Friday, October 7, 2011

Chili and Beer Nights

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel -

I’m a big fan of stews, soups and chili because no two batches ever turn out the same! I was recently out to dinner with a friend, and he had just started his life-long journey into the art of chili making, which he described to me in as much detail as the recipe he received. He started his adventure by asking his mother for a recipe. As we all know, mothers’ recipes are often not as precise as what we’d like to see in cookbooks. The conversation went something like this:

“What ingredients do you use?”
“Well, whatever I have on hand... but I try to include some meat, and some beans, and I guess some veggies”
“What kinds of spices do you use?”
“Whatever I feel like... chili powder, maybe some sugar, definitely cumin”
“Cumin - how much?”
“Maybe 2 or 4”
“Well is it 2 or 4? And 2 or 4 what?”
“I don’t know”
“Ok... well how long do you cook your chili for?”
“A while”

While I respect my friend for trying to recreate his mother’s recipe, I’m surprised by how many folks are afraid to work without a recipe. For me, the obvious allure of chili is the improvisation. Every batch I make is different, with a few of these important “truths”:

1.) I always include some sort of ground meat. Not growing up with pork, I generally use beef or turkey. If you use beef, don’t get anything that is too lean; you need the fat for flavor (there are exceptions of course!). Also consider lamb, bison or even venison.
2.) Although canned beans are easier, I try to use dried. A little planning is involved, but you just soak overnight and you’re good to go. Try two different types of beans instead of just kidney beans, for example!
3.) Spices should always include chili powder, garlic and cumin. Experiment with some cinnamon, maybe some sugar, and chipotle seasoning. Also try fresh chillies, dried chillies, and even canned peppers in Adobo sauce.
4.) Veggies can include onions, green peppers, tomatoes, maybe some corn (Trader Joe’s sells frozen sweet corn that is flavorful if you can’t get fresh ears.)
5.) Bacon. I don’t use it in every batch, but everything tastes better with bacon! Get some flavorful thick-cut bacon, cut it into smaller pieces, cook the bacon, render the fat and then use it. If you need ideas on what to use the bacon fat for, then maybe improvisation chili isn’t for you! (Just a hint, if you’re using bacon, maybe try lean beef... no need to have more grease in your dinner!)
6.) Try cooking in a slow cooker... and on the stove top... and even in the oven, if you have a casserole dish

And that’s where I’ll leave it! Chili is really such a versatile meal: It can be vegetarian, made in advance in the slow cooker for busy days, and is perfect for cooler evenings (and especially fall football). AND it can be relatively healthy, too (I am preparing for my second marathon, and it’s a staple in our house!)

Batch o’ the Moment Chili
¼ pound kidney beans
¼ pound black beans
¼ pound bacon (I like Applewood smoked) cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper or 2 jalapenos if you like
2 or 3 cloves garlic
Hard cider or non-fermented cider (I use my own!)
Chili powder, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Cumin, start with 1 tablespoon and go from there
Hot sauce to taste

Soak beans in water for 6-8 hours. Drain the beans and rinse with cool water, drain again, and set aside until ready to use. Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until browned and the fat is rendered; remove bacon from pot and set aside.

Brown the beef in the bacon fat; remove with a slotted spoon when nicely cooked and set aside. In the remaining fat in the pan, saute your veggies, starting with the onion and then adding the pepper and finally the garlic. Season along the way. Deglaze the pan with some cider — this will enhance the flavor from the Applewood smoked bacon — and then add the meats and beans. Cover and cook slowly for at least an hour or until the beans are tender. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and any other of the traditional accompaniments!

Hopburst IIPA
We’ve talked about this before... IPAs (and IIPAs, aka “Double IPAs” or “Imperial IPAs”) are a versatile style. I can go into my ingredient supply, grab some grain, grab some hops, and make an IPA almost any time. Building an IPA is much like building chili... a little of this, a little of that. In my mind, a pale ale is a baby version of the IPA while the IIPA is the grand-daddy version: more malt, more hops, and of course more alcohol. By sticking within a few vague guidelines, we can create a great beer experience depending on our moods, the seasons, and of course the ingredients on hand!

