Yesterday I found a singular ribeye steak in the meat drawer of my fridge. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, as I normally buy things in twos for Joe and I. But we're big eaters, and one steak was clearly not going to cut it for dinner. At least not if we ate a normal Southern meat-n-three meal. But, I reasoned, there's more than one way to slice a ribeye! So I started thinking of dishes I could make using the ribeye as a support. Steak Chili sounded pretty delicious.
I was also looking pretty pitiful in the vegetable department, as I was nearing the end of my four week grocery stretch. (If you remember, I only go to the grocery store once a month during all this COVID craziness.) All I had left were some onions, a few sweet potatoes and some garlic. Luckily, while I (and the squirrel) had tapped out my ripe tomato reserves, I had yet to harvest a few green bell peppers and jalapeños. My path seemed pretty straight forward. I tapped my trusty pantry for a few canned goods and got about making some of the best chili I've made to date.
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The jazz of cooking sometimes leads me astray.
Normally, chili is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kinda dish for me. If I were to give you my "recipe" for how I normally riff, it'd have an ingredient list as long as my arm. I decided, kind readers, that this time I'd challenge myself to be frugal with my ingredients. In fact, I only used ONE BOTTLE out of my spice rack. If you know me, you know that's a heck of a feat. I always find some extra something to zhuzh up my soups, stews and any other dish that I'm standing over obsessing about. I mean, I have over 100 different bottles of different spices in my spice rack. It's crazy, I know. But for someone who likes to know how to make dishes in a traditional way, things like filé powder for Gumbo and asafoetida for Indian dishes don't seem too farfetched.
Anyway, I'm often one of those people that almost never cooks the same dish twice. That's not to say I don't often cook chili. It just never turns out the same because I'm never sure what muse is going to speak to me. Should I add beer? Coffee? Cocoa powder? What vegetables need using up? Am I going to bake it in a 9x13 with cornbread on top? My diagnosed ADD comes out in full force when I'm cooking. I want to try all the things. I live in a world where there's no single way to do a task, but a multitude of different variations on a theme. And I'm always searching for the best of things.
That said, I've never before been good at taking notes or making record of what crazy stuff I've tried out. So, while in theory I've been searching for how to make superlative versions of my favorite dishes, my scientific method has been completely lacking. How can I improve if I work off of nothing but memory? I'm an academic! I SHOULD KNOW BETTER!
The scientific method is helping me be a better cook.
But since I've started writing this blog, I've forced myself to write down what I make and actually collate my thoughts into real recipes. Y'all, you're making me a better student of the kitchen and a better cook in the process. I have been very glad of that on several occasions during this wild ride, as I've come up with some of my best, most inspired dishes to date and I actually wrote them down. Speaking of, have you tried my Harissa Roasted Carrot Salad? You should. It's bomb.
And please, feel free to riff on it and any other recipes. The jazz of cooking is how delicious things are born! Just remember to write down what you did so you can replicate it. Or, on the flip, never, ever make the same mistake again, like with my sad attempt at a vegan keto paleo chocolate torte earlier this week. Experimentation is the key to growth, but only if you learn from it.
So, for my most recent chili experiment, I figured I'd set some parameters for myself. Firstly, the only spice bottle I could use was Trader Joe's Chili Seasoning mix. I had bought the damn thing, and it's express purpose is to make delicious chili. I needed to give it a fair shot and not try to doctor the heck out of it. Secondly, there could be no store runs to try and make up for something I might've put in given premeditation. I had to work solely with what I had on hand. (This has been a near constant parameter since we went on lockdown in early March, but it's still worth mentioning.)
The results are in.
I've made Joe chili at least a dozen times since we met in 2015. He has inevitably liked it every time, with every riff - vegetarian, bean free, sweet potato based, mushroom based, turkey based. But y'all. He loved this one so much. He told me "This is the best thing I've ever eaten," which, to be honest, he says often. But it was really good. He wasn't lying that this might've been my best chili yet! And the ingredient list was pared down to a very reasonable 10 items.
