Crash Test Kitchen: Spicy Venison Chili Con Carne

It’s Venison season here in the North and that’s a pretty good thing. I took many years discovering my love for venison, but now that it’s been located, I simply love finding new and creative ways of using the distinctly flavored meat of local game. Sometimes with a little help from unexpected places, such as my friends…

 

Necessity is the mother of invention

I’ve got this friend called Tina. She’s blonde, she’s beautiful, she’s blue eyed and all that… But that’s pretty much where the stereotyping ends. Aside from looks, she holds a Master’s degree, she’s intelligent, she’s smart, thoughtful and all that, she even does my proof reading for me… But by golly, despite the brains on that chick, she still has her blonde moments. I don’t know if it’s a genetic kind of thing, but they happen. And when they do, they’re usually pretty disasterous in a loveable and inspiring manner.

Take a couple of weeks ago, for example. Tina and her boyfriend had landed a great deal on an assortment of venison which arrived at their home butchered, wrapped, frozen, but entirely un-labeled. Tina had been ranting and raving about the purchase, inviting me to come over and help her cook it. We’d do some grocery shopping together, she said, have some wine and a few laughs. She’d take a nice cut out of the freezer, she said, such as tenderloin or similar, and we’d have a blast cooking it up.

Pretty ladies, prime cuts, alcohol and laughs? It all sounded pretty good to me! That is until, after a grocery shopping spree, we arrived back at her house and set about to uncover what prime cuts my friend had chosen for the occasion.

“Umm, honey,” I said, unwrapping the mystery meat “tenderloin doesn’t usually have bones running the length of it, I’m pretty sure this is shank.” – “You mean to tell me,” she gasped, “that this is not a prime cut of meat?” – “Well, that largely depends on how you define prime,” I shot back, “but I think we may have to revise our methods! I think we’re looking more at a braise than a roast”… And with that I did what any foodie in my position would have done, I started rummaging through cupboards and pantries, looking for ingredients and ideas on how to cook the tough cut of meat that had suddenly bestowed upon me.

Tabasco ChocolatesTabasco chocolate? I hate to say it, but this stuff is actually pretty good!

On my quest, I stumbled upon, amongst other things, a variety of paprikas and chilies, coriander, cumin and a tin of Tabasco chocolates that Zascha and I had brought Tina home from our Summer tour of Dixie. An idea slowly formed in my head, and I gathered up a few ingredients, took a picture, posted it to Instagram with the simple question: “What to do?”

Venison with spice rubWherever do we go from here!

 

An idea forms: Spicy venison Chili Con Carne!

It was my buddy Greg of nomnerd.com fame who first grabbed the role of Captain Obvious and screamed out what I myself was thinking: Spicy venison Chili!

Doing a venison Chili con Carne was something I’d been wanting to do for a while. After all, the powerful gamy flavors of venison play really well with the earthy spices usually found in Chili Con Carne and the warmth of the chilies. I hadn’t, however, really had time to think the idea through and as such, I stood completely unprepared with only about half the ingredients needed and none of the time.

I did what I could with what I had in the time I was given, and I dare say the results turned out pretty successfully. It wasn’t a real Chili con Carne, though, at least not in my book. It was more of a chocolate lazed spicy venison stew. So, while my co-diners were busy licking their lips and making little happy sounds, I vowed to myself to some day soon return to the subject of venison Chili Con Carne. Within days, I’d procured some venison from a respectable dealer and an idea had started forming in my head. It was gonna be some time, though, before I had a game plan.

 

Chili: A complicated love affair!

That’s the thing about Chili, see. It takes time and thought. It’s taken years of my life thus far, if I’m honest. You see, while cooking a good pot of chili isn’t actually hard, perfecting Chili certainly doesn’t come easy. I’ve done a lot of takes on Chili over the years and I keep looking for inspiration and twists to somehow reinvent the dish. Why this fascination? Probably because Chili is a dish that, at its heart, is simple, yet holds an endless potential for experimentation and added layers of flavor and complexity.

In its simplest form, Chili Con Carne is nothing more than a spicy one-pot meat stew with bold south of the border flavors provided by a mix of spices such as oregano, cumin and cinnamon and a healthy dose of chili peppers. In its not quite so simple form, Chili is an elaborate multi-layered work of art for which every cook has his own recipe, and over which fierce battles (known as cook-offs) are fought. My Chilies in particular have a way of ending up in the not so simple end of the spectrum.

