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Kyle's Chile: Spicy, But Not Searingly Hot

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I mentioned in a newsletter that I cooked chili for some American friends in Florence, and a couple of people have asked me for my recipe. Since our Italian friends line up at the door when they hear I'm making it, it's not quite as off topic as you might think. My chili was inspired by Buzzard's Breath Chili, from Jane Butel's Chili Madness (Workman Publishing, 1980). To serve 4-6:

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes


  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3-4 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 pounds (1.8 k) stew beef, cubed (3/4 inch, 2 cm cubes), with fat and gristle trimmed away
  • 1/2 pound (200 g, or even a little more) ground beef, not too lean
  • 1/3 cup ground hot red chile
  • 1/3 cup ground mild red chile
  • 1-2 tablespoons paprika (mild, strong, or a mix, depending upon my guests)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
  • Ground cayenne pepper to taste
  • A 1-pound (400 g) can chopped tomatoes
  • A 1/2 liter (16 ounce) can beer, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons finely ground masa harina (cornmeal), optional


Start by chopping the cloves of garlic and the onion in a blender; not too coarse, but not too fine either. Heat the olive oil in a fairly large, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my mother's Dutch Oven or a terracotta pot), and brown the onions, stirring frequently lest they stick, until they turn golden and begin to dry. Add the cubed meat and cook, stirring, until it is mostly browned, and then add the ground beef and cook, still stirring, until it has browned too.

Stir in the ground chili and cumin, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring.

As is this will be medium-hot, and I tailor it to my audience:
If I'm cooking for Italian friends unused to spicy foods, I increase the proportion of mild chile. If I'm cooking for people whose tongues are as asbestos-lined as mine, I increase the proportion of hot chile. The important thing to keep in mind is that while you can add heat, once it's in there you cannot easily get it back out.

Add the canned tomatoes, and then the beer, rinsing the can of tomatoes with the beer to get all of the tomatoes out. Stir in the oregano too, bring the chile to a gentle simmer (bubbles gently rising here and there, and to get this you may need a flame tamer), partially cover it, and simmer it for an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste it, add salt and further cayenne pepper to taste, and simmer it for another couple of hours, by which time it will be fairly thick. If you want it thicker, stir some masa harina into it and simmer it another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

If you want to be slightly Italian, serve your cile with polenta.

Regardless, serve it also with: refried beans (I cook a pound (500 g) of Mexican black beans, and refry them in olive oil, flavoring them with 2 chopped cloves garlic, salt, pepper, and sprinkle grated Fontina cheese over them), corn chips, sour cream, guacamole, and hot sauce for those who want an additional kick.

To drink? Beer, and I especially like the bitter hoppiness of a good India Pale Ale.

Afterwords? Ice cream in summer, and apple pie with a scoop of ice cream or a slice of cheese (Cheddar would be nice, but it's hard to get in Italy) in the winter. And black American style (as opposed to espresso) coffee.

A few observations:
  • Keep the simmer slow. I find that brisk simmering toughens the meat.
  • If you overdo it slightly with the hot pepper, a little additional salt will temper the heat some. If you really overdo it, you'll have to increase the volume of the chile with some vegetables. Peeled cubed potatoes work well.
  • I occasionally add a couple of seeded, ribbed, cubed bell peppers to chile, after it has been simmering for a while (if you add them with the meat they'll fall apart).

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