Since time immemorial, a peasant’s life was all about enjoying the gifts that the god of sustenance Chicomecoatl (or Seven Serpent) repaid him with. The more sweat and blood the mortal would put into his labor, the greater the gifts.
The gifts were sufficient, even abundant at times. They mostly consisted of five most essential things: corn, beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, and, of course, chilis. It was the corn and the beans and the pumpkin and the tomatoes that give the peasant full stomach and most essential nutrients.
But it was the chilis that give his food flavor and made every food a delicious feast to look forward to during the day’s hard labor.
Of course, there was a constant threat of the gods becoming angry or capricious, in which case they would send a punishment in the form of a drought. But the peasant could not worry about it all the time. All he could do is put his head down, work his land and salivate thinking about this evening’s chili-flavored dinner that waited for him at home.
This was true before bearded and metal-clad Spaniards have ever set food onto the American continent. After they did, the peasant’s life has changed completely. Little by little, those that survived the change learned to cultivate onions and citrus and raised domestic animals whose meat became as typical of a Mexican feast as a corn tortilla.
But the chilis have stayed. Even more so, they remained such an important part of a Mexican’s diet that some dishes are simply unimaginable without them.
Beef Chili Colorado
To me, chili colorado with beef is one of those quintessential Mexican dishes that combine the magic of the Aztec chilis with the European’s love for beef stews. It is full of flavor and sustenance, and it is hard not to eat your way into food coma when it is served on corn tortillas or over Spanish rice.
I am sure Chicomecoatl would approve.
Before I describe my adapted, but still hopefully true in spirit approach to beef chili colorado, I have to say that the term ‘colorado’ refers to the brick-red color that the chilis give to the dish. In fact, the homonymous US state’s name comes from the same Spanish word. Just go to Boulder and note the color of the surrounding rocks.
And now the recipe.
As the name implies, the dish is all about the chilis. They bring the fragrance, the color, and really the soul to the dish. As I said, for me this is one of the quintessential Mexican dishes, and this of course has a lot to do with how and from which ingredients I construct my sauce.
The dish needs not to be fiery. In fact, it is supposed to be mild. This is why I used a combo of dry guajillo and ancho chilis that give the dish the intense flavor without killing your taste buds with the spice. You can get those in pretty much any Latin store that are so ubiquitous in the US, or online if you live elsewhere. Substitute those for dry paprika peppers if you’re in Europe: you won’t get the same exact flavor, but the color and the consistency will be pretty much the same if you follow the rest of the recipe.
Making the sauce
First, remove all the stems and seeds from the chilis to leave only the flesh. Toast the peppers to ‘wake them up’ a little. Be careful not to burn them, which is very easy to do. As soon as they start emanating that intense chili smell, add enough beef stock to half cover them. Once the stock starts simmering, remove it from the heat and let it cool off enough.
Of course, you can substitute beef stock for any other stock or even water. However, I strongly recommend that you use beef stock or bone broth as this dish is all about combining the powers of chili peppers and beef, so maximize both.
Once the stock cools off and the chilis are soft and pliable, add the spices, salt and pepper and liquify them in a powerful blender for about 5 minutes. Remember, if you bought your stock instead of making it yourself, the stock could be salted. Thus, be careful not to put too much salt.
The resulting sauce should be the consistency of slightly watery cream soup. It means that it needs to be not too thick, but not too thin either. If it’s too thick, add some more beef stock. If it’s too thin, reduce it over low-medium heat. You know the drill.
Making the stew
First, cut the steak into stew-sized chunks or cubes. You can use any cut of steak, really. I used chuck.
Using the same pot you will be using for making the final product, heat up some oil. I used my 6-quart Instant Pot, which in my experience halves the cooking time without sacrificing the quality of the dish. If you are using a pressure cooker like that, use the ‘sauté’ setting.
Brown the beef on all sides for about 5 minutes. Make sure not to overcrowd the bottom of the pot, so brown the beef in batches. You may need to do three batches for the amount of steak in the recipe. Set the steak aside.
Next, put the diced onions and chopped garlic into the same pot. Keep the setting of the Instant Pot on ‘sauté’, and cook the garlic/onion combination until they are soft, but not overly caramelized. Add the meat back with all the accumulated juices. Add the liquified sauce. The sauce should almost cover the beef, but not entirely. Add more beef stock if necessary and deglaze the bottom of the pot until all the brown bits have disappeared into the sauce. It is extremely important to deglaze unless you want to end up burning the dish in the Instant Pot.
Don’t forget to taste the sauce for salt once more before closing the pot.
Once the lid of the pot is on, close the pressure valve and set the pressure to high. Cook for about 35 minutes.
If you are using a regular casserole or a Dutch oven, it is the same process, but make sure you slow cook it for about 2-2.5 hours. Stir it occasionally.
At that point, the dish should be ready. In the Instant Pot, the liquid would not evaporate. So, if you end up with the sauce that seems too liquid, you can further reduce it until desired consistency. The meat would only benefit.
You can keep the resulting stew for a few days in a fridge. It will only get better the next day. Enjoy.
1 pound of steak
1 large white onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
Spices: 2 teaspoons of Mexican (or regular) oregano, a pinch of cumin, 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika,
Salt, black pepper to taste
For the sauce:
5-8 dried chili peppers (a combination of guajillo and ancho)
Enough beef stock to cover the peppers
2 cloves of fresh or roasted garlic (optional)
With corn tortillas or over Spanish rice
Diced white onion
Chopped cilantro and jalapeno
Some Cotija cheese Slices of lime and radishes to garnish
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