I am new to the forums and just had my first taste of Ben's earlier this week. That chili is paradoxical, because one's first reaction might be "this is good, but not great." But soon after you're done eating, it becomes a craving, and if you are a serially unhinged cook like me, you gotsta
try to nail that recipe. So I did try as soon as I got back from my trip (I live in New Jersey) with the taste still relatively fresh in my mind/mouth.
The thing that stands out for me is that there was no prominent cumin taste, which is common in many American styles. The other two elements were the consistency which seemed pretty obviously to have been achieved with some kind of thickening agent, and the vinegar finish.
Yeah, I watched that Adam Richman video and that was of some help but not much. You can assume that ground beef, water, tomato paste and whatever is in that magic bag are part of the whole brew, but no establishment of this kind will give out the true recipe.
Reading the comments and speculation about the recipe in this thread prompts me to suggest making a few assumptions about it. Ben's opened almost 60 years ago and the chili is supposedly (and probably) the same as it was on day one, or very close to it. Let's think about just what ingredients were available and cost effective for anyone opening a modest cafe in 1958. There was curry powder around, but it was hard to find and certainly not a cost-effective food service staple. And to this day there is an unfortunately significant portion of the eating population that "doesn't like curry." There was no smoked paprika, not much variety in chiles (most of the Mexicans in D.C. at the time would have been at the Mexican embassy), and not not many of the ingredients that we take for granted today. Achiote (annato) is indeed deep red in seed form, but it is universally rendered in oil, the oil turning yellow and then used to give a yellow (and not red) color to rice, stews and other preparations. It does not produce a red color any way you use it.
So with this in mind, and the chili itself still fresh on my palate, I made some stuff which I believe is close. I don't have a sample of Ben's as a control, but what I made seems to be in the ballpark, and not the one the Nationals play in. I cant give you precise measurements, but here is what I did:
I started with about two pounds of ground beef, and immersed it in water As Seen On TV.
Then I added:
- Cheap commercial chili powder, the kind that is darkish red and has powdered garlic, powdered onion, powdered cumin and maybe powdered oregano. I added about 4 tablespoons of this.
- Dehydrated onions, just enough to cover the surface of the pot.
- Lots of fine ground black pepper from a container (black pepper is used in great quantities in West Indian cooking)
- Some powdered allspice (I detected this as a possible "curryish" mystery taste-but who knows? Allspice is a universal ingredient in the cuisine of the West Indies, where it is called "pimento.")
- Some Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master. Both these products are Americanized versions of the caramelized sugar that is called "browning," another ingredient ubiquitously used in stews and hotpots in every style of West Indian cuisine from Trinidad to Jamaica. KB has been available since 1873, and for a Trinidadian chef in the U.S. in the 50's it would have most likely been the best "browning" substitute. I believe this is an essential component of the color of Ben's chili.
- Some white vinegar.
- Some bullion powder.
Cooked this down for about 2 hours, and at the end I added a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in a little water, and cooked that in for a minute or two. Then I let it sit.
Hey, do I know if it's the real deal? Heck no. But it looks like it and tastes close to what I remember and I just wish I had some of dem half-smokes which seem to be as impossible to find as foie gras at a PETA convention.
Hope this is of help.
post edited by RexTee - 2016/07/31 19:01:48