The first step to creating a new twist on Chili would obviously be to answer the questions: what is a venison Chili Con Carne? And what goes into it? Rather obviously, venison Chili Con Carne is Chili made with venison as a main ingredient. As far as what goes into it? I had no idea, but I figured I could take a look at the elements that my Chili normally contains and tweak them to fit the bill. Therefore, my quest to create a venison Chili Con Carne began one Saturday morning with defining this list of elements that I figured such a dish should contain:

Meat: Chili con Carne literally translates to Chili with Meat, so you’ve gotta have meat of some sorts. Otherwise you’d have a Chili Sin Carne which I’m reasonably sure is illegal in all American states and at least a handful of countries around the world. For venison chili con carne, my primary choice would of course be venison – and nothing too fancy here, mind you. Since Chili is cooked forever, we can leave the good cuts for another day and use something a little less flashy. Any odd bit of tough stew meat would do very nicely indeed. In my case, I used a pack of assorted trimmings cleverly labeled simply as “diced venison for ragout”. But you can talk to your local butcher or check out a local well-assorted supermarket. They should pack something useful this time of year.

Venison meat”Ah venison, the star of the show…

More meat: It’s a popular misconception that Chili Con Carne is a one meat kind of stew. It’s not necessarily so. I’ve made Chili Con Carne with both pork or beef or any combination thereof, and the results have usually been spectacular. When shopping ingredients for my venison Chili Con Carne, I came across my all-time favorite Chili Con Carne cut, ox tails, completely by chance. “Well, a bit of ox tail never hurt anyone,” I thought and into the basket they went. Ox tails, when cooked low and slow become not only extremely flavorful but also incredibly melt in your mouth tender. The contrast in  taste and texture between the ox tails and the more dense venison, I figured, would be an interesting twist to the already complex mesh of flavors and impressions that would hopefully be my finished venison Chili Con Carne.

Ox tailOx tails if there’s any better stew meat in the world. I’ve yet to hear about it!

Ground beef? Where we’re going, we don’t need ground beef! I used to use ground beef in my Chili. It’s my cross to bear. I didn’t know any better. After some experimenting and getting wiser, I’ve quickly realized that larger, tougher, more substantial cuts such as shoulder, tail or brisket not only make a hell a more flavorful Chili, they also make for a more interesting texture. Plus the added bonus of actually knowing exactly how your protein looked prior to cooking and where it came from. The only reason I can think of for using pre-ground beef would be laziness which, if we’re pouring seven odd hours into this effort of a dish, is not really an excuse in my book.

Bacon: Okay, bacon is technically meat, but since when has bacon not deserved its own paragraph? I’ve been led to believe that Chili ingredients are traditionally fried in pork fat which I think is a wonderful, albeit sort of smelly, tradition. Over the years, I’ve grown to use bacon instead as bacon is really nothing but pork fat and meat with a bit of a cure and whiff of smoke to it. The fat that renders from the bacon when fried is great for frying while the browned meat bits that remain in the pan adds yet more flavor and texture to the final dish. What’s not to love?

BaconMmmm… Bacon!

Chilies: That this dish would contain chilies is rather implied in the name of the dish, Chili With Meat, is it not? And yet you’d be surprised just how important a component of a good Chili Con Carne the chilies really are. Many people think that chilies are just added for heat, but far from it, I say. There are literally thousands of chili varieties out there, all with their own characteristics and flavor elemets. For that very reason, I enjoy using quite a variety of chilies, both fresh and dried, in my Chili, all of which we will touch upon briefly.

Spices: While chilies are quite possibly the most important and most celebrated ingredient of Chili Con Carne, the other spices may well be the secret corner stone that elevate the humble dish to new heights. Traditional Chili spices include Mexican favorites oregano and cumin along with cinnamon, coriander, bay leaves and the universal salt and pepper. Incidentally, all these spices pair really well with venison, so I saw no reason not to use them in abundance as I would in any other Chili Con Carne.

Aromatics: I’m pretty sure aromatic vegetables were not originally a key ingredient in Chili Con Carne, mainly because Chili was originally simple one-pot campfire food. As the dish has moved away from the fire and into the comfort of the kitchen, though, I see no reason to not use a lot of aromatics to add flavor and aroma. I personally would not dream of making chili without onions, carrots, celery, garlic, red peppers and jalapeños (And yes, I do count fresh chilies as aromatics). I chop my aromatics up pretty finely and cook them low and slow for about forever which not only releases a lot of flavor, but also adds even more texture to the final dish.

