I like pork shoulder. Like a lot. I don’t know what it is… Pigs just have tastier shoulders than the other animals. Sometimes I find myself going to the store just to buy pork shoulder – not because I need it, because I’m bored.
Chili is the same way. Nothing to do for several hours? Chili-making time. Procrastinating on writing blog entries for SideDish? Chili-making time. But making the same chili over and over again is – forgive me, chili purists – dull. What makes chili interesting to me is its boundless adaptability. You can add more of this or substitute some of that. And there’s always a secret ingredient lurking about that you haven’t tried yet. The pursuit itself, whether perfecting an old recipe or figuratively rebooting the franchise, can become as much an obsession as the outcome.
Jump with me.
With that in mind, for some time I’ve been trying to perfect a pork shoulder chili. After approximately eleventy billion tries, by turns mushy from over-braising and dry from, y’know, “over-serving” myself while trying to cook, I finally got it down. Success! It was a zen moment that lasted five, maybe six seconds. And then I thought I’d mix it up some more.
If you’re into edgy, fringe chili, you’ve come to the right blog. My thinking was, let’s add some curry flavors to the mix and see if they play. Oh, they play. It makes sense, too. Plenty of curries employ tomatoes, onion, garlic and cumin (ingredients which you may recognize from being in chili). A little ginger and some curry powder* and you’ve got a gratifying, distinct “chili” that’s very confused about its culinary origin. Eat it now before it starts asking questions.
Note: This was on the milder side – you could certainly use a hotter pepper (or more of them) and more spice if you like more heat.
Curry Pork Chili
1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1-2″ chunks
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can crushed tomatoes
medium white onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, chopped**
tbsp minced garlic
tbsp minced ginger
1.5 tsp chili powder
tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
salt to taste
bacon fat*** for browning (or vegetable oil)
1. Freeze the pork chunks for about half an hour; this helps with the next step, which is pulsing them in a food processor until very coarsely ground. It’ll look like ground pork or sausage, but will have a mix of larger chunks and smaller pieces. Sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me – the mix of sizes helps give this the right texture.
2. Working in batches, brown the pork in the bacon fat. Set aside.
3. In the same pot, sweat the onion, jalapeno, garlic and ginger until very fragrant (it’ll smell like a Thai restaurant in your kitchen) and beginning to soften for seven minutes or so.
4. Add the spices and tomatoes, bringing up the heat. Then add in the browned pork and enough water (about 2.5 cups) to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil, then drop the heat down and simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally, breaking up the larger pieces of pork and adding water if necessary. Add the drained chickpeas in the last half hour.
5. After two hours, check the consistency. If it’s too soupy for your taste, stir in about 1/4 cup corn masa (the stuff used to make tamales), or as needed, to thicken it up.
*For a more traditional chili flavor, you could skip the ginger and curry powder and double up the chili powder.
**Again, for more of a traditional chili flavor, you could use reconstituted dried peppers (hydrate, puree and strain through a sieve) and a chipotle or two instead of fresh peppers.
***If you don’t keep your bacon drippings, you’re doing your mouth a disservice. Just store them in a freezer bag in the back of the freezer. No one has to know.