I was going to look up the definition of popular demand but, suspecting it was going to include more than two emails, I decided not to. Because I really wanted to share this recipe. Not because I had a minor part in its development. But because I think Don Day’s Wife created perhaps the best chili I’ve ever tasted.
The Chili Cookoff was held at La Frontera a couple of weeks ago. And, talk about the thrill of victory, our chili won. Here’s the recipe but, beware, it does take a lot of dedication and time to make it happen.
Don Day’s Wife’s brined and browned brisket Texas Red. The recipe.
(with a supporting actor credit to Don Day)
Any dish is only as good as its ingredients and this chili is based on using the best brisket available, including the well marbled point section, and, where possible, mostly fresh not dried spices. It starts with the same meat that Don Day’s Wife uses for corned beef and Don Day then sometimes smokes to make pastrami. It’s what they call the pecha at San Miguel butchers and you don’t need to buy it from expensive cows that live north of the border or even in Sonora. Any local butchers (we get ours from Carniceria Nueva Aurora in La Luz) will get it for you within a couple of days if they don’t already have it in the fridge. Ask them to strip off all of the exterior fat. It’s the marbling that runs through the beef that makes it so tender and tasty.
The average whole brisket weighs about seven pounds and that’s how this chili starts. It will serve about 10 to 12 people so I wouldn’t even consider spending this much time making the dish unless you’re hosting a party.
Next comes the brining that, historically, was done as a preservative but, in fact, imparts an amazing flavor. Here’s Don Day’s Wife brining recipe that began as her corned beef recipe with various ingredients being taken away and others added until they enhanced the traditional chili flavors.
1.5 gallons of water
14 ounces of Kosher or sea salt
4 ounces of white sugar
5 ounces of brown sugar
4 teaspoons of pink salt (difficult to get in San Miguel and optional as it doesn’t do much to the taste but does add that nice corned beef color to the beef. This isn’t the expensive Himalayan pink salt so don’t waste your money on that).
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespooons coriander
8 bay leaves
1 teaspoon juniper berries (available at Bonanza in San Miguel)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 pasilla peppers (seeds and stems removed, toasted on top of the stove, and torn apart into smaller pieces)
2 ancho peppers (same directions as the pasillas)
Heat 1/2 gallon of the water to almost boiling and add all of the ingredients. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool to room temperature and add remaining gallon of cold water. Add meat and place in refrigerator for five days. You can use a tight roasting pan or pot or do like Don Day’s Wife does and have someone bring giant, sealable plastic bags down from north of the border.
This chili is a little different than most. Unlike almost every other chili that you’ll ever taste it includes no chili powder. The chili taste was created almost exclusively by the ancho and pasilla peppers, a little dried cumin and dried, smoked Spanish paprika.
One 7 pound brined beef brisket
1/2 pound of smoked bacon
6 cups of chopped sweet onion
2 cups of chopped red bell peppers
2 finely chopped jalapeno peppers
4 tbsp very finely chopped garlic
4 cups of beef broth (we find that Campbell’s canned is as good as making our own for chili)
1 cup of red wine
4 tbsp brandy
the juice from one lime
2 28-oz cans of tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
4 ancho chiles (toasted on top of the stove, cleaned of their stalks and seeds, soaked in warm water and ground in a food chopper)
4 pasilla chiles (same as the anchos)
4 bay leaves
4 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp honey
4 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp smoked paprika
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry until almost crisp (make sure you have breakfast first or your half pound of bacon may become a quarter pound).
Remove the bacon and add the brisket that has been cut into bite-sized pieces, using the bacon fat to brown it. Add some vegetable oil if necessary. This part of the process is the most time-consuming and is Don Day’s responsibility which is why I always begin with a full bottle of red wine, pour out one cup to be later added to the sauce and drink the rest while watching the never-ending browning process. Some good rock and roll on the iPad can also help speed up the task.
Remove the beef and use all of those wonderful meat juices and fat to brown the onions, red pepper, jalapeno pepper and garlic.
Return the brisket and the bacon to the pan including the juices that may have collected. Add the beef broth, wine, brandy, honey and tomatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaves (Don Day’s Wife puts them into a little cage with foil wrap so we don’t lose them and end up choking somebody), the anchos, the pasillas, the cumin, oregano and paprika.
Place it in the oven for three to four hours at 275 degrees F. Or simmer it on top of the stove if you can control your gas burners better than we can. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick and sprinkle the cilantro on top.
Chopped cebollitas (green onions)
Cotija cheese (or any other cheese if you can’t get Cotija)
Sprinkle sparingly over the top.
Any red wine. Any white wine. Any beer. Or anything else that’s going to wash down this chili that I’m so proud that Don Day’s Wife created.