Alcohol: I have always used alcohol in my Chili and traditionally, as any good-hearted American Chili cook would have you do, I have always used beer. I have, however, with some curiosity watched star chef Heston Blumenthal dump copious amounts of red wine (to the tune of two bottles) into his so-called  Perfect Chili Con Carne, and I figured I’d give it a shot some day. Now, something about venison just screams red wine to me so I figured since I was changing up my game anyway, I might as well try it out. And looking back, I think I’m rather glad I did.

Marrenon SepiaRed wine in Chili con carne? Worth a shot!

Cooking with wine: Cooking with wine is a topic that probably warrants at least one post of its own. But for now, here are a few very vital pointers to choosing a good wine for cooking purposes: 1) Don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink. Pick something you like and have the rest of the bottle with the food. 2) Choose a wine with a nice fruity/spicy profile. The aromas and tastes will intensify during cooking, choose a harsh, tannic wine and you’ll suffer the consequences. 3) If at a total loss, check the label for any or more of the following grape varietals: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz and Mourvèdre – they are all great cooking varietals.

More alcohol: As with the meat above, I see absolutely no reason to confine ourselves to just one type of alcohol in one pot. Too much of a good thing is, after all, never a bad thing as the old saying goes (I think!). Aside from beer, I’ve been known to frequently hit my Chili Con Carne with a shot of tequila or Mezcal as a nod to the dish’s pseudo-Mexican heritage. For my venison version, I decided to borrow another trick from the pages of Heston Blumenthal and replace the Mexican favorite with an American favorite, Bourbon. The bold flavors of Bourbon along with the complexity brought on from years of barrel ageing, I figured, would play well with the bold flavors of the venison.

Chocolate: Adding chocolate to Chili is a matter of some controversy. Some find it an absolute necessity, others find it plain silly. I, in case you were wondering, am playing for Team Necessity. However, if you’re going to add chocolate to a Chili, don’t go with any old chocolate. Find a decent brand and pick really dark chocolate with a high cocoa content of 72 – 80%. We’re not by any means turning to chocolate for it’s sweetness, we’re using it for the dark, fragrant and decidedly bitter notes that quality cocoa bring to the party. The good stuff will cost you, but don’t worry, with quality chocolate a little goes a long way. A mere 25 grams or so will get you a long way in the wonderful world of Chili Con Carne.

And last but not least…

Beans: Ah, the greatest of controversies. If insults have been exchanged on the subject of chocolate in Chili, then major wars have been fought over the subject of beans. Whether it is traditional, or even allowed, to use beans in Chili is something that people have been fighting over for centuries and probably something that will be fought over for centuries to come.  In my mind, a Chili has beans. Simple as that. Controversial, maybe. Good, you bet! Want to add to the controversy? I actually use pre-cooked Chili beans because I like the sweetness, spice and depth they add to the dish. So sue me!

In conclusion, I guess venison Chili Con Carne is really nothing but a slow-cooked, rather elaborate Chili made with a combination of beef and venison for a distinct gamy touch, seasoned with a blend of chilies and warming, traditional venison-friendly spices, then doused in red wine and bourbon. Sounds pretty good to me! But how then, do we make it? Well, it was in addressing that question that things started to get really complex.

 

Chili: It ain’t no one pot meal

As mentioned, Chili in its simplest form is a one-pot campfire meal. Obviously, though, with three kinds of meat, two kinds of alcohol, a handful of chili peppers, a host of spices, a bunch of aromatics and more… We’re a little far from the humble and simple one-pot origin of the dish! Add to that the fact that a few major culinary heroes of mine include Heston Blumenthal and Alton Brown, both of whom are not really known for lack of ingredients, steps or geekiness in their recipes, and you can see where things start to get a little complicated when it comes to my perfecting dishes. But, hey, that’s all part of the fun for me.

If the procedure/recipe outlined below seem a little complicated, it’s probably because it is. It’s also a lot of fun, though, and a chance to play with many different cooking methods and ways of developing flavors. If you choose to play along, be warned that it took me about seven hours to complete this exercise. Which is a long time, but actually still less than my infamous Pulled Pork Chili Con Carne experiment. Also, you’ll need at least two pots and one pan to play along, preferably cast iron or heavy duty stainless steel: one pot large enough to hold the ox tails, one large enough to comfortably hold all ingredients and a pan used for searing.

