I had no idea that I was so influenced by pop culture until a recent episode of Top Chef set off a deep and undeniable craving in me for something that I had never even had: a proper Texas red chili. In the challenge, cheftestants were tasked with creating their own bubbling vats of chili, and they were judged harshly by the hungry rodeo-going Texans, especially if they put non-traditional ingredients into their dish.
Number one on the verboten list? Beans. As one Texan put it, "Anybody who knows beans about chili knows that chili ain't got no beans."
Well, this was news to me, but I was very attracted to the almost religious fervor and axiomatic certitude with which the rules of Texas red chili were help up, perhaps because it reminded me of of the cardinal rules of true Hungarian goulash: No tomatoes, ever. Just paprika, paprika, paprika. While I certainly believe in creative variations (hello, Trixification!) I just as firmly believe that you can't riff on something you don't understand.
So I set out to get acquainted with this singular dish. And who better to guide me in this journey than the Homesick Texan, Lisa Fain? She has written several posts about chili - two in which she describes the general method, and one in which she sets down a recipe. I used these posts as my guide, and if you 've never made Texas chili before - or even if you have - I suggest you do the same. In fact, her posts are worth the read just for her writing. I couldn't put it any better than this:
"Now, if you've never had a true bowl of Texas Red, let me warn you - this is a fiery, thick concoction. It doesn't take much to fill you up and stick to your bones. But oh boy, is it a mean and mighty mouthful."
Can I get an "amen" up in here? Just look at that. Pure evil on a plate:
Here's what I did in a nutshell - but as I say, consult the Homesick Texan and then make it your own. Just remember to play by the rules.
First I made my own chile powder (based on yet another Homesick Texan post) by toasting cumin seeds, (seeded) dry ancho, guajillo, and pasillo chiles, and grinding them together with garlic powder and Mexican oregano. Ooo-wee, the smoke coming off of my cast iron skillet nearly killed me, but it was so worth it in the end. I coated 3 pounds of cubed chuck with the powder and let in sit in the fridge for a bit. Then I fried up some bacon, removed it, and browned my beef in its fat. I removed the beef and fried an onion in the pot. I added the beef back in and turned down the heat and let it cook in its own juice for a little while - I got that tip from June Myers' goulash recipe.
While that was cooking, I made a chili slurry, per Homesick Texan. I toasted dry ancho, guajillo, pasillo, costenas, and arbol chiles in my skillet and then covered them with water until soft, about 30 minutes. I discarded the water and whizzed it all up with some garlic and fresh water. Now, into the pot with the beef I added fresh coffee, Negro Modelo beer, water, and my chile slurry. Now for the spices: more Mexican oregano, more chile powder, cumin, allspice, paprika, a touch of cinnamon, a dash of salt, pepper. Some canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce.
Let cook ... for 6 hours. Yes, six hours. You may have to add some liquid near the end of the cooking process - I did - but Fain says it's not done until a wooden spoon can stand up in the middle of the pot. We're not making soup here, people. You'll want to futz with the seasonings as well. Near the end, add back the bacon, and you can also add some grated (unsweetened) Mexican drinking chocolate and masa harina.
This is amazing stuff, and we ate it for days - topped with onions and cheddar, and later with corn tortillas, radishes, and avocado, for some seriously amazing Texas red chili tacos. And yes, the (slight) heartburn was totally worth it.
And now .... for the Rice & Curry cookbook giveaway winner!
Congratulations Foodiva! I know you'll make awesome things from this book.
Happy Wordy Wednesday!