What was I doing entering a chili cook-off? I’d never made a chili from scratch. Most had been glammed up from a can. I clucked around the kitchen looking for the lid to my two-gallon pot of mole-inspired chili. I was in a hurry and wrapped it up as best as I could and lugged it into a New York City taxicab. Waving my hands at the driver—“It’s fine, it’s fine”—we made it to the Takedown.
What would win? I had not been cooking long enough to know the right answers. At the time, steak was the answer. Who doesn’t love a steak? In chili situations, I learned the hard way that steak should be cooked quickly or forever. My first competition batch was chewy and too thin; it was one of the only entrants that had lots of leftovers. Matt Timms, the organizer, could see that I was upset and encouraged me to try again. Heck yeah, I did! This is an improved version of that first chili, incorporating everything I’ve learned over the last ten years of chili battle.
From my cookbook Showdown: Comfort Food, Chili & BBQ, published by Page Street Publishing
- Marinate the steak in the soy sauce, half the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and zest for at least 4 hours or up to 24 in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.
- After washing the cilantro, cut off the dirty root ends and discard any discolored leaves. Chop the stems like they are chives and keep the leaves whole. Set aside.
- Toast the sesame seeds in a dry Dutch oven.
- Once they release their oils and toast, add the onion with the other tablespoon of olive oil, until browned.
- Add the tomato, the rest of the garlic, jalapeño, and chipotles. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer on medium-low for 30 minutes.
- Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon. Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Once the tomatoes have reached a dark red hue, stir in the beef broth.
- Add the cornmeal and cocoa powder.
- Fold the beans into the chili with a teaspoon of salt, place a cover on the pot and reduce the heat to low. If the mix is still bubbling, move the pot halfway off the heat. At this point, you can cool it down and chill it overnight.
- To cook the steak: Prepare a grill pan or cast-iron on high heat for 10 minutes.
- Grill or fry the skirt steak on each side for 4 minutes or until a thermometer reads 145°F for medium doneness.
- Once done, let the steak rest on a cool plate or pan with high sides—you don't want to lose all of that precious juice.
- Reheat the chili, taste it, and salt as desired.
- Stir in the cilantro stems before serving.
- Garnish each bowl with sliced steak, cilantro leaves, and a dollop of sour cream.
Jenn de la Vega is TASTE's Cook In Residence and the writer behind the blog Randwiches.