Still think you’re up for it? Settle down, grab a beer and listen to my tale… Having done my planning and my shopping, here’s how the rest of my Saturday progressed in five simple but lengthy steps:

 

Step 1 – Ox tails: It all started with a braise…

I love ox tails in Chili, but by golly they take a long time to cook, so my very first order of business was to get them cooking. Ox tails lend very well to braising, that is cooking low and slow at even, gentle heat in a bit of liquid. So first things first, I got out a cast iron pan, slowly rendered the fat from a generous slab of quality bacon, then seared the living daylights out of the ox tails in said fat. When they were nicely browned, I added an initial batch of aromatics: onions, shallots, carrots, celery, half a small ghost chili and a whole garlic bulb along with bay leaves, a few juniper berries, two star anise pods, five long peppers and a tablespoon of tomato paste.

Braising ox tailsOx tail braise in the making!

Since ox tails pretty much need to cook forever, I didn’t particularly worry about dicing up the aromatics, I just cut them into large chunks and threw them in the pan along with the spices, the tomato paste and about half a bottle of good red wine to provide some braising liquid. I threw on a lid, brought it to a boil and stashed it in a 120C oven for five hours. Yes, five hours. The prolonged cooking time not only releases absolutely indescribable flavors it also renders the meat so tender you don’t even need a fork to pull it. It also gave me plenty of time to finish the other steps of the procedure.

 

Step 2 – Creating the Spice blend: Bring the heat!

While the ox tails were braising away, I had plenty of time to ponder another important aspect of Chili Con Carne: the chili blend. As mentioned earlier, I use both dried and fresh chilies for Chili Con Carne. The next order of business was to prep the dried ones and create a custom chili blend to season my dish:

Whenever possible, I buy whole, dried chilies. They keep next to forever and contrary to what you may think actually maintain their flavors and aroma really well. Grinding chilies, as is the case with most spices, cause volatile flavor components to evaporate over time, keeping them whole till needed helps preserve flavor and aroma. When in need, you simply grab however many chilies you need, toast them briefly, break them up and use. The toasting process is essential because it releases essential oils and flavor compounds in the chilies and really kickstarts the flavor development.

How-to – Toasting Chilies: To toast chilies, snip off their stems and shake out the seeds, then put them in a dry pan over medium-low heat, shaking every now and then, until hot and fragrant. Remove from the heat and break into smaller pieces using a spice grinder or a very sharp knife. You don’t really need to worry about getting them into a powder or even small, uniform pieces. They’ll rehydrate in the sauce and eventually incorporate completely. It’s a bit of extra work, granted, but the extra efforts are handsomly repaid in the flavor department.

As far as variety goes, I always keep at least two dried chilies around for my Chili Con Carne needs: Ancho, a large, mild chili with a distinct earthy tobacco aroma and wonderful fruity notes. And Chipotle, medium hot, very smoky chili with a nice warming heat profile and a wonderful taste (Chipotle is really just another name for ripe, smoked Jalapeño). Whenever chili is on the menu, I break out a couple of each, toast them, grind them up and mix with whatever pre-ground spices I may be using, in this case: oregano, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cayenne and red pepper flakes.

Chili spice blendYour finished chili spice blend might look a little something like this

In this manner, I quickly created my very own fragrant chili powder which I could, rather quickly, put to good use in the next step to season up my venison Chili.

 

Step 3 – Aromatics: Sweat, baby, sweat!

Of course, dried chilies are only part of the equation. I use fresh ones, too, as a part of my aromatic vegetable blend.  While I feel that dried chilies offer incredible depth, earthiness and mature, tobacco-like fruity flavors, fresh ones add unparalleled freshness, acidity and a more ripe aromatic profile to the party. As far as fresh peppers go, I always add a large red bell pepper for sweetness and two green jalapeños for fruitiness and light bite. More often than not, I also add a bit of fresh Habanero or other equally hot chili, for a bit of a kick.

When using fresh chilies, I usually remove both the seeds and the seed membranes best as I can. The seeds because they’re bitter and inedible, the membranes because that’s where most of the heat is – not in the actual seeds as some culinary liers will have you believe.

Careful with that knife: Removing the seed membranes is of course an incredibly tricky manoeuvre with thin fleshed, hot chilies such as Habaneros. But then again, if you’re using Habaneros, you probably don’t mind a bit of heat. So don’t even try.

To my fresh chilies, I added a second helping of fresh aromatics all diced rather finely: a large onion, a few carrots, a few stalks of celery. Dicing all these things up by hand will obviously take a bit of time, so get started in good time if you’re playing along. We need to cook them too, and I like cooking my aromatics for a long time. Upwards of an hour over low heat to be exact, before even adding anything else. And by low heat, I mean very low heat: there should be no angry hissing or frying sounds. Hissing means that water and water soluble aromatic components are evaporating and that you’re doing it wrong. We call this culinary process a sweat rather than a fry.

I started sweating my aromatics in a bit of oil in a pot large enough to contain them and all other ingredients, I used my largest heavy duty cast iron pan for this purpose, keeping the heat low and slow until the wonderful smell of aromatics started blending into the smells of the braising ox tails. This took about an hour after which I tipped my homemade chili powder into the vegetables, sweated for another few minutes and got ready to ponder the last meaty addition of the day.

 

Step 4 – Venison: Ah, finally, I thought you’d never come!

Venison Chili Con Carne would obviously not be a thing without the addition of venison. So why not start with the venison? Well, regular diced stewing cuts do not require quiiiiite as extended a cooking period as ox tails do. Especially not if you want to keep some textural integrity and bite for contrast. You will still have to cook it for a good three hours, though. So about two hours into the overall process, I busted out the third piece of cast iron, my trusty skillet, and set about browning my venison.

When braising or stewing meat, it’s important to first sacrifice some time getting a good sear on your meat. The time sacrificed is easily repaid in terms of extra flavor and complexity. And by sear, I don’t mean a light brown discoloration here, I mean a deep brown crust. Browning equals flavor. Quite simply. So I got my pan very hot, threw in some oil and seared my meat thoroughly in a couple of batches, then dumped it into my sweating pot of aromatics. As the last batch of meat had been seared, I dumped about a tablespoon of tomato paste into the pan, fried it for a minute and deglazed with a glass of red wine. I dumped the liquid in with the meat and the aromatics, added a thumb-long piece of cinnamon stick, threw on a lid on the pot and let it simmer away quietly for about three hours.

Just enough time to relax and get the kitchen somewhat back into shape before the final and most agonizing step:

 

Step 5 – Bring it all together, slowly and gently

The thing about cooking Chili, especially the complicated kinds that take half a day of cooking is that sooner or later, the smells of what’s going on start to become unbearably intoxicating. And by that point, you usually still have at least an hour of cooking time to go.

In the case of my venison Chili Con Carne things were no different. Some six hours into the process, the smells were really starting to fill the house: my braised ox tails were fragrant and fall apart tender, my pot of aromatics and venison was bubbling away happily and the smells were mingling oh so well in the air. It was time for the final, most important step of the process: the marriage of the ingredients and the sub sequent getting to know each other period. See, when cooking elaborate multi-pot meals that are eventually brought together in one pot, it’s important to allow at least an hour for the dish to come together and for the flavors to really blend together and fully develop. Two hours would probably be better, but by God, I’m only human!

Ox tail braiseBraised ox tails, five hours later…

In my case, the coming together of the ingredients involved first evacuating the now jet black, intensely flavorful and fragrant ox tail braise from the oven. The braising liquid, every damn drop of it, I carefully strained into the simmering venison stew. The braising vegetables and spices had given their all and was rather unceremoniously discarded. The ox tails themselves, however, were carefully transferred to a cutting board and allowed to cool for a few minutes, then shredded by hand and added to the stew along with Chili beans, a sprinkling of quality dark chocolate and a generous shot of Bourbon.

“BourbonSharing a shot of bourbon with my Chili Con Carne

With everybody in the pool, I gave things a final stir and let it simmer gently without a lid for about an additional hour all while I entertained myself sipping a beer and slowly going insane putting up with the wonderful smells. When I’d finished my beer and absolutely positively couldn’t take the torturous smells anymore, I turned the heat off under my pot, grabbed a plate and served my creation up to my biggest critic: myself! The big question waiting to be answered as I dug in was, of course, how was it? And was it worth it?

 

The results

Is spending seven hours on Chili Con Carne really worth it? Well, I suppose that boils down to how much you enjoy cooking. If slow food is your thing and seven hours in the kitchen sounds more like a challenge than cruel and unusual punishment, then by all means yes! Not only are the smells generated by the long cooking process nothing short of intoxicating, the flavor levels, complexity, succulence and overall meatiness of the resulting Chili is also several levels above the norm.

The painstakingly long cooking process renders the meat absolutely tender and succulent while at the same time coaxing every molecule of flavour out of every single ingredient. The result is a thick, shiny, almost black, wonderful mess of aromatic, pungent, beefy and gamy flavors backed by a complex layer of spices and a fiery burn – everything a proper Chili should be.

Since we’re playing with different cuts of meat from several critters, the differences in taste and texture between the cubed venison and the braised ox tails become an interesting and welcome sort of twist. The ox tails, at the end of the cooking process, will be melt in your mouth tender and blend entirely into the sauce for a tongue-coating beefy goodness, while the venison will be suspended in the sauce as tender but chewable explosions of gamy venison flavors. It’s an altogether interesting combination of flavor and texture that I look forward to playing further with in the future.

The venison obviously adds an extra dimension of rather pungent gaminess. On its own, without the beef, I think it may well have turned out a little too pungent and a little too gamy, so I’m actually quite happy I decided to add the ox tails. They seem to have mellowed the dish a bit, cutting through the gaminess while adding a certain depth and beefiness that made it all come together quite nicely.

In the end, seven hours is a hell of a long time to spend on a single cooking project. But in the case of this venison Chili Con Carne it was, after all, seven hours well spent. I don’t think I’ve ever made a better Chili Con Carne (and rumor has it I’ve actually had some successful attempts!), but with the seven hour time investment, it’s probably going to be a while before I have one quite as good again. That is, unless we’re talking left-overs. And in the curious case of Chili Con Carne, you should be talking leftovers. In the case of Chili Con Carne, left-overs are a pretty magical thing…

Spicy venison Chili con CarneVenison Chili Con Carne… Done

 

Show me the recipe!

If, for some obscene reason, you want to copy my attempts, I’ve included below a list of ingredients as well as detailed step by step instructions. It may be a bit of a long read, but I have tried to conveniently group the ingredients and the steps for you. The steps can be completed one by one in no particular hurry (hey, we’ve got seven hours to kill!), so while the recipe may seem  long and complicated, if you get your prep done, split the steps up and attack them in a divide and conquer like manner, it should be doable.

