Chili Beef Stew

Last week was a crazy week that involved NO cooking at all. We had a long weekend away with family followed by a sick kid for two days and it wrapped up with two 13+ hour work days for me. Frankly, we are lucky to be alive at this point. We made a big pot of spaghetti sauce on the weekend for the freezer and I was anxiously awaiting Monday so I could be alone again and get back in my kitchen.

Even though this is basically chili, I would never call it that because I have enough friends from Texas who would never speak to me again if I advocated putting beans in there (even though I totally do) so I am on board with Smith and Ratliff and I agree that we will, instead, call this a stew. It tastes just like a good chili but the whole chunks of beef make it much heartier somehow. I went pretty light on the dried chills because it's the first time I have used these chilis that I brought back from my Xmas trip to mexico and I wasn't sure how much heat they would pack. Next time I will use more of them and I also might try a few other varieties in there as well.

It's thicker than a beef stew, heartier than chili with ground beef and the addition of the masa harina at the end gives it a really nice, earthy flavour. It was a big hit with both of my menfolk so I will definitely be trying more variations on this stuff - maybe I will get all crazy and even leave the beans out next time.

Chili Beef Stew
adapted from Smith and Ratliff

A glug of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lbs stew beef
2 cans small mexican kidney beans
2 cups tomato puree
1 500ml can beer (2 cups)
2 tbls chili powder
1 tbls cumin
1 dried pasilla chili
1 dired ancho chili
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbls masa harina
fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat a heavy frying pan over med heat (i like to use a cast iron skillet) put your dried chills in the dry pan and cook for a minute on each side until it puffs up a bit. Remove them to a bowl and cover them with hot water and set aside so they can soak for at least 30 minutes.

Heat a heavy pot over med heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Brown the meat, in batches. When that is done set the beef aside in a bowl and add the onion and garlic to the pot. Cook those for a few minutes until softened and then add the beef back into the pot.

Throw in the tomatoes, the beans, the beer, chili powder, cumin and some salt to taste.

Cut open your dried chills that have been soaking and remove the seeds unless you want maximum heat and in that case, leave the seeds and cut them up. Put the cut up chills (I just use kitchen shears - easier than trying to cut them with a knife) in a blender with a cup of chicken stock and whiz them up until they are pureed.
Add the pureed chili and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a light simmer. Let that cook for a few hours over low heat, so it's just barely simmering. What I did was cook it for about an hour and a half on the stove and then, because I was called out for a couple of hours, I put the lid on and popped the pot into the oven at 285F for the rest of the afternoon and by the time I got home, it was perfect. It had really thickened up, the meat was falling apart and it was delicious. Because it had already thicker up perfectly but I still wanted the flavour of the masa harina, I added about 1/2 cup of chicken stock with the masa harina and simmered it on low for ten more minutes on the burner.

If you cook the whole thing on the stove top, about 20 minutes before you are going to serve the stew, add the masa harina and stir thoroughly, letting that thicken it up a bit. It also gives it a really great flavour that you just don't get from using plain old flour.

Serve with some fresh cilantro and even over rice if you like.