Friday, October 22, 2010

Real Texas Chili

So. I knew the day would come when we’d have to talk chili. To be honest, I haven’t been looking forward to it since it’s always a sticky subject. How does this humble dish cause so much controversy? Why is it such a big deal how you make it? What makes us Texans boo and hiss at anything that’s not Real Texas Chili? Well, it just so happens to be our official state dish. And its because of this, and a Texan’s natural aversion to all things “Yankee”, that causes us to defend it’s purity. So it’s my duty as a Texan thru and thru, to reinforce the fact that Real Texas Chili has no beans. Or tomatoes. Or any fancy stuff. Its as thick and heavy as the cast iron it’s cooked in. And as full-flavored and feisty as the Texas beef it’s made from.

Here’s how I make it... I like to think its as close as possible to how it must’ve been made in the early days while on the cattle trail- coarsely chopped meat, pre-ground spices (likely ground in a ranch house kitchen or purchased Gebhardt’s) and slow cooked over a fire.

Real Texas Chili
(printable recipe)

4.5 lbs. chuck steak
3 tbsp. manteca (lard)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh minced garlic
2 tbsp. comino
3 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 c black coffee
2 tbsp. paprika
1-2 tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. ancho chili powder
2 tbsp. cascabel chili powder
1 tbsp. masa harina

Coarsely chop the chuck steak into 1/4 - 1/2 cubes. Toss with the comino, chili powder, and garlic.
In a large cast iron dutch oven (preferably over a fire / coals) heat up the manteca and sautee the onion until it begins to soften. Add the meat and stir until it begins to brown. Add the remaining spices, black coffee, and 1 1/2 c water. Cover and simmer over medium - low heat for 1 hour. Check the chili periodically and stir. If it seems too dry add a bit more water but not enough to make it runny. Combine the masa harina with 1/2 c warm water until thoroughly combined, add to the chili and cover. Continue to simmer 1 hour. At 2 hours of simmering the meat will begin to shred when stirred. I like to pull it off the heat at this point, and keep the chunky texture intact. Add additional spice as necessary to suit your taste.

I always like to delve into the traditions and history of what I cook. It makes the everyday stuff a little bit more special I think. In my research I found so many tidbits and tales about chili and its origins, from the San Antonio Chili Queens to the first Chili Powder, there's certainly lots of great information out there:

Chili History
International Chili Society
Chili Appreciation Society International

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