Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chinese Chili

Such is the winter of my discontent. As of today, Twin Cities residents have endured 40 days of sub-zero temperatures this winter. That's not 40 days below freezing...that's 40 days below zero. Forty f*cking days. In a typical winter we might see 8 days of sub-zero temperatures. But we are at 40 on February 8th and there is no end in sight.

It's depressing. There's nothing to look forward to. It's like Groundhog's Day. Every morning you wake up to a room full of personal-injury lawyers who are about to perform a colonoscopy on you...without the benefit of anesthesia. There is no upside. Just unrelenting pain. And cold.

There is only one way to deal with 50-below wind chills and a landscape encrusted in snow and ice. Hunker in the bunker. We have our food supplies...carefully resting in the deep holes we dug into the earth last fall. We need only go outside to use the outhouse. Oh, to be a Minnesotan.

Nothing warms the cockles of one's heart like a rib-sticking bowl of hearty chili. But it gets old. One can only take so much chili: Texas Chili, New Mexico Chili, Pecos River Red Chili, Lone Star Chili. About the 20th day of sub-zero temperatures, the palate begins to crave variety. No more Tex Mex Chili, please. And so the New York Times answered the call by publishing this exquisite recipe for Chinese Chili.

It has all of the comfort of chili, but the flavors are astounding and remarkably complex. Soy sauce....hoisin sauce...Sichuan peppercorns...garlic and ginger... and please do not let me forget to tell you that it also has beer. Well, amber ale, to be correct. Forget the personal-injury lawyers and the colonoscopy....this dish will take away all of the cold with your very first spoonful. This recipe serves six.

2 pounds lean brisket
1/4 cup soy sauce, more to taste
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded and slivered
1 habanero or other hot fresh chile, seeded and slivered
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
12 ounces beer, preferably amber ale
1 14-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese hot chile oil (or more if you want it hotter)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro  


  1. Reserve about a tablespoon of the fat from the brisket and cut the meat in 1/2-inch dice. Lightly brown the fat on medium-high in a large sauté pan to slick the bottom. Add meat and cook until it loses its redness. Transfer meat and any juices to a bowl. Toss with soy sauce and hoisin. 
  2. Reduce heat to low, add onions, bell pepper, jalapeños, habanero, garlic and ginger and cook until softened. Add Sichuan peppercorns and five spice, stir, then add ale. Bring to a simmer. Add tomatoes. Return meat and juices to the pan. Cover and simmer an hour and a half, until the meat is tender.
  3. Stir in vinegar. Mixture should be somewhat soupy; add some water if needed. Drizzle in chile oil. Adjust salt with soy sauce. Garnish with cilantro and serve.         

Wine pairing:  Here's a surprise for you...California Syrah!

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