I am a 4th generation Texan. I am passionate about Chili. Many regional dishes around the world can vary in their composition and can spur great debate regarding authenticity. Chili is no different. Some Texans will tell you that Chili has beans in it (they are wrong and we will get to this in a moment). Others will tell you the opposite. It seems that every Texan has their own way of preparing this most sacred dish. But the agreed upon fact is that Chili is a thickened stew-like dish of meat and spices.
I have done much research on the origins of Chili. During the early cattle drives of the southwest, near Texas and Mexico, it was common for the cooks to gather wild herbs and chilis growing along the trails. Beef being readily available on the cattle drives, would be a common source of protein for the cowboys and vaqueros, and naturally added to something that could simmer for long periods of time and hold after cooking without spoiling quickly. Wild game, also being common, would sometimes find it’s way into the pot. So it seems that some of the earliest origins of Chili trace back to the region of Texas and Mexico with the concoction evolving naturally around locally available ingredients.
Imagine my surprise when I find that the true origins of Chili precede this era of cattle drives and cowboys. I was stunned when my research led me to the Holy Bible and the book of Genesis. If we read Genesis 1:25 we find the following passage: “…God made the beasts of the earth, according to their kinds, the livestock, according to their kind…and God saw that it was good. ” So God, of course, made the cattle from which we get beef. But if we read further to 1:26 we find the following passage: “…then God said ‘Well, I just made all these here plants, peppers, cows, and stuff. I reckon I gotta plunk some cowboy down there to deal with it all. Probably oughta give him a cowgirl, too. And so god made man and woman to populate and manage the world he had just created. And man and woman toiled the land hard and God was pleased. So he descended upon the earth and showed his cowboy and cowgirl how to make Chili, a dish of seasoned meat and chilis from which God had selected his most precious harvest. And man and woman were well fed and happy. And God returned to his heaven and was happy.” Chapter 1:27 continues: “And on the eight day God saw what he had made and was happy with his Chili. And God began to rest, but then farted, and remembered ‘Gosh dang it, I forgot to make the bean! Ah heck, I’ll do it tomorrow. Right now I gotta take a dump and a nap. That Chili I made ripped right through me and I’m tired.” So we can see that in the holy order of the universe Chili actually preceded the bean. The first actual bowl of Chili was made by God himself and it was made without beans.
I was glad that the debate over beans in Chili was finally settled. Chili is of divine origin and does not contain beans. Over the millennia other local, and logical, ingredients have made their way into the dish. Tomatoes are acceptable. Onions are nearly required. But don’t tell me that you can put cinnamon in your Chili and serve it over spaghetti. That’s not Chili, that’s spaghetti sauce. What about chicken, you ask? That’s spicy chicken stew. Vegetarian Chili? Nope nope nope. How about Chili with tofu? How about we get a rope?
So after many years of tireless research and countless pots of ‘Texas Red’, I have decided to unleash my recipe to the masses. The world needs to hear, nay, the world need to KNOW the gospel of Chili. And I must take it upon myself to be the Moses of Chili, to carry the beer, part the crowded kitchen and show the one true way to this most holy of culinary creations.
1 Large Yellow Onion, diced small
4 Roma Tomatoes, chopped
4 Cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
3-8 Serrano Peppers, depending on heat level, minced
5 TBSP Ancho Chile Powder (more if desired)
3 TBSP Chimayo Chile Powder (more if desired)
2 TBSP Cumin
2 tsp Paprika (smoked, if you can get it)
1 TBSP Fresh Oregano, chopped
2 bottles Quality Brown Ale (Shiner Bock works well)
1 can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Square Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (Ghirardelli if you can find it)
2 TBSP All Natural Almond Butter
Masa or Cornstarch slurry to thicken
Salt & Pepper to taste
* Spice quantities are approximate and can be adjusted to suit your taste. ** Acceptable meat substitutes are venison and bison.
1) Assemble all your ingredients and prep them (chop vegetables, season meat, etc.).
2) Preheat a large pan or Dutch oven over high heat and sear the meat well on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
3) Sauté the vegetables in the beef fat (add a little oil if needed).
4) Add the aromatics and spices. Sauté until fragrant and well blended
5) Begin adding the beer and allow to boil, cooking off some of the alcohol. Then add the crushed tomatoes.
6) Submerge the meat in the liquid, bring to a simmer, and cover and cook for 3-4 hours. The meat should be fork tender.
7) Remove the meat, allow it to cool, and shred it.
8) Continue simmering the liquid. This is where I add my Secret Weapon ingredients. Molé is a complex Mexican sauce made with bitter chocolate and nuts. In a nod to the Mexican heritage of Chili I add just a touch of unsweetened chocolate and almond butter. The deep, earthy flavors help round out the sharp edges and add that bit of umami. You should also thicken the Chili at this point, using your masa or cornstarch slurry.
9) Add the shredded meat to the Chili and stir well. Check the seasoning and add salt & pepper if needed.
If you can wait, it’s nice to let the Chili sit overnight so that the flavors can meld. It makes a most excellent Frito Pie but is just fine in a bowl topped with cheese, sour cream, and diced onions. Side of cornbread is optional. Chili should be consumed with beer, iced tea, or Big Red. Now, go forth, perfect your Chili, and preach the gