We’ve all heard of chilli con carne, but carne con chilli is a completely different creature. More in keeping with the true Mexican dish, this is a rich, slow-cooked wonder that will never let you look at the meek mince and beans you’re used to the same way again.
Chilli con carne was a staple in our house. beef mince in a spicy tomato sauce with a tin of kidney beans served with white rice – it did its job.
We’d even go to the effort of mixing up some chopped tomato into a salsa, mashing up an avocado, sour cream and coriander into guacamole to make it what we thought was more authentic.
And it is.
Chilli con carne is authentically Tex Mex. But you’re less likely to find this south of the border. Instead, you have carne con chilli.
Large chunks of slow-cooked beef brisket in a deep dark rich sauce, full of spice and smokiness. Two types of chilli peppers and a special sauce known as adobo, as well as at least two hours stewing, make this an unctuous, hearty dish.
It’s a dish you’ll not quickly forget.
How to make carne con chilli
We first heard of carne con chilli with our friends Clare and Dave – our mates we visit as often as possible in the UK.
When we’re not travelling with them, the four of us will often chill out in front of an old episode of Rick Stein’s travel cooking shows, dreaming about new places and food yet to be discovered.
After an episode from Rick Stein’s Road to Mexico, we all decided to try the carne con chilli he’d made.
Just so yo know, it’s not a quick or simple recipe and has quite a few specialist ingredients.
Prep time: 30-40 mins. Cook time: 3 hours. Serves 4-6.
Here’s what you need
– 1kg beef – cut into 3cm cubes. I used brisket, which was superb.
– 40g guajillo chillies – these can be hard to find
– 2tbsp chipotles en adobo – the La Costena brand is a good bet
– 450ml boiling water
– 4 large ripe tomatoes
– 4+ garlic cloves – leave the skin on
– 1 large onion – chopped into large pieces
– 1tsp cumin seeds – toasted and finely ground
– 1tsp dried oregano
-1tsp ground allspice
– 2 bay leaves
– Sunflower oil for cooking
– 2tsp salt
Here’s what you do
1. Toast the guajillo chillies (no oil) in a heavy-bottomed pan until aromatic and slightly smoking but not charred, then put them into a bowl and soak them in the 450ml of boiling water until step 5 (or at least 20 minutes).
2. In the same pan, roast the tomatoes and garlic until they’re charred. Remove the skin from the garlic and quarter the tomatoes.
3. In the same pan, add about 1tbsp of oil and brown the beef in batches, setting it all to one side when you’re done. You might need to add more oil as you go.
4. Add 1tbsp oil to the pan and soften the onion over a medium/high heat. Add the bay leaves, oregano, cumin and allspice, and cook for another few minutes.
5. Remove the guajillo chillies from the water, take their stalks off and rinse some of the seeds out if you can. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the seeds out. These chillies are for flavour more than heat. Cut the chillies into smaller pieces.
6. Place the onions and spices, the tomatoes, garlic, salt, the chipotles en adobo and the guajillo chillies into a blender. Strain about 125ml of the soak water from the guajillos in too. Blend until you have a smooth, thick sauce.
**Important: don’t taste this sauce yet. It will put you off, make you think you’ve wasted your time and induce much anger. It tastes like sour over-brewed tea. The tomatoes have to cook more and the beef will infuse beautifully. Give it time.
7. Place the beef and sauce, plus the rest of the strained chilli soak-water into an oven-proof casserole pot and cook at about 160dC for 2 hours. Check after the first hour and add more water if needed. Don’t let the carne con chilli go dry or it’ll burn and turn bitter.
I ended up cooking this for about 3 hours to get the beef really fall-apart tender.
I also added about two teaspoons of chocolate bitters to the pot.
In part, it was a nod to Mexican mole sauce, but also because I just love using this stuff whenever I can.
Chocolate bitters brings out an umami in the dish that’s hard to describe.
You don’t get the sweetness of the chocolate, or the herbaceous tang of the bitters; just an elevated level of flavour that really enhances the dish. I can see what the excitement over mole sauce is about now.
Serve this with an assortment of rice, black beans, corn salsa and guacamole. You can also have warm tortillas with this if you want.
I’ve gleaned quite a few tips from Rick Stein’s cooking shows – including this one for gastrique that’s changed my world when I’m making a tomato sauce.
Dave has also made me see cooking in a completely different light – not least with the way he roasts potatoes.
This is a sumptuous, relaxing dish perfect for a dinner party as you can make it ahead of time and have everything ready for whenever everyone’s ready to eat.
It also gets better with time. The following day, the flavours of this dish are off the charts.
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