Having cooked more variations on a chilli con carne in my time than I’d care to count, I was intrigued by Felicity Cloake’s Perfect recipe. Whether veggie, steak, turkey or classic mince, I’ve gladly attempted to eat my way through this bastardized dish. I’ll freely admit that I have never really looked into the history or authenticity of the dish, safely assuming its probably some tex-mex western slop with no resemblance of anything ‘authentic’.
In her column (from 2011), Felicity attempts many of the different version I myself have made. In search of her Perfect Chilli con carne, she also discovers that the jacket potato topping we readily chow on in the UK is not really a traditional chilli. The kidney beans that distinguish a chilli from that other revered minced beef recipe (the spag bol) are not found in older recipes. More surprisingly perhaps, neither are tomatoes. The chilli was a cruder beast in its origin story, an austere mix of beef, spices and little else. In her final perfected perfect Chilli con carne, Felicity adds liquid in the form of black coffee and a tablespoon of dark muscavado. I was intrigued by this perfect Chilli recipe, although aware it may not satiate my chilli craving. I don’t object to the sweet tomato flavours as much as Felicity seems to, or the leftfield addition of chorizo for that matter.
It’s certainly not an express recipe, the mince alone needs to brown and the onions to soften before the whole thing is simmered in the coffee for 2 hours. At this point the spices are added and its cooked for another 40 minutes. Admittedly, most of the time is inactive, but with so little liquid I worried about it drying out.
Once cooked, the perfect chilli con carne smelled delicious. Felicity recommended waiting till the following day to eat. This is true of most chilli recipes. I had a portion of chilli the night before and leftovers the following day. True to her word, there was a marked improvement overnight. The chilli was beefier than any I’ve eaten before, with the coffee bringing out the Bovril flavours of the minced meat. The spicing was also well layered with its use of two different dried chillis (ancho and chipotle – which are impressively now stocked in the little Sainsburys opposite my office!) and a fresh green chilli pierced and added while cooking.
Would I make Felicity Cloake’s Perfect chilli con carne again? The jury remains out. I think I enjoyed the novelty and experimentation of the unusual recipe rather than the finished product.
I’ll stick with my sacrilegious tomatoey chilli con carne thanks Felicity, because it is perfect to me.