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Nigella's Beef Chilli with Bourbon, Beer and Black Beans recipe

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A rich and unusual tomato-free chilli with slow cooked, tender beef shin, black beans, bourbon and beer. Delicious in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, jacket potatoes and even burgers.

  • Prep20m
  • Cook4h
  • Total4h 20m

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. I’ve made this recipe many times and I go to Paul because I can throw his beef into 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 give it a quick trim despite it being a 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 once saw Jay Rayner talk about how fat has been identified as the sixth taste and that some people are partial to it (me, me, me). When I discovered that beef bone marrow is an ingredient in M&S’s Best Ever Burgers it made my day. I'm wandering away from my point, which is this: if your beef shin has any large, tough-looking squares of fat, it's 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 of oven cooking, the sauce is rich, deep and full of heat from several layers of chillies (jalapeños, chilli flakes and chipotle*), but it’s not an intense heat.

This is no 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 cooks - the bourbon and beer mellow, the black beans thicken the sauce and the beef slowly tenderises until it falls apart when lightly pressed. 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.

★ ★ ★

* I've included chipotle paste for smokiness; it's a good substitute for the two dried ancho chillies specified in the original recipe, which I can't always find.


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.

Recipe credit

Simply Nigella (affiliate link) by Nigella Lawson


Nigella's Beef Chilli with Bourbon, Beer and Black Beans

  • Prep20m
  • Cook4h
  • Total4h 20m
Serves: 8-10


  • 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 (or 200ml if slow cooking)
  • 500g dried black turtle beans
  • 1½ tbsp chipotle paste
  • 2 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup


Oven method

  1. Preheat your oven to 150°C (130°C fan).
  2. 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 1 large, chopped onion and fry for 5 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  1. Make sure that the black beans (500g) are safe to eat by rapidly boiling them for 30 minutes. Drain and put to one side. 
  2. Brown 1 large, chopped onion and 3 chopped garlic cloves in a saucepan for 5 minutes.
  3. 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 flakes1¾kg 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.
  4. 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.

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