I currently have two versions of the following recipe on tap. I brewed this beer for a beer tasting we do at work as a fundraiser, and it was a great success. I employed a technique known as “hopbursting” where the majority of the hops are added later in the boil (rather than spaced throughout), resulting in smooth bitterness and tons of hoppy aroma and flavor! While the recipe is based on a kit by Northern Brewer (a huge brewing supply company out of St. Paul Minnesota), I have certainly put my own twists on these beers... And it’s my belief that IPAs and IIPAs do NOT get better with age, so drink these fresh (at least within the next 6 months!)

16 ½ lbs 2-Row Base Malt
2 lbs Corn Sugar (you can use Cane Sugar as well)
1 lb Crystal 60
2 oz Cluster Hops at 60 minutes
2 oz Cluster Hops at 30 minutes
12 oz total of Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe & Warrior Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 1
12 oz total of Crystal, Cascade, East Kent Goldings & Summit Hops blended in a bowl resulting in 3 oz added at 15, 10, & 5 minutes, and then flameout - version 2
House American Yeast

Mash at 155* and sparge as usual (I go with a relatively high mash temperature because of all the simple sugar added...There needs to be some long-chain dextrins in order to provide some body, which will counteract the dryness the sugar will impart). Plan to run out an extra ½ gallon of wort to compensate for what the hops will soak up. Boil and add your hops according to the schedule listed above. You can either add the sugar towards the end of the boil, or leave it out of the boil altogether; if you leave the sugar out of the boil, you should plan to add it when about ⅔ of the fermentation has completed (begin fermentation, when the airlock begins to slow, boil about ½ gallon of water with ½ cup of DME and the 2 lbs of sugar and pour it into your fermentation. The idea is that the yeast consume the maltose before turning to the easier-to-process glucose, resulting in complete fermentation and a drier beer. I used this technique in my first batch).

I ferment this beer with my house American yeast, which is the Pacman strain. Pacman is known for being highly attenuative (completes fermentation) and I easily ferment with it at 60-62*. You can use almost any American strain, such as California Ale from White Labs or American Ale from WYeast. I suggest nothing lower than 65* or you might get too dry a beer. Because hot alcohols are created during the first phase of fermentation (as the yeast are replicating), I make sure my beer is at fermentation temperature BEFORE pitching my yeast (I get the beer into the carboy, and then into the fridge which has already been set to 62*... from there it only takes a few hours to get to the right temperature. If your wort chiller is good enough to chill all the way to pitching temp, feel free to pitch right away of course!). Once you feel fermentation is about ⅔ finished, even after adding your corn sugar, raise the temp to 65-68* to ensure complete fermentation. Carbonate as you would any American beer, roughly 2 ½ volumes of CO2.

As many of you remember, I made my Life Told in Recipes debut with my beer dinner last December. I will not be ready to host another dinner until March, but I’m beginning my planning now! The beers are pretty much set, but I’m open to suggestions for my food pairings... any ideas? I have decided to follow a course of the Abbey Ales: Single (also called Belgian Blond Ale... this would have been the Monks’ table beer, like Leffe Blond), Dubbel (similar to Chimay Red or Westmalle Dubbel), Tripel (Chimay White or La fin du Monde), and Quad (also called Belgian Strong Dark, Rochefort 10 Blue or Chimay Blue). I would also include as a bonus beer the Quad fermented on sour cherries, which is a traditional Belgian fruit. My Belgian yeast strain is rather spicy/peppery, so that needs to be taken into consideration when pairing with food... so thoughts? Any help us greatly appreciated!


- Mike TGBG


  1. Question...What would happen if you soaked the beans in beer overnight?

  2. jorge-

    i can't speak for mike, but as a bean-soaker myself, i think you just might be onto something. you might not even have to soak the beans as long. the effervescence of beer might help the beans open up and absorb the liquid :)

  3. This sounds AMAZING!!!!! might I suggest NOT using an IPA or IIPA, as it will get even more bitter as you cook the beans later on! Maybe a nice brown ale (Big Sky's Moose Drool is a favorite!) or even a nice English mild or ESB