You'll probably look at the ingredients for this chilli and either think, “hmmm, no thanks”, or you’ll swoon. For me, it went like this: “Black beans, yes! Double booze, YES! Beef shin?”. I’d never cooked beef shin before and a lot of it is needed for this recipe.
Paul’s Family Butchers in Norwich Market provided me with nearly two kilos of cubed shin - a lot of meat for two people. I’ve made this recipe many times and Paul’s is my favourite place to buy beef shin because I can throw it straight in the pan and it’ll turn out great. I’ve bought shin from other butchers and although they take care to trim the meat, the chilli sometimes ends up with small gristly squares of fat that no amount of cooking will ever break down. I don’t know what Paul does differently so if I haven't bought shin from him I make sure to give it a quick trim despite it being a very lean cut of meat.
I should say that, a) I’m not sponsored by Paul and b) I’m generally not a fat-trimmer. I saw a Jay Rayner show a while ago where he talked about how fat has recently been identified as the sixth taste and how some people are partial to it. It was nice to realise I'm not alone in savouring foods like fried salmon skin, ventresca tuna (belly tuna!) and beef bone marrow. Rich, velvety bone marrow tastes like heaven to me and when I discovered that it’s an ingredient in M&S’s Best Ever Burgers it made my day. I’ve wandered away from my point, which is this: if your beef shin has any large, tough-looking squares of fat, it might be a good idea to remove them because they’re unpleasant, even for a fat enthusiast like myself.
You’ll need a large saucepan that will fit into the oven (I use a 6 litre pan) or a large slow cooker. After four hours in the oven the meat falls apart and the sauce is rich, deep and full of heat from several layers of chilli, but it’s not an intense heat. I generally use chipotle paste for smokiness; it's a good substitute for the ancho chillies specified in the original recipe, which I can't always get hold of.
The chilli can be served in many ways. We’ve had it in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, jacket potatoes and even burgers. It’s different to a regular chilli, there’s not a tomato in sight and because of the lengthy cooking time it isn’t a regular in our house; it’s more of a special occasion chilli. It smells wonderful as it's cooking - the bourbon and beer mellow, the black beans thicken the sauce and the beef slowly tenderises until it falls apart when lightly pressed. This is an absolute treat of a chilli that makes great use of an inexpensive cut of meat and it freezes well so it's worth making a great big batch no matter what size your household is. You can't have enough leftovers.
The original recipe specifies 1¼ litres of water but I’ve decreased the amount to 1 litre as I like the sauce to be fairly thick.
Simply Nigella by Nigella Lawson
- vegetable or sunflower oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 fresh jalapeño peppers or other chillies, chopped (or 2 if you'd prefer less heat)
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2½ tsp ground cumin
- 2½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1¾kg boneless shin of beef, cubed
- 150ml bourbon
- 330ml Mexican beer
- 1 litre cold water
- 500g dried black turtle beans
- 1½ tbsp chipotle paste
- 2 tsp sea salt flakes
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- Preheat your oven to 150°C (130°C fan).
- Pour a generous splash of vegetable oil into a large lidded saucepan that will fit into your oven (I use a 6 litre pan) and place the saucepan on a hob over a medium heat. Add a large, chopped onion and fry for 5 minutes.
- Add 4 chopped jalapeño peppers, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 2½ teaspoons of ground cumin, 2½ teaspoons of ground coriander and 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes to the saucepan. Give everything a good stir.
- After a minute add 1¾kg of cubed beef shin to the saucepan along with 150ml bourbon. Allow to bubble before adding 330ml of beer, 1 litre of water, 500g of dried black beans, 1½ tablespoons of chipotle paste, 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. When the chilli starts to bubble, clamp the saucepan lid on, transfer to the oven and cook for 4 hours.
- After 4 hours the meat should fall apart when pressed and the black beans should be completely soft. Serve immediately, or if you can, allow the chilli to cool then reheat to eat.
To cook in a slow cooker:
- Make sure that the black beans (500g) are safe to eat by rapidly boiling them for 30 minutes. Drain and put to one side.
- Brown a large, chopped onion and 3 chopped garlic cloves in a saucepan for 5 minutes.
- Reduce the litre of water in the ingredients list to 200ml and add to the slow cooker along with the browned onions and garlic, 4 chopped jalapeño peppers, 2½ teaspoons of ground cumin, 2½ teaspoons of ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, 1¾kg of beef shin, 150ml bourbon, 330ml of beer, the cooked black beans, 1½ tablespoons of chipotle paste, 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
- After 6 hours, check on the chilli and if the beans have absorbed most of the liquid add a little water from a recently boiled kettle.