ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If you only learn how to cook one dish, learn this!

You’ll have noticed, or possibly not, that I recently customised the design of Ben Viveur to include a background image that looks like a never-ending portion of chilli.

Mmm, infinite chilli. Feel free to salivate for there are few mental images more alluring than this.

A good chilli is, it has to be said, one of my favouritestever foods. So long as the guiding principles are right, it's a hugely flexible dish, and if you only teach yourself how to cook one thing, chilli would be a pretty good choice because a few variations can turn it into something that's more like a curry or a Bolognaise sauce or a cottage pie filling.

Not all chilli is good though. Rubbishcunt chilli makes me shudder, and there are so many ways in which chilli can be substandard – too bland, too mindlessly hot, too full of the wrong things - it’s a minefield out there, so it is.
Not that you'll ever find anything approaching consensus on what a chilli should contain, mind. A heated debate has been raging for a great many years - for some, kidney beans are a defining feature, but to some purists in certain parts of the US, beans of any kind are strictly verboten. Personally I like them, but they’re not mandatory.

In fact, almost no one ingredient is essential in my chili recipe, though if you left out too many of them, it might cease to resemble a chili.

There are, however, a few things that I’ve encountered in some unfortunate chillis over the years, which I really don’t think ever have a place –  prawns, peas, carrot, quorn… and a chilli should never EVER contain sweetcorn in my view. Not even a veggie one.

The only thing a chilli really definitely ought to contain is, I guess, some actual chillis, although I’ve tried some that seemed notably bereft!

Generally I’ll cook my chilli using either minced beef or chopped stewing steak, but I’ve made chicken chilli and an all-veggie version (with extra mushrooms, chopped celery and a variety of beans) too.

It’s satisfying and nourishing, and if you use extra-lean meat and low fat sour cream, it can be an extremely healthy dish.

This recipe is the classic – you can figure out your own variations – and it’ll keep well for a couple of days, improving over time.

My chilli, what I done made
I cooked one the other night. We ate with garlic bread balls, and finished it the following evening with rice. I'd have happily tucked into it a third night running if it weren't all polished off. Chilli be good.



Minced beef, extra lean ( ¼ to ½ half a pound or so per serving)
Onion, finely chopped (roughly 1 small onion per serving)
Fresh chillies, finely chopped (either green or red, to taste)
Red peppers, finely chopped the long sweet twisty ones are best
Shitake mushrooms, finely chopped
Kidney beans, (¼ to ½ a tin per serving, depending on how beany you like your chilli). Get a tin that doesn’t have extra sugar or salt or anything else added to it, obviously.
Tomatoes, finely chopped, lots

Garlic, finely chopped, lots
Cumin, lots
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Celery salt
Ground Ginger, a little
Fresh lime juice
Dark chocolate, a little
Dark (but not heavy) beer – dark lager is best, but a mild or porter will do
Worcestershire sauce
Olive oil

Sour cream


Set a big sautee pan upon an high heat. The pan will need to have a lid for use later on.

Fry the chopped onion, chilli and garlic in a small amount of oil for a few minutes, then add a knob of butter and throw in your mushrooms.

Now put your beef in there, along with a big splash of Worcestershire sauce and generous quantities of cumin, black pepper, cayenne, and celery salt and a little ginger, and cook until almost browned, adding the peppers along the way.

Chuck in your kidney beans and a few squares of dark chocolate. Don’t drain the beans – the juices will enrich the sauce, as will the chocolate.

When the meat is brown, add the old tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes on maximum heat, then pour in a little beer for liquidity, whack the lid on the pan and turn the temperature right down.

Allow to simmer for an hour, stirring periodically if it makes you feel better about yourself. Midway through, chuck in some chives and the juice of a lime or two.

You might want to taste the sauce and see if it needs any more cumin or cayenne or whatever – just make sure it’s to your taste.

The longer you cook it on a low heat, the better it will get. If it looks dry, feed it with some beer.  

You can transfer it to a casserole and continue cooking it in an oven if you prefer - I have no strong argument for doing this, unless you need your hob for other purposes.
Serve it when you want to eat! And swirl some sour cream on top before so doing.

Chilli goes well with bread, garlic bread, green salad leaves, rice, baked potatoes, burgers, well pretty much anything really.

To drink? Dry, fruity whites or dry, fruity beers would seem to be the order of the day.


  1. Noticeable lack of Cilantro {Cumin Leaf} as a garnish?
    But then, UK Chilli is decidedly different from US or Tex-Mex - But has to be said I have had some good ones here in UK in my time. But the Worcestershire or Brown Sauce addditions still make me *wonder*.
    Dark Mexican beers go well for the Mexi Effect, say Bohemia or Negro Modelo.

    Chris "Schnupfmeißter Meißterschnupfen" S.

  2. I thought cilantro was coriander?

    I'm liking the Negro Modelo idea. That would be a good beer to put in it too. (On this occasion we had to make do with Harviestoun porter.)

    I don't think I'd ever put brown sauce in, but added at an early stage, the Worcs lends richness and a touch of piquancy. Also keeps things moist at high temperatures.

    It's only a modest Anglican concession though - all things considered, my chilli is at least half-way across the Atlantic!

    And you're German anyway. You probably prefer your chilli with giant Bratwursts all flopping about! :-)

  3. Hi Ben!

    Long-time reader here, first-time commenter. Firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on another excellent blog. It's just fantastic. I challenge anyone who says it isn't to a duel.

    Secondly, I was wondering what's your position on the use of endangered animals as a substitute for beef in your chilli? Personally I like to use lean minced panda in mine, but I've heard tiger is very tasty. Be great to know what you think.

    Yours avidly,

    Steven Patrick Morrissey

  4. Hey there Ben.

    I greatly enjoy your blog posts and would appreciate your expertise on the subject of chilli.

    I used to work as a lovable rogue in the east end of modern-day London, where we had the most wonderful selection of chilli every Thursday. Sadly, however, I lost my job there and have had to move to rural Yorkshire in the 1960s, where I now work as a policeman. It's not a bad job and I get involved in all kinds of adventures but the problem is that there's no decent chilli available here. And even if there were, that old codger Greengrass would probably scoff it before I could even taste it. He's a crafty one and no mistake.

    My question to you, Ben, is what ingredients - available in 1960s rural Yorkshire - should I use to make a chilli of my own? Bearing in mind of course that we don't have any chillis. Or beef. Or shitake mushrooms. Or any of the ingredients you've listed above. Please advise.

    Best wishes,

    Nick Berry

  5. Hello Ben.

    Really enjoy reading your blog. One question I must ask is, how do you prepare the perfect tuna sandwich?

    I hear that the Lancashire breast tuna was a little too salty for a sandwich, and is more suitable for a bap, or roast. However, one hears of the fabled hairy-tuna, from the Northern Midlands. Not only does the shiny scales produce a slight spicy flavour, but the trouty beak makes an excellent sauce.

    I'd be interested in hearing your fish-related views on the matter.

    Best Regards

    John Carriage

  6. Your chilli background is disgusting and makes me want to nuke your site from orbit. That is all.


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.