As a kid, my husband used to order Chili Colorado every time his family went out to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. Lately, he’s been ordering it at local restaurants and is anywhere from moderately to supremely disappointed. Anytime that happens, it goes on “the list”.
Items go on “the list” if we have a hard time finding a restaurant that does it well but we don’t know how to make it ourselves (yet). Famous alumni of this list are the four years of trial and error soft chocolate chip cookie recipe winner, knockoff Chipotle chicken, and a spicy protein-heavy Jambalaya.
Having grown up in Maine in a time and place where people’s perception of a taco is something out of Taco Bell, I haven’t heard of Chili Colorado. At all. Frankly, it looks out of place on most Mexican restaurant menus even here in Los Angeles because it’s not the usual rice, bean, and burrito plate that’s frequently ordered (and consumed).
Chili colorado is a stew of tender beef chuck that’s slowly simmered in a sauce made with pureed chili peppers until the beef chuck practically falls apart. It may look like it has tomatoes in it, but actually it’s all chili peppers!
Not all chili peppers are fiery hot. This recipe uses a combination of dried New Mexico and guajillo chiles. They’re lower on the Scoville scale than, say, jalapenos, so we end with a very slightly spicy but still well rounded and smokey flavor.
The only hard part of this recipe was locating the right chili peppers. The actual technique was easy. Plus, it’s refreshingly different from other recipes I make, so it was actually fun! (Actually, it’s fun until you put your fingers in your eyes after handling hot peppers. Then it’s most definitely not fun.)
I ended up buying my chili peppers at Vallarta’s here in LA for about $3-4 a pound. A pound of chili peppers is a LOT. Actually, the first time I bought some chili peppers at a spice market, I asked for 6 peppers. They gave me a funny look but did it anyways. When she rang me up, I understood why. 6 peppers ended up being about 15 cents. Oops. (Meanwhile, other people were buying giant bags of them…)
Other places in LA such as Super King, Valley Produce, and Grand Central Market also sell whole dried chili peppers. Find your peppers ahead of time so you’re not running around in a panic the day you want to make the recipe!
Chili colorado sauce is actually quite healthy and it can be adapted to work with lower calorie proteins like chicken. (If you’re like me, you’re always trying to find ways to jazz up chicken!)
So, put down your tacos and Chipotle burrito bowls (I’ll take the Chipotle, thank you!) Go find your chilis. Give Chile Colorado a try.
- 3 lbs trimmed chuck roast, or 1 large chuck roll roast
- as needed all-purpose flour to lightly coat beef chuck cubes
- 2 ounces whole dried New Mexico chilies, buy locally or order from Amazon
- 1 ounce whole dried guajillo chilies, buy locally or order from Amazon
- 1 quart chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
- Optional: several dried chile de arbol if you want this dish to be spicy, buy locally or order from Amazon
- Optional: 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Yield: 6 servings
If you forget to label your chili peppers like I did, the guajillo peppers have a smooth surface whereas the New Mexico have a powdery finish.
In a large sauce pot big enough to fit the chicken broth and all of the chili peppers, bring just the chicken broth up to a simmer. Cover and keep on low heat until you’re ready to use it.
If you’re sensitive to handling chili peppers, put on some gloves for this next step.
Using kitchen shears, cut the stem off of the tops of the chili peppers. Use the tips of the kitchen shears to cut down the sides, then pry open and remove all the seeds and ribs and discard them. Rinse briefly under warm water.
We do this because we want a consistent texture in the sauce. Plus, compared to the skin, the seeds don’t have much flavor.
In a large frying pan on medium heat, toast the chili peppers until aromatic, but not burnt, about 30 seconds to a minute per side.
Add all of the chili peppers to the pot of chicken broth (including the chili de arbol if you’re using them). Cover and let steep for 30 minutes so the chili peppers can soften.
Meanwhile, trim the beef chuck remove the large chunks of fat and all of the silver skin. (The silver skin toughens during the cooking process). Cut up into 1.5″ cubes. A bit smaller is fine too, but remember they will shrink a lot while cooking.
In a large bowl or plastic bag, season the beef chuck with salt and pepper then toss with the flour to coat.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 T of vegetable oil on medium high heat until hot but not smoking. In small batches, sear the beef chuck on two sides until golden brown, then set aside. Add more vegetable oil as needed.
Cramming more beef onto the frying pan will only result in steaming the beef instead of getting a nice flavorful crust. Take your time to develop the flavor.
After 30 minutes, the chili peppers should be nice and soft. If they’re still leathery, make sure the chicken broth is warm to the touch and continue steeping for another 10 minutes then recheck.
In a blender, blend the chicken broth and chili peppers together. Depending on the size of your blender, you may need to blend with part of the chicken stock, then stir to combine it after blending.
Pass the mixture through a mesh strainer into another large bowl or pot to remove the leathery skins. Set aside.
Using the same large sauce pot you used for the chili peppers, heat up 1 T vegetable oil on medium heat until warm but not smoking. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes or until aromatic and softened, stirring occasionally.
Add the flour, stir, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until browned. After 2 minutes or once it starts to smell slightly burnt, immediately ladle in about a cup of chili broth and whisk to combine. Add the remaining chili purée and whisk to combine.
Add the beef chuck to the pot of chili purée. Cover, bring the mixture up to a simmer on medium high heat, then reduce to low heat and lightly simmer for 3 and 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. At this point the beef chuck should be tender. Add more covered simmering time as needed until the beef is tender.
Remove the cover and continue to lightly simmer until the sauce has thickened enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon, about 30 minutes.
This can be served alone as it is on a plate, or along with beans and rice. Both ways are completely acceptable and delicious. Top with cilantro and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Epicurous