Chili with cheese is a pretty typical combination of ingredients. Usually you will see shredded cheese used as a topping, but with this dish I create a velvety, rich cheese sauce to swirl into the chili. I largely owe the development of my cheese sauce recipe to Alton Brown. He makes a mean stove-top mac and cheese that involves a custard-based cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes use a roux as a thickener, which is a mix of toasted flour and butter. However, I have to eat gluten free (trust me, NOT by choice. I’d eat Little Caesar’s pizza and bread sticks every day of my life if I could) so a few years back I went searching for a way to make mac and cheese without the flour (and of course I use GF mac). I found this Alton Brown recipe and have been using the condensed milk-butter-cheese-egg combo ever since for a variety of sauce bases.
This chili is one that I’m rather proud of. I wanted to make it as hearty as possible and as Mexican-ish as possible. When I think of Mexican style food, I think highly caloric, dense, and full of flavors. Something that will sustain you through an 8 hour day of manual labor so grueling that no white man would dare do it for anything shy of a union mandated $23/hr with 15 minute breaks every 2 hours, an hour long lunch, and 10 other guys to trade off the sign holding with once his feet start to hurt in his brand new employer purchased steel toe boots. I digress… my solution to ensuring a proper level of stick-to-your-ribs-ness was to use a can of refried black beans as a thickener for the sauce. I’m rather loyal to the La Preferida brand (you could say that it’s my preference. What an appropriate brand name!) and I use both their refried black beans and their chipotle sauce in this recipe.
Aside from the chipotle sauce, this chili also contains chili powder and diced, roasted poblanos. The poblanos go under the broiler until they start to blister on one side, then you flip them (use tongs because those suckers will be HOT!) and continued to roast them until the other side chars as well. Then toss them into a brown bag, close the bag, and let them sit for about 10 minutes. The skin will start to steam away from the pepper while in the bag and then can be removed easily by rubbing it off massaging it off (sorry, I guess that’s not a whole lot more appropriate sounding) under cold water.
I use Mexican “brown sugar”, or piloncillo, in this recipe. If you cannot locate any, then normal dark brown sugar will suffice. Piloncillo comes in a little cork shaped mound and is rather hard and looks rather unappealing. It is made from compressed, unrefined sugar and unlike typical brown sugar it contains no molasses. You can use a knife to scrape off what you need and although it might seem like more manual labor than necessary to acquire brown sugar, keep in mind that we are trying to be as Mexican-ish as possible here and if your poor little hand starts to hurt while you’re doing this then just go ahead and reach for that Stevia… go ahead… I DARE YOU. As for the cinnamon in this dish, I prefer to grate it fresh off of a cinnamon stick. However, if you have ground cinnamon in your pantry left over from your holiday baking, then by all means use that up before you go out spending extra money on a stick. Or of course if grating it is again, just too much work for you, well then just go to Taco Bell and grab yourself a cheesy beef burrito. Tastes the same as this chili recipe. I swear. You won’t know the difference.
For the cheese sauce, you can use whichever type of cheese you have a taste for or that you think will pair well with this chili. I chose to use a combination of Chihuahua cheese and pungent garlic cheddar. My only suggestion is to choose cheeses that melt well. I have tried various types of smoked cheeses (gouda, cheddar, mozzarella) and struggled to get a creamy texture. For this dish I also added in a can of fire roasted tomatoes to up the flavor profile a bit and give it a Tex-Mex feel.
The dish is topped with some home-made tortilla chips. This is great way to use up left-over corn tortillas from the last time you got take out from El Burrito Loco. Simply toss them into a 400 degree oven until they start to crisp, then flip them over and let the crisp on the other side- use tongs, again stuff in the oven is HOT. Keep an eye on them though because they will go from perfectly toasted to burnt in the blink of an eye. I also top it with some fresh avocado and finely chopped cilantro. The avocado will mimic the creaminess of the cheese sauce while contrasting the crunch of the tortilla chip.
Chili Con Queso Chili Recipe:
Add 2 pounds of ground beef to a large pot over medium heat. Add in 1 ½ cups of diced white onion and 1 ½ T. of fresh minced garlic. Cook until the beef is browned, drain off the grease and return to the pot to the heat. Add in 6 oz. of tomato paste, 2 cups of beef stock, one can of refried black beans, 2 T. of piloncillo, 2 T. ground cumin, 1 T. salt, 2 t. chili powder, 2 roasted and diced poblanos, one 7 oz. can of chipotle sauce, ½ t. ground cinnamon, one 6 oz. can of tomato paste, and 1 T. of apple cider vinegar. Once this comes to a simmer, turn the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Chili Con Queso Cheese Sauce Recipe:
Combine 2 large eggs and 6 oz. of evaporated milk in a bowl and whisk until mixed. Heat 3 T. butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, slowing pour in the egg and milk mixture, whisking to combine. Continue whisking as you add in 1/3 lb. of Chihuahua cheese and ¼ lb. of garlic cheddar cheese (yes, this is a lot of whisking- work for your food!). Once the cheese is completely melted you can remove from the heat and discontinue whisking (do a shot of tequila to reward yourself). Stir in one 14.5 oz. can of fire roasted diced tomatoes.
Ladle the chili into a bowl and then spoon the cheese sauce over the top. Feel free to make fancy, swirly designs with the cheese. Top with your oven toasted tortillas, diced avocado, and cilantro.
I also enjoy serving up Rick Bayless’s Topolo Margarita with this one!