Monday, 25 January 2010

Cosmic Chilli

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, my Cosmic Chilli has caused quite a stir since it was first unleashed on the world, or my friends at least, in September 2008. Despite what you might expect from the name, I didn't substitute the oregano for another potent green herb... It does, in fact, get its moniker from the fact that it was first made - and immortalised - at the Cosmic Loft, which is of course now sadly defunct.

The basis of my recipe is taken from the River Cottage Meat book, where the pre-amble tells the reader of the chilli's origins as a kitchen sink-style stew, where left overs and off-cuts are chucked into the pot, flavoured with chilli and paprika, and bulked out with pulses and legumes, in order to feed whole gangs of hungry farmers. As with many other dishes that began to appear with increasing regularity at home and on restaurant menus over the passed 30 years or so, 

chilli con carne is in fact an anglicised – or more likely americanized - bastardisation of a number of Central American dishes, softened and refined for the western pallet. Still, that doesn't mean it's not a great all rounder, both to prepare, and more importantly, to eat!

The inclusion of chorizo in the dish is the master stroke of genius. As well as giving texture, it also adds immeasurable depth of flavour, both from the smoky paprika, juicy pig fat, and caramelisation of the meat as it sizzles in the bottom of the empty pan. The other 'secret' ingredient is maple syrup. Not only does the sweetness allow you to be more liberal with the chilli, cumin, and paprika, there's also a subtle hint of nuttiness, which seems to bring all the rich, meaty flavours together.

Finally, the thing about this chilli is the longer it has to sit, the better. If you can, make it the day before you need it, then leave it covered over night. Just re-heat gently for half an hour before it's time to serve. This leaves you plenty of time on the day to get the accompaniments together: sour cream, maybe with some lemon juice and cucumber stirred through it; some fresh, zingy salsa; a robust salad of finely sliced red cabbage and beetroot, grated carrot, chopped spring onion, lime juice, and plenty of mint and coriander. Finally, a huge bowl of guacamole, which is, of course, completely mandatory...

Serves at least 15

The general rule here is that you should work to something in region of 80-100g of meat per person. You can ramp up all the other vegetables, beans and pulses as you like, in order to make the dish go further.

Olive oil

300g chorizo, sliced into small chunks

450g pork, diced into irregular pieces, somewhere between half a one centimetre in size

750g minced beef

6-8 medium onions, finely chopped

2-3 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2-3 large celery sticks, finely chopped

6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

4-8 chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped

a heaped tsp dried oregano

a tsp chilli powder (you can always add more later)

a tsp ground cumin

a tsp smoked paprika

a couple of bay leaves

6-8 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced

6-8 red peppers, de-seeded and sliced (optional)

6-8 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped (optional)

a few potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (optional)

3 400g tins of chopped tomato

a tbsp concentrated tomato puree

a tbsp maple syrup (or dark brown sugar, such as muscovado)

a litre good quality beef stock

3-4 400g tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1-2 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Salt and pepper

A bunch of coriander, roughly chopped, to serve

In your largest pot, gently heat a dash of olive oil over a medium high heat, then add the chorizo and pork. Fry for a few minutes, turning occasionally so the meat browns, and the cut sides of the chorizo are beginning to caramelise. Remove and put to one side. Add the beef to the pan, and fry in the remaining oil until browned. Remove and set aside. Try to retain some of the meaty oil and juice in the pan. Add a dash more olive oil if you need to. Turn the heat down slightly.

Add the onions and fry for five minutes or so until translucent. Add the carrots and celery and fry for another few minutes, before adding the chilli, garlic, oregano, chilli powder, cumin, paprika, bay leaves and sun-dried tomatoes (as well as the peppers, potatoes, and fresh tomato if you're using them). Stir and cook out for another few minutes, making sure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan. Add the meats and their juices. Stir well – everything should be coated in the herby, spicy juices. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tinned tomato, tomato puree, maple syrup, and hot beef stock. Stir thoroughly, and check the seasoning and spice. Cover and leave to simmer for at least one hour at the absolute minimum, ideally more like three or four. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If you're cooking it for a really long time, add a glass of water if it ever begins to look too dry. If you're cooking it for a shorter time, you may want to boil it a bit harder for a while to help the sauce reduce.

If you can, turn off the heat and leave covered over night. This will allow all the ingredients to muddle together and create that wonderful rounded flavour.

Nearly there... If you haven't done so already, it's definitely time to get on the margaritas. Add the kidney beans and chickpeas (if using) and bring back to the simmer. Cook gently for another 30 minutes. Check the seasoning once again, stir in the chopped coriander and serve immediately.  


  1. This is a bit different to the one you sent me! Will give this one a crack too baz. Gonna miss the food banter!

  2. Probably because I lost the recipe and then left the one you sent me at home... The Cosmic Chilli knows no boundaries!