Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chili beans, Texas-style

I tend to value authenticity in my cooking. If I want to cook adobo, I'll look for a Filipino recipe. If I want to make rendang, I'll look for an Indonesian (or Malaysian, I suppose) recipe. If I want to make chili, I'll look for a Texan recipe. I know there are a lot of versions of chili, but Texans seem pretty adamant: no tomatoes, no beans. Usually, I can agree with that--we made a great pot of all-beef chili a few weeks ago. But now it's Lent, and Florence isn't eating meat, so chili beans it is! (There are no pictures because my camera is out of batteries, and I haven't quite mastered the clunky uploading setup yet).

Chili Beans, adapted from Homesick Texan

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound (~2 cups) dried pinto beans
4 dried Anaheim chiles
2 ancho chiles (dried poblanos)
1 chipotle chile, dried or canned
Dark chile powder
Oregano (preferably Mexican)
Cocoa powder
Hot chile powder (Cayenne powder and Korean pepper powder are good options)
Cornstarch (since I have no masa harina)

Core and seed the dried chiles (especially the chipotle) and toast them in a cast-iron skillet. Open a window or get a fan, since the chiles will smoke and it will burn your nose and throat. When they're blistered or you can't stand the smoke anymore, fill the skillet with water and cover it for 20-30 minutes.

While the chiles are soaking, brown the diced onions in a Dutch oven in bacon grease or neutral oil (not olive). When they're turning reddish-brown, add the garlic and turn down the heat so nothing burns. Drain the chiles (discard the water) and purée them in a food processor with enough fresh water to make it smooth. Add the chile purée to the onions and garlic, and turn the heat back up. Sauté it all together for a couple minutes, then add the beans and four cups of water, or enough to cover the beans by 1-2 cm. Season with about four tablespoons of dark chile powder, one or two tablespoons of oregano, and two tablespoons of hot chile powder to start. Don't add salt yet, since the beans will take longer to cook if you do.

Bring the beans to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder. It sounds weird, but it's not sweet and it will give the chili a great depth of flavor. Cover the pot again and simmer until the beans are as tender as you want, probably 1-2 hours. Add salt if necessary, although I didn't have to. Scoop out 1/2 cup of stew broth and mix with 2 tablespoons cornstarch until smooth, then set aside. Turn up the heat on the beans and boil until the water is about level with the beans, then turn off the heat. Stir the water/cornstarch mixture into the chili beans--the stew will thicken as it cools down.

Serve with rice, or (more authentically) cornbread!

Monday, February 15, 2010

BBQ addendum

Florence has reminded me that I forgot about C. Withers! This place is in the restaurant strip on Broadway near 36th, and is relatively new--I think it opened last year. They are really cheap: $5 gets you a sandwich and two sides. I think the smoked cabbage is amazing. The mac and cheese was recommended to me, but it was overcooked and not very flavorful. The burnt ends were good but not amazing--I'll probably try the brisket or something else next time I go back. The $5 special is for lunch and possibly also for dinner (hopefully we'll find out tomorrow when we go back for Mardi Gras dinner).

Edit: The $5 special is Sundays only, and they are only open 12-3pm on Sundays. Still a great special, though. They do have an every-day special of $5 for three smoked wings (although we got four) and two sides, which is also an excellent deal.

BBQ in KC, post LC's

Wow, that's a lot of acronyms. To decode: Barbecue in Kansas City, post LC's (yeah, that's just their name).

LC's Bar-BQ was shut down on Friday by the health department. Since I considered them the best barbecue in Kansas City (and not just for their amazing fries), I suppose I have to re-evaluate. Here's my list of current top barbecue in this city.

1*. I have to include LC's up here still, just because it's (or it was) so damn good. The burnt ends are big chunks of meat, not the bits and pieces you get at most places. Their sauce is great--it's thin, spicy, and not sweet. I have no idea how they make the fries, but if and when they reopen, it's worth a trip just to have the fries. They're thick, square-cut, and extra crispy--triple-fried, maybe? Come back soon, LC's!

1. Oklahoma Joe's--The titleholder by default, since nothing but LC's ever really came close. Their fries and sauce are overrated (then again, this is true of most places), but their meat, beans, slaw, and pretty much everything else are fantastic. The Carolina Style is my favorite: pulled pork with slaw on a bun.

2. Woodyard BBQ--it's in a weird spot out on Merriam, but it's pretty cheap and really good. The pulled pork is in a light sauce (no tomato, more chilies and something else I haven't identified yet), and they have all-you-can-eat burnt ends chili on Thursday nights. Woodyard also sells wood if you want to smoke your own.

3. Arthur Bryant's--the original (or one of the originals, at least), and it's delicious. The sauce is a bit sweet for me, but the fries are fantastic (skin-on, hand-cut) and the meat is all good. The pulled pork is not in their usual sauce--I don't think it's tomato-based, and it's much lighter than most of their sauces. The sandwiches here feed two people (so $11 isn't so bad for a sandwich a fries), so don't overdose.

4. BB's Lawnside Barbecue--make sure to go for lunch, or in the summer if you're going for dinner. It's at 86th and Troost, which is not where I want my car to be parked after dark. They do have music at night as a compensating factor, but I wouldn't do it. The food is good--they have some intriguing Cajun appetizers, although I have no idea how authentic they are. The boudin balls were pretty tasty, though. The burnt ends are very good--they're chopped like most places in town do, and not too fatty at all.

The above four locations are all fantastic, and you can't really go wrong at any of them. It depends what you're in the mood for. Gas-station "ambience" and don't mind standing in line for 30-45 minutes? Oklahoma Joe's. Lard-cooked fries (so I've heard) and super-chewy burnt ends? Arthur Bryant. Something off the beaten path? Woodyard or BB's.

Honorable mention: Jack Stack. It's a bit expensive unless you're having a special occasion and/or want barbecue at a real restaurant, but their beans really are amazing--probably the best in town.

Places to avoid
Gates BBQ. Gates used to be a great place--last year I was convinced they had the best burnt ends in town. They were chewy, crispy, and very well-rendered. Almost no fat on them (burnt ends come from a pretty fatty cut, so that's not easy), and their sauce was, and still is, great. It's spicy, not too thick, and not sweet at all. I went back a couple weeks ago for burnt ends, and I'm pretty sure my sandwich was half-meat and half-beef fat. The sauce was still fine, but the fries are completely unremarkable (I'm pretty sure they're frozen, and not the good kind of frozen). I've read a few reviews that agree with me on the burnt ends front. I may go back to try their brisket, but I probably won't bother when there are so many other places I know will be good.

Smokestack BBQ. The table service is weird, the sauce is bad, and the meat and fries are nothing special. I've heard people like this place, but I don't know why.

Rosedale BBQ. I believe this is one of the oldest BBQ shops in Kansas City, so I hope it used to be better than it is now. My pork sandwich was dry and didn't taste like anything, and I think the fries were frozen. Skip it--there are better options, even if Rosedale is really cheap.