Chilli con carne

Chilli con carne

Using solid beef shin rather than minced beef gives this chilli a better texture, while the different varieties of whole dried chillies give it great depth of flavour. It isn’t particularly spicy, depending on which chillies you use, but it’s incredibly flavourful. You don’t need rice to serve it with, either; just some chips and toppings to taste.

Real kidney beans are a nice addition, but falling to prepare them properly risks the beans causing intestinal discomfort. Be sure to follow that part of the instructions carefully. If you use tinned beans you don’t have this problem.

All told, this recipe takes several days. I like to start soaking the kidney beans on a Friday night, make the chilli paste on Saturday, cook the dish on Sunday and serve it to a big group on Monday.

Serves: 2 to 4
Takes: 2 to 3 days

You will need

  • Rubber gloves
  • A couple of small jugs
  • Cling film
  • A food processor
  • A sieve and bowl
  • A wide frying pan
  • A big casserole pan with a lid
  • Hand soap
  • The absolute resolve not to touch your face or anything else


For the chilli paste

  • A selection of real dried chillies. For example:
    • 3 ancho
    • 4 chipotle
    • 2 pasilla
    • 4 arbol
    • 3 guajillo
  • Optional fresh chillies:
    • 2 jalapeno
    • ½ habanero?
  • Other spices:
    • 2tbsp smoked paprika
    • 1tbsp ground cumin
    • 1tbsp ground oregano
    • 1tsp cinnamon
    • 1tsp allspice
    • 1tsp coriander
    • 1tsp fennel
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder OR a few squares of dark chocolate
  • A few tortilla chips
  • Dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or kidney bean water – see below)

For the chilli itself

  • Butter
  • 2 onions
  • Celery
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Beef: a big lump of shin, at least 2kg
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Real dark beer
  • 6 fresh tomatoes
  • 1tbsp corn flour
  • Juice of 2 limes

To serve

  • Strong cheese
  • Soured cream
  • Tortilla chips


  • A cup of dry kidney beans


Optional: Kidney beans

Soak dry kidney beans in plenty of water for at least 12 hours. Be aware that they’ll expand with the water. Separate the beans with a sieve over a bowl, then rinse again.

Boil them in fresh water for 15 minutes. Again, separate the beans and put them aside.

Prepare the spice paste

Shut the door, open the window, put the extractor fan on, and wear gloves.

Remove the stems, seeds and pith from the dried chillies, and tear them into pieces, roughly 1cm square. Toast them in a dry pan over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant but not smoking. Lower the heat, carefully cover the chillies with stock (or the kidney bean water from above), cover with a lid and let it steep for 10 minutes.

Place a sieve over a bowl, and use it to separate the chillies from the liquid. Get as much liquid out of them as possible. Put the chillies in a blender with a few tortilla chips and blend thoroughly to a fine powder. Add cocoa powder, cornflour, cumin, paprika, organo, dried porcini mushrooms; and blend to combine.

Add the liquid back in stages and blend to a thick paste. Transfer it to a jug, seal with clingfilm and store it in the fridge. It should sit for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight.

Throw away the rubber gloves, then wash your hands thoroughly.

Tip: splash a little cooking oil on your hands, rub it around thoroughly on your hands, then wash it off. It removes lingering heat more effectively than any soap.

Cook the chilli

Chop the meat into bite-sized cubes, removing any excess fat or other bits. Lay them out in a single layer on a paper towel, sprinkle with plenty of salt and a little baking soda, let it sit for 20 minutes, then use a paper towel to pat dry.

Chop the tomatoes, onions, celery and garlic.

Melt a generous lump of butter in a big pan over a medium-high heat. Brown about half the meat in small batches, letting the fond accrue in the pan. Transfer the meat out.

Fry the onions in the same pan with the fond to sweat until soft and golden, then add plenty of garlic. Add the tomatoes and let them reduce.

Deglaze the pan gradually with chicken stock and/or beer, adding the liquid in small batches so it doesn’t get too wet.

Add the meat, the chilli paste and the kidney beans, and mix it all up. Cover the pan with an ajar lid. If you can leave it overnight before baking, do so.

Bake in the oven at 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2) for 4 hours or more. Mix the cornflour with the lime juice, and stir in. Let the dish cook for another five minutes, then serve with a selection of toppings.