heston-ish chilli con carne with jalapeno cornbread muffins

we eat chilli quite a lot as it’s easy to cook in large batches, portion up and freeze.

i grew up eating chilli con carne with rice – it was a variation on the bolognaise recipe we used to make, just with the addition of chilli, cumin and kidney beans. the version i make these days has evolved over the years and is made without tomatoes, with a spice mix of cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cassia and bay plus chillies, thyme and a bit of dark chocolate. we tend to eat this with soft tortillas, rolling it with salad, sour cream, guacamole, red pepper strips, cheese and (in my case) jalapenos for an extra kick of heat.

it’s almost three years since i varied my recipe but this weekend i decided to give heston blumenthal’s chilli con carne with jalapeno cornbread muffins and spiced butter a go. the recipe is from his new show, which i’ve really enjoyed – there have been 6 episodes, each showcasing a different ingredient (this was in the beef show) and i’ve got a pile of recipes that i want to try.

as you’d expect, it’s a fairly complicated recipe – there is a spiced butter (the spices are cumin, cayenne and smoked paprika); a kidney bean and vine tomato mix, which is made using a pressure cooker, with the tomato vines added for extra flavour; the chilli itself (the spicing here comes from star anise but you stir in the spiced butter partway through, and save a bit for adding at the end); and finally, the jalapeno cornbread muffins.

so, how did i get on?

firstly a big shortcut – given it’s winter and fresh tomatoes have no flavour, i skipped this stage and used a tin of chopped tomatoes and tinned kidney beans (i added these when the cooked mince and stock are added to the pan). i also used tinned tomatoes in place of the fresh tomatoes in the chilli itself.

the spiced butter is easy to make and very delicious, however, i made this before realising that i wanted to do a double recipe (i needed to use up a couple of packs of mince) and didn’t get round to making another batch so my final dish wasn’t particularly heavily spiced. i also missed out on adding extra spiced butter at the end of cooking and i wonder what effect this would have. if the effect of this is minimal then having to make a spiced butter seems like a bit of a unnecessary faff, as you could easily add its ingredients as you work through the recipe (fry the cumin and coriander with the onions and add the rest of the ingredients when the recipe tells you to add the first batch of butter). obviously this part of the recipe adds a lot of richness to the dish and i don’t think you need all that butter, so would definitely scale that back in future.

the chilli itself  is also rich, even before you add the butter – my double batch contained a full bottle of red wine and heston suggests not using lean mince. i added a couple of pieces of dark chocolate at the end of the cooking period, to add an extra layer of flavour, and found that i didn’t need to double the lime zest/juice quantities that were called for.

the cornbread muffins are easy to make and are wonderful accompaniment, although, as you can see from my photo, i also served it with brown rice.

my verdict? it’s a delicious dish but very rich. i love the cornbread muffins and i am intrigued to try the part of the recipe which uses the tomato vines, but to be honest, i think i’ll probably stick to my version of chilli, perhaps with the addition of a few of the spiced butter ingredients (marmite and worcester sauce) as well as a final note of lime juice and zest.

heston’s chilli con carne with cornbread muffins (serves 4)

for the spiced butter:

2 tablespoon olive oil

1½ teaspoon ground cumin

1½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon tomato ketchup

½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon marmite

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the kidney beans:

500ml brine (50g salt dissolved in 500ml tap water)

150g dried kidney beans

500g cherry tomatoes on the vine

for the chilli:

olive oil

450g minced beef

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 star anise

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 green chilli, de-seeded and diced

30g tomato purée

375ml red wine

50g spiced butter (or more if desired)

3 medium tomatoes, diced

500ml beef stock

for the cornbread muffins:

120g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

120g cornmeal

20g baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

40g unrefined caster sugar

280ml buttermilk

100ml whole milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for greasing

3 preserved jalapeño chillies, diced

to finish and serve:

2 red peppers, de-seeded, roasted and peeled then chopped

salt and black pepper

finely grated zest and juice of 3 limes

spiced butter

grated cheese

soured cream

to make the butter, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and lightly fry the cumin and chilli powder for a couple of seconds. pour into a bowl and add the smoked paprika, tomato ketchup, worcestershire sauce, marmite and butter. mix together thoroughly, cover and keep in the fridge until required (for up to a week), or freeze for a month.

for the beans, put the brine in a container, stirring until dissolved. add the beans, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. place the tomatoes and 50ml water in a pressure cooker, reserving the vines. put on  the lid and place over a high heat. when it reaches full pressure, cook for 20 minutes. remove from the heat and allow to cool before taking off the lid. place the pan over a high heat, stirring frequently until the liquid has reduced by half (approximately 10 minutes). leave the tomatoes to cool, then tip into a container, adding the vines to infuse a fresh tomato flavour. to cook the beans, strain them and place in the pressure cooker. remove the vines from the tomatoes and add the tomatoes to the beans. if necessary, add some water so that the beans are covered in liquid. put the lid on and place the pressure cooker over a high heat. when it reaches full pressure, reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes. leave to cool completely before opening. add this mixture to the chilli when completed.

to start the chilli, coat the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil and place over a high heat until smoking hot. add the mince, in batches if necessary so that it browns rather than stews, and cook until evenly coloured. remove and drain the meat. add a little water to the same pan to deglaze it, and tip the water and bits in with the drained meat so none of the flavour is lost. turn the heat down to medium and add another thin layer of olive oil. add the onion and star anise and cook over a medium-high heat for approximately 7–10 minutes until the onion begins to colour, then add the carrot, garlic and green chilli. cook for another 10 minutes or until the carrot is soft. add the tomato purée, stir and cook for another 5 minutes until everything turns a brick-red colour. pour in the red wine and allow to reduce by two-thirds. remove the star anise and discard. stir in the spiced butter (for mild-medium heat), the browned mince, diced tomatoes and stock, and simmer over a low heat for 2–3 hours, stirring occasionally.

to make the cornbread muffins, preheat the oven to 180ºc/gas mark 4. sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar into a bowl and make a well in the centre. mix the buttermilk, milk, eggs and melted butter together and pour into the well. stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. stir in the chillies. butter and flour a 12-hole muffin tin and fill the moulds three-quarters of the way up. bake the muffins in the oven for 20 minutes. remove from the oven, de-mould and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

to finish the chilli, fold the beans and chopped peppers into the chilli, and bring to a simmer. season with salt and freshly ground pepper, lime zest and juice, and stir in more spiced butter to increase the heat. serve with grated cheese, soured cream and cornbread muffins.