Last weekend my daughter, Jessica, asked me if I had any ideas for a new version of chile. A group of friends were going to hold a chile cook-off and she wanted to bring something to the party that was a little out of the box, but still satisfying in that chile, spicy sort of way. We figured, who doesn’t love short ribs? So after tossing some ideas around, we built a chile recipe using luscious short ribs instead of ground meat. After a good slow cook, the bones give up lots of gelatin for a rich and velvety sauce and the meat is melt in your mouth tender and moist. For the chile quotient, we decided to boost the flavor of store bought chile powder with freshly ground ancho and chipotle peppers, cumin, coriander, paprika, clove and cinnamon. The out of the box part of the recipe is canning the beans (no pun intended) and serving this cold weather staple with creamy polenta. Polenta is an intuitive partner since south of border dishes prominently feature corn. The end result is a smokey, rich and spicy stew with origins to the chile we all grew up with, but with oh, so much more sophistication. If the chile as usual compares to a comfy pair of old jeans, an icy cold beer and a football game, this new version is a cozy cashmere robe, a glass of pinot noir and Philadelphia Story…a still comfy classic which definitely has its place.
Kitchen Counter Point: It is a good idea to begin making this chile a day or more ahead. It takes a good 3 hours to cook the short ribs to the falling off the bone stage and an overnight in the frig allows the flavors to mellow and balance. I love to serve dishes like this for company or even a busy weekend family dinner because I can focus on the many other facets of hosting or visiting with friends and family instead of slaving to pull dinner together. If, like my daughter, you’re transporting this dish to someone else’s house for a party and don’t want to stand over the stove for 15 minutes, turn the polenta into polenta cakes. Just cook the polenta a little longer than the recipe directs and pour it into a buttered 8-inch square pan. Let it cool and firm up then chill. Cut it into 6 squares and brown the polenta cakes in a few tablespoons of butter. Transfer the cakes to a sheet pan and keep at room temperature for a few hours or refrigerate overnight and just reheat in a 350ºF oven when you get to the party. Their crispy outsides and creamy interiors will be sure to sway even the most ardent traditional chile fan.
4 dried ancho chiles, about 2 ounces, seeded, ribbed and torn into pieces (see tip)
1 cup boiling water
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo (see tip)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 15-oz can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes (see tip)
4 slices bacon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lbs beef short ribs
2 medium onions or 1 large
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
12 oz pale ale or beer
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
Creamy polenta (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl, soak the ancho chiles in the cup of boiling water for 20 minutes or until softened. Weight the chiles down with a small saucer if the water doesn’t cover.
In a blender jar, add the ancho chiles and liquid, chipotle, tomato paste, honey and balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add the can of diced tomatoes and reserve.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until it has rendered its fat and is crispy. Remove the bacon and transfer to a plate.
Pat the short ribs dry and salt and pepper them. Saute half of them in the bacon fat over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, about 9 minutes. Transfer to a plate and brown the second batch and transfering them to the plate as well . Turn the heat down if the bottom of the pan begins to over brown or turn black.
Pour off all but a few tablespoons of the remaining fat and sauté the onion, red pepper and garlic until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, coriander, paprika, pepper, clove and cinnamon and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the chile-tomato mixture and cook for 2 minutes or until it simmers. Add the beer and short ribs and bring back to a simmer again. Cover, reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 3 hours or until the ribs are tender and falling off the bone.
When the ribs are done cooking, remove the meat from the braising liquid, cool and tear it into shreds. Discard the bones.
Degrease the sauce in the pan with a large spoon and discard it (there will be lots of grease floating on top). Bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook it for about 5 minutes or until it reduces somewhat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, pepper, balsamic, chipotle or honey. Return the meat to the pan and reheat. Serve the chile over creamy polenta and garnish with the cilantro and reserved bacon, crumbled.
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in the cornmeal in a steady stream and continue to whisk for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir with a wooden spoon every now and then until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and pepper and adjust the seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Tip: Ancho chiles are dried poblano chiles. They are brownish-black and wrinkled (see photo) and should be pliable and leathery. They’re mild to medium-hot and provide a sweet chile flavor to adobo sauce, enchilada sauce and commercial chile powders. The chipotle is a smoked jalapeno which has a medium heat. They can be found dried or canned and packed in adobo which is a spicy, vinegary tomato based sauce in the Mexican section (freeze the remaining peppers to use at another time). Ro-Tel is a diced tomato product with green chiles which you might find in the Mexican section as well. If you can’t locate it, just substitute a similar sized can of Mexican-style diced tomatoes.