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New Mexican chili amazing...

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I was in Santa Fe recently, and had this amazing chili at a cafe on the plaza. It was the spiciest chili I ever had, but not just spicy, intensely flavorful too. Just looking for a recipe that might replicate this...I feel like New Mexican chili powder is different from the stuff you buy in like a Safeway.

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Without tasting the chili, it is impossible to say what was in it.

The base for chili tends to be beef: ground or cubed, particularly braising type cuts.

Some people add pork, while others swear by venison as the best meat.

Beans are added by some and eschewed by others.

If you are good at dissembling tastes, you can use the following as a guide for detecting additions that may have given the chili a more complex taste profile than you have been used to:


worcestershire sauce (tamarind is it's central flavour so it is sweet-sour)

unsweetened cocoa (chocolate and chili are a match made in heaven) or Mexican bitter sweet chocolate

bay leaf

Different types of chilis (typically ancho and jalapeno but may also include habanero if it has a high heat component)

tomatoes (paste or mashed or even a prepared sauce)



liquid smoke (or smoked paprika, which gives the smoke plus another capsicum variant)

beef broth

beer or ale (sometimes Guinness)

sugar (or molasses)

garlic (some swear against using this)

beef suet (fat)

More exotic and less common seasonings include cinnamon, allspice, mace, star anise or cloves.

Cook it low and slow and adjust seasonings to taste (I sometime add lime for a sour note to the flavour profile).

Hope this helps.

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I was in Santa Fe recently, and had this amazing chili at a cafe on the plaza.  It was the spiciest chili I ever had, but not just spicy, intensely flavorful too.  Just looking for a recipe that might replicate this...I feel like New Mexican chili powder is different from the stuff you buy in like a Safeway.

Can you tell us any more about the chili? Flavorful in any specific type of way? If you recall the name of the restaurant, someone here even may know exactly what bowl of chili you ate.

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I feel like New Mexican chili powder is different from the stuff you buy in like a Safeway.

The chili may have tasted especially good because of the quality of the chile powder, i.e., the restaurant may grind its own chile powder. Fresh-ground chile powder would beat Safeway's brand any day. Fresh-ground chile powder is more intense, with more flavors that dance around your mouth. The same is true of fresh homemade curry powder and curry paste, too.

I make my own chile powder by seeding and stemming whole dried chiles, then roasting them over low heat in a dry frying pan with a pinch of salt. The salt helps keep down the fumes. I roast my chiles until they are very brown, even mahogany brown, and I know people who like them even darker. When you're done, let the chiles cool, then grind them in a spice grinder, which is nothing more than a cheapo coffee grinder dedicated to spices. This is a smoky flavored chile powder. I suppose you can simply grind dried chile peppers without roasting them, but I've never tried that.

You can lightly toast other whole spices, like cumin, and grind them too, right before you make your chili. Fresh-ground spices in any dish make a big difference. Let any toasted spices cool before grinding, however. The heat might melt the plastic top of the cheapo coffee grinder!

If you visit Santa Fe again, buy dried New Mexican chiles there, preferably from a farmers mkt, and take them home with you. They'll likely to be fresher and of better quality than your local Safeway's.

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The old-fashioned way to make red chile (bowl of red as opposed to bowl of green) doesn't use powder. You would take dried red chile pods and soak them in warm water. Then they are blended and strained and can be kept as a thick paste that could then be used as a base for a variety of chile dishes like enchiladas, posole, or thrown into beans or just sopped up with tortillas. When I lived in NM a bowl of red was typically made by cooking pork, low and slow. The chile paste is added to that. I had a friend whose dad grew up in Taos and he made the best red chile and the best posole I ever tasted, and that's pretty much how he did it.

For a shortcut you can certainly use ground New Mexican chile. If you don't have a Mexican market near you, I am guessing there are plenty of mail-order places in NM where you can get different kinds of ground chiles with various grades of heat and I'm sure that will be tastier than something off the shelf at Safeway. Really fresh red NM chile has a sweet/bitter taste that's unmistakable. And absolutely--the fresher the better. The last time I was in Santa Fe I was sad to realize that I could no longer handle the really hot stuff. Your post is taking me back.

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Just to reiterate some of what's been said here...

In the stores, you likely buy "chili powder." That's a pre-blended mix of spices and seasonings to make the dish called chili, with an i. It usually contains some sort of dried and ground chiles, cumin, garlic powder, along with any other ingredients that the company thinks might help it sell (read the label).

Assuming you don't want to dry and grind your own chiles, what you need to look for is 100% New Mexican red chile (with an e) powder. And then make your chili from scratch, adding your own additional flavorings and seasonings.

Depending upon where you live, it can be difficult to find 100% NM red chile powder with nothing else added, but the brand I've seen most often is Fiesta, in little packets.

If you can't find it, you can order it online. Rancho Gordo sells it, I believe.

It's also what I use to make my red enchilada sauce, and nothing else works as well. When I lived in Alaska, I couldn't find it anywhere, and had my family in New Mexico send it to me.

Good luck.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

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