I was very surprised that using only Trader Joe's Chili Seasoning mix was enough to pack the punch that I feel like chili should. I was skeptical, since it's only chili powder, garlic powder, cumin and oregano. But it really did the job! If you're looking for something to take the guess work out of cooking, it's a mix worth having. And at $2.49 for what I estimate would make 40 servings worth of chili, it's a totally worthwhile investment. I will definitely be placing my faith in it for seasoning my chilis in the future. I can't possibly say "gone are the days of 30 ingredient chilis!" because I know myself. But I have a feeling they'll be fewer and farther between with this little powerhouse.
I rendered my meat, rendering my chili very delicious.
The thing I think made the biggest difference in flavor was rendering the beef fat as my cooking oil. Ribeye isn't necessarily cut out to be stew meat because of all of that beautiful marbleization that could ostensibly become kinda gross and chewy. Because of this, I set aside all of the fatty parts when I was breaking down the steak. Rendering is just the process by which you isolate fat from the rest of the animal via heat. And if you're an omnivore, you know that animal fats pack a lot of flavor. Bacon fat, anyone? Well, the fat from beef is known as tallow, and it also packs a big flavor punch. Just the tablespoon or so I got from the one steak was enough to flavor the whole pot of chili with a lot of steak-y goodness.
Additionally, the process of rendering left a lot of beautiful fond on the bottom of the pan. What is fond, you may ask? Fond means "base" in French, and it refers to all of those caramelized yummy gubbins that are left stuck to your pan. If you want to make a great gravy, you need the fond as your base for flavor. To get them off the pan, you can deglaze with wine, stock, water, or in my case this time, with all of my aromatic vegetables (onion, peppers and garlic) that sweat out their water and release the fond from the pan.
The doggies also benefited from the rendering process. What was left after I was done were basically beefy chicharrones, which I happily divvied up between Ozzy and Mikey's dinner bowls. Do you dress up doggie dinner? We definitely do. They always get some kind of addition to their kibble to keep them interested. Olive oil, whipped cream, and some shavings of FreshPet (which we've affectionately termed gyros for doggos) are the normal arsenal. But we also give them sweet potatoes, meat, fish skins, cheese or any other doggie friendly treats if they're part of our meal and untainted by doggie no-nos like onion. I mean, I'd get SO BORED if I only got to eat one meal for the rest of my life. Joe and I do what we can to share our bounty and love of food with the pups.
So if you've got a steak, an onion, some garlic, a few jalapeños and bell peppers, a sweet potato, a few cans of black beans, a can of Rotel, some red wine vinegar and Trader Joe's Chili Seasoning, you have a flush hand for dinner tonight. Get after it! And remember, it'll taste even better tomorrow. Huevos Rancheros for breakfast anyone??? Happy weekend. I hope it's delicious!
Looking for more recipe inspiration? Check out these other recipes:
- 8 oz Ribeye Steak
- 2 Green Bell Peppers medium dice
- 1-3 Jalapeños small dice, optional depending on heat preference
- 1 large Yellow Onion medium dice
- 5-10 cloves Garlic minced
- 2 ½ C Sweet Potato peeled and diced
- 3 cans Black Beans
- 1 can Rotel or any fire roasted tomatoes with green chilis
- 3 tablespoon Trader Joe's Chili Seasoning Mix
- 2-4 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar to taste
- Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
- Break down ribeye by removing all fat and cutting meat into medium dice size. Render fat in a dutch oven until bits are crispy. If needed, add more oil to pan. You should have about 2-3 tablespoon total. Feed the yummy crispy bits to doggies! Season meat with kosher salt and sear on all sides. Remove from dutch oven with slotted spoon.
- Add bell pepper, jalapeño and onion. Add kosher salt to encourage veggies to sweat out water and to season. Stir occasionally, scraping up fond (brown bits stuck to bottom) as you go. When veggies are softened, add garlic and stir until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.
- Add sweet potatoes, beans, Rotel and Seasoning. Simmer until sweet potatoes are soft.
- Season with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar to taste. Divide evenly into bowls, sprinkle with steak and add any toppings you like. Enjoy!