Here’s a different way to enjoy chili con carne. Beef brisket chili is all you’d expect a fine bowl of chili to be — hot, meaty, a touch spicy (thanks to cayenne peppers), and rich. The difference is the fab dumplings that do away with sides like rice, flatbreads, or nachos.
Of all the hot and spicy dishes I love to make, there’s one that stands out above all the others. Chili con carne — in this case a meaty beef brisket chili. It might be all too familiar, but that’s never lessened its appeal. And I hope the day never comes that I say, ‘Er, no thanks. I’m not too keen on a bowl of that.’
Beef, beans, and chilies. For me, that’s a rock-solid trinity that’s bound together by a deep red sauce of onions, garlic tomatoes, a little dark soy, and a splash of sharp lime. I like my beef brisket chili spiced with paprika, earthy-sweet cumin, and black pepper. And I love the smokiness that comes from adding a jolt of strong black coffee.
For sure, I know there are more recipes for chili con carne than there are beans in a can. Way more. You may well have one you swear by — one that turns out just dandy every time you make it. Fair enough. I stick to this beef brisket chili recipe here that does exactly that for me. But there’s a twist, and it’s not in the chili con carne itself.
Thinking a little differently
Aside from their key ingredients, all those chili recipes share a common denominator in terms of what gets served with them. Now, I may have been setting my side-dish sights way too low through all my many chili-making years. I like nachos and flatbreads because of the basic way they can be used as scoops. They’re sort of fairly bland, edible spoons whose flavors stay in the background. Rice — nicely sticky, please — also tastes suitably subtle and is great for soaking up the chili’s sauce.
What I am suggesting here is an alternative way to serve this ol’ faithful. Somehow, I got to thinking about classic dishes and their accompaniments. In particular, I thought of classic dishes like roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, and steak and kidney with a suet-crust pastry ‘lid’. And then ‘cobblers’ sprang to mind — a sort of cross between a crumble topping and a dumpling. So, why not a sort of Tex-Mex cornbread dumpling?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
In this case, the ‘pudding’ proved fantastic. After talking through the idea with a food-loving pal, the dumplings’ makings were agreed upon: cornmeal (polenta — because we had some on the shelf), bread flour, buttermilk, egg, salt, pepper, and parsley.
These dumplings are not only simple to make, they’re really easy to cook. Formed into balls about one-and-half times the size of a golf ball, they get steamed for about twenty minutes on top of the almost-cooked chili.
The result? Shapely, buttery, slightly grainy, corn-sweet dumplings with a texture just a bit denser than a good doughnut. And that makes these cornbread dumplings great for dunking.
Beef Brisket Chili With Sweet Cornbread Dumplings
For the beef brisket chili
- 6 cayenne peppers roughly chopped, seeds and all
- 2 pounds fresh brisket look for a slab that’s about one quarter fat — cut into handsome bite size chunks
- 2 yellow onions medium-sized, peeled, halved, and roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground paprika
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce mushroom flavored is always my preference
- 1 cup strong black ground coffee made as strong as you’d dare drink it
- 2 cups water
- 2 cans mixed beans 14-ounce cans, red kidney, cannellini, and butter beans
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the cornbread dumplings. (Makes about 8 -10 dumplings)
For the cornbread dumplings
- Combine all the dry ingredients in a good-sized mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk, butter, and egg.
- Now add the buttermilk mixture to the dry mix and stir thoroughly. Set aside in a cool place while you make your chili.
For the beef brisket chili
- First, brown the brisket. Heat the olive in a good sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan. The moment it starts smoking, add the brisket chunks in a single, evenly-spaced layer. Don’t crowd the pan – rather do the browning in a couple of batches. Drop the heat to medium-high, and fry the brisket all over for about 5 minutes. You want to get a good dark brown on the chunks – and melt down most of the flavorful fat.
- Lift the browned brisket from the pan with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate. Keep the pan’s heat on medium high and add the onions and salt. Stir a couple of times to cover the onions with the beefy oil, and let them sizzle away for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, cayenne peppers, paprika, and the sugar to the pan – still on that medium-high heat. Stir well and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. You’re looking to get the tomatoes well-softened but not to lose their body completely.
- Now add the coffee, soy sauce, water, and black pepper. Stir well and drop the heat to low. As soon as it starts to bubble, return the browned brisket to the pan. Let your chili gently simmer — covered — for 90 minutes, with a few stirs now and again.
- Add the beans and let the covered pan simmer away for another 30 minutes. Then stir in the lime juice. Time now for the dumplings.
Cooking the dumplings
- Use your hands to form the dumpling mix into rounds about 1½ times bigger than a golfball.
- Now carefully sit the dumplings on top of the simmering chili. Don’t press them down. Space them across the pan so that they’re just barely touching. Good. Cover the pan and let the dumpling-topped chili cook for another 25 minutes. What will happen is that the dumplings will cook partly in the chili’s sauce and partly in the steam rising from it inside the pan.
- Once the dumplings are cooked, serve the beef brisket chili immediately.