Imagine James Beard meets a chili cook-off grand champion. They collaborate to build a genius chili recipe with layers of complex flavor, a refined texture, punchy spice, and, of course, all the homespun comforts of a traditional bowl of chili.
This is that chili. But it came straight from the mind of Jenn de la Vega, a caterer, food stylist, and author, who created this cocoa-coriander chili as an entry to a Brooklyn chili cook-off—with a trick that will save all of your chilis (and other meaty mixes) from going dry or tough. As she writes, "This mole-inspired chili incorporates the James Beard burger technique of adding heavy cream to ground beef. Each bite of beef has a mellow note of ancho pepper while Jamaican peppers provide more of a spicy bite to the broth. It is smoky, creamy and—most importantly—chocolatey."
But it was Jenn who added the marinating time to the burger technique, which is what makes the biggest difference of all—thanks to the tenderizing powers of lactic acid. Carry this heavy cream marinade with you to other chilis and other ground meat recipes you make—burgers, meatloaf, bolognese, you get the picture. In all of these situations, the benefits shine through. The meat loses less fat and won't seize up in cooking, which leads to a more tender and luxurious texture—never dry or spongy. You can swap the heavy cream for buttermilk or yogurt, but then you can't say it was inspired by James Beard's hamburger, can you?
Wash the red beans, cover with cold water and soak overnight.
Boil 1 cup water and soak the ancho chile for 20 minutes in it until it is soft. Remove and mince the pepper, keeping the seeds in if you want their rustic texture and flavor and discarding the stem. Fold the minced pepper into the ground beef and heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
The next day, drain the beans and set aside.
Sauté the yellow onion for 3 minutes on medium heat with a swirl of olive oil, until it is translucent. Add the ground beef and break it up as it cooks. Once the beef is browned, add the garlic, cocoa, coriander, masa harina, salt, and bay leaf. Stir to combine.
Turn up the heat to high. Add the drained beans, ham hock, tomatoes, Jamaica peppers, cumin, and beef broth. Bring the chili to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender (not chalky). Add salt to taste. If you'd like the chili brothier, add more water or beef broth. If you'd like the chili to be thicker, add more masa harina or see the tip below in step 7. At this point, the ham hock has done its job here—feel free to break it up into the chili or save it for breaking into fried rice, simmering for a broth, or another use.
Garnish with a dollop of yogurt and grate chocolate over every bowl with a microplane.
Note: If you can't find some of the ingredients, you have options! For the masa harina, feel free to leave it out and, at the end, scoop out some of the chili, mash some of the softened beans, and stir it all back in till the chili is as thick as you like. For the Jamaica peppers, feel free to substitute another spicy fresh pepper, like jalapeño (and it *will* be spicy). For the ham hock, a couple chopped slices of bacon are a good alternative.
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.