Spicy Venison Chili Con Carne
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 6
Ingredients
Meaty bits:
  • 150 grams of quality bacon from the butcher, diced
  • 750 grams of ox tails
  • 500 grams of cubed venison stew meat
Aromatic vegetables for braise:
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 onions, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into large chunks
  • 1 bulb of garlic, root sliced off
  • ½ Habanero chili, seeds removed (optional)
Aromatic vegetables for Chili con Carne:
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 large, red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Green Jalapeños, seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
Chili spice blend:
  • 4 dried Ancho chilies
  • 2 dried Chipotle chilies
  • 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoons of oregano
  • 1 teaspoons of corriander
Dried spices:
  • 1 one-inch stick of cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 juniper berries, lightly smashed
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 5 long peppers (see note)
Other necessities:
  • 140 grams of concentrated tomato paste
  • 500 grams of Chili Beans (see note)
  • 400 ml of red wine
  • 25 grams of quality dark chocolate, 80% cocoa content
  • 100 ml of Bourbon (I used Bulleit Kentucky Straight Whiskey)
  • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
Ox tail braise:
  1. Preheat your oven to 120C
  2. Season ox tails generously with salt and pepper
  3. Pour a tablespoon of oil and the bacon into a cast iron pot set over medium heat
  4. Cook bacon for a few minutes until fat renders out and bacon bits turn golden brown
  5. Evacuate the bacon bits and turn heat to high and let pot come up to temperature
  6. When pan is hot, brown the ox tails a couple of minutes on all sides
  7. Add bacon back to the pan along with the roughly chopped carrots, onions, celery, the entire bulb of garlic and Habanero (if using)
  8. Also add half of the tomato paste, bay leaves, juniper berries, star anise and long peppers
  9. Pour over about 300 ml of the red wine and put the lid firmly on the pod
  10. Put pan in the oven and leave ox tails to braise for at least five hours
Spice blend:
  1. Snip the stems off the dried Anchos and Chipotles, then shake out any seeds
  2. Put a dry, empty skillet over low heat and place the chilies in the pan
  3. Toast chilies for a few minutes until warm and fragrant, be careful they don’t burn
  4. Using a knife or a spice grinder, chop the chilies roughly into smaller pieces
  5. Put toasted chilies in a bowl, then mix in the red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, ground cumin, oregano and coriander
  6. This is your Chili spice blend
Aromatics:
  1. Grab a cast iron or stainless steel pan large enough to hold all ingredients for the finished chili
  2. Set said pan over low heat, add a tablespoon or so of oil
  3. Add in all your finely diced aromatics: onions, carrots, celery, red bell pepper and the Jalapeños
  4. Cook aromatics low and slow for about an hour until tender and fragrant, there should be no hissing or frying sounds
  5. Tip in all of the spice mix from the step above and stir to distribute evenly, continue to cook at low heat
Venison
  1. Season venison generously with salt and pepper
  2. Grab a cast iron or stainless steel skillet and put it over high heat
  3. Once hot, add a generous amount of oil and brown your venison meat thoroughly in 2-3 batches
  4. Once meat is seared, dump it into the pot containing the aromatics and spices
  5. When all the meat is seared, put the rest of the tomato paste in the skillet and fry for about a minute
  6. Turn off the heat under the skillet and pour in the remaining red wine to deglaze the pan
  7. Scrape thoroughly along the bottom of the pan with a spoon or spatula to get any brown goodness unstuck, then pour wine and tomato mixture in with the aromatics and meat
  8. Put a lid on the large pot and turn heat up to medium-low, cook low and slow for about three hours
Intermission
  1. You may now take a break until the ox tails have braised for at least five hours
  2. Watch a movie, drink a beer, clean the kitchen, take a nap, read a book. Whatever your heart desires
Putting it all together
  1. After the five hours of braising time is up evacuate your pot of ox tails from the oven.
  2. Put a large strainer or colander over a fitting bowl and strain the braising liquid into the bowl
  3. Carefully pick out the ox tails and set aside on a cutting board and allow to cool slightly
  4. Squeeze whatever liquid you can from the vegetables into the bowl, then discard the vegetables
  5. Remove lid from your simmering pot of venison and aromatics and pour the braising liquid into the pot
  6. Leave the pot to simmer gently with the lid off
  7. When the ox tails are cool enough to handle, shred the meat using a fork or your fingers and discard the bones
  8. Add the shredded meat to the large simmering pot along with the chocolate, cinnamon stick, the chili beans (liquid and all), Bourbon and Worcestershire sauce
  9. Stir carefully and allow the now fully assembled Chili Con Carne to simmer for at least an hour
  10. When time is up, remove the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and star anise, then taste for seasoning. It shouldn’t need any, but you can add salt, pepper and/or more heat or spice to your liking
  11. Once happy, serve immediately over rice with a dollop of sour cream
Notes
Long peppers are curious, long, fragrant whole peppers. They're sort of like black pepper but with a cinnamon-like note to them. They're readily available online or at specialty spice stores.
Chili beans are pre-cooked beans (usually kidney beans) packed in a sweet/spicy tomato sauce with chilies and other spices. They add sweetness, warmth and tomato goodness to the finished product.

 

Better the next day? You bet!

So, want to know the worst thing about all of this? About putting seven hours of hard work, sweat and self-torture into creating that ultimate feast of a Chili Con Carne? Waiting a full day for the fulfilment of your food fantasies? Well, you know that old saying about stews: it’s really better the next day? Unlike some strange culinary myths, (“searing seals in juices” and “washing mushrooms make them waterlogged” pop to mind) this one is absolutely true!

While you will be rewarded with a very good Chili Con Carne on day one, it’s first on day two it really shines!

In the case of leftover Chili, I find that the heat from the chilies mellow out over a night in the fridge, turning from a fiery burn into a more gentle heat on the back of the throat. The same is true, by the way, for the other spices – they turn into an even more thoroughly complex warming backdrop that help boost and elevate the thick, rich general meatiness of the dish. Speaking of thick and rich, the texture improves, too, as the gelatine that’s derived from the braising of the ox tails blend into the sauce and firms up over night. Consequently, when reheated the next day, the sauce will be ever so slightly thicker and ever so slightly more lip-smackingly good.

So, unlike many other culinary myths, there’s truth to this old wive’s tale. Better the next day? You bet! I will, however, leave it up for you to decide whether you want to eat this on the day or spent a full two days cooking the Ultimate Venison Chili Con Carne.

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