ground ancho chile, and diced onions and ramps, and let that cook all day. (Why cover the ribs in hot stock? Because they should cool in the stock for the best taste and texture. The slow cooker retains heat so long that it would have taken much of the day to cool them in the cooker, and I wanted to get the next batch of meat cooking.)

At the end of the day I strained the liquid (as well as the stock the ribs had rested in) into a separate pot and added dried pinto beans - brought them to a boil for five minutes - and turned it down to simmer until they were cooked. By this point I had roughly shredded the beef ribs, and added them to the pork/onions/ramps/marrow, and removed the marrow bones.

There was, as you might imagine, a significant slick of orange grease atop the cooking liquid. This is how you know you're on the right track.

After the beans were cooked, I removed them and added them to the meat, and added to the cooking liquid a 14 oz can of tomatoes and a jar of pimentos - both pureed - and a bunch of roughly chopped onion, and cooked that down until it started to get thick.

Why do I keep taking the meat out when I cook the liquid down? To keep from boiling the meat, which toughens it. Yes, it means the whole process takes longer and dirties more pots. I work at home and I have a dishwasher.

Once the sauce was thick, I put the meat and beans back in, freshened the flavor up with a pinch more chili powder and Mexican oregano, and let cool before putting in the fridge overnight.

I know, it probably looks like there's nothing in there but meat - it's definitely rich - but there's actually quite a lot of onion.

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