Monday, October 23, 2017

Whole30 Chili

Sorry for the lousy photo. I took it at Dad's, where we ate out of paper bowls on the balcony.
Mr Minx and I have recently started the Whole30 diet, which claims to be life-changing. I'm not sure about that, but it definitely makes life more difficult around mealtimes. We can't have dairy, grains, soy, legumes, or sugar. That means no bread, rice, pasta, yogurt, tofu, or sweets, which cuts out pretty much everything I want to eat for breakfast or lunch. Eggs and more eggs are fine, as are all meats, fruits, and vegetables. We can eat both regular and sweet potatoes, and any root vegetables, but I'm not a big fan of potatoes. Still, we intend to stick to this diet for the full 30 days and maybe do some variation beyond that. We've definitely cut back on empty calories, no sandwiches on bread, no cookies or cheese puffs for snacks, no ice cream on the weekends. And no alcohol. Not that we're boozers to begin with, but we're used to having a glass of wine or something stronger at least once or twice a week. But alcohol is just a lot of empty calories, and we don't need that.

I'm not imagining I'll lose a lot of weight--it's extremely difficult for me. I'd be happy if I lost 5 pounds during the month. Mr Minx will probably lose 15 pounds, because that's just the way things work. Pbbbblt!!!

In any case, I have a story about some Whole30 chili I concocted last week. It's possibly the best-tasting chili I ever made. I can't really give you a recipe, but I can share some guidelines.

I originally was going to make the chili on a Sunday afternoon, when it would have all day to simmer. But then my brother requested that I come stay with our Dad that day. Dad has dementia and shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time. Or short periods, actually. So I would have to make the chili on Saturday, before we headed out for our Saturday evening plans.

I prefer to make chili with chunks of meat, rather than the ground stuff. It's just more pleasant to eat that way, IMHO. Stew meat is expensive for no good reason, so I cut up a chuck roast instead. Normally I do that the same day I cook it, but because of the time crunch, I cubed my meat the night before. I got the idea to add a few teaspoons of kosher salt to the zip-top bag in which I stored the cubed meat, so it would dry brine overnight. And it was a BRILLIANT IDEA!

I think I make some damn good chili. But I know it can always be better. And the dry brining made this particular chili completely amazing. The meat was flavorful all the way through. It was so good, my Dad--whose tastebuds really only react to spicy and sweet flavors these days--swooned. He was eating with his eyes closed so he could savor the flavors and textures. He kept marveling at how tender the beef was, and how nicely the spices melded into the meat. He also enjoyed the sprinkling of green onions and toasted pumpkin seeds I put on top. I did too.

For this recipe, I didn't add a set amount of spices. I added some at the beginning, at the middle, and at the end. I didn't measure, just did it to taste, so this is a real "your mileage may vary" situation. But here's what I did, roughly:

Cut a 3-ish-pound chuck roast into about 1 1/2" - 2" cubes, removing and discarding excess fat. Place the meat into a zip-top bag with about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Shake the bag around to distribute the salt and refrigerate overnight. The next day, brown the meat on all sides in a hot dutch oven. I did this in three batches. Remove meat from the pan and add 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped. There should be enough fat in the pan to cook the onion. Stir the onion well to pick up any browned bits of meat. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions have softened. Then add a good tablespoon of regular chili powder (I used McCormick) and stir to coat the onions. Return the meat back to the pan and add 2 15-ounce cans of fire roasted tomatoes, 1 1/2-2 cups of chicken broth, and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. (You don't have to add the tomato paste if you don't want to. We had an open container of it in the fridge, and knowing how fast it gets moldy, I thought I should use it up.) Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat so it gently simmers. Cover the pan and cook for about three hours, or until the meat is very tender.

But wait...there's more! You don't think I seasoned the chili with only 1 tablespoon of chili powder, do you? I probably added 4 more tablespoons of chili spice, both the standard chili powder blend and pure ancho chile powder. I also added cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, dried oregano, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and several shakes from a container of True Lime lime/cilantro/garlic seasoning. I had some Hatch chili sauce that I had made a week or so earlier in the fridge and tossed in a few tablespoons of that as well. I kept tasting and seasoning and tasting and seasoning and burning my mouth and seasoning again through the whole cooking time until I felt it was perfect. The sauce went from a bright-ish red color to a deep brown. Part of the cooking was done with the lid off the pan, so some of the liquid would evaporate and thicken. (Some chili cooks use cornmeal for thickening, but corn isn't allowed on the Whole30 diet.) I normally like to add a bit of sweetness to the pot, a dribble of agave or maple syrup, but that's verboten on Whole30, too. What's not forbidden, however, is fruit, so I tossed in two whole pitted dates, hoping they'd just sort of break up. Because the meat had been salted in advance, I didn't really need to add much more salinity, just a pinch of kosher salt at the end of the cooktime. Then I packaged the chili up and left it in the fridge for 24 hours before reheating and eating. It was so. good.

Sorry there's no more cohesive recipe, but I seldom use recipes as more than a guideline (unless I'm baking). Experienced cooks will know exactly what I'm talking about, and they'll have better luck with this dish, if they try it. But I encourage everyone to make a pot of chili using hand-cut meat that is dry-brined overnight. Season it to your palate, not mine, using whatever you like. It will be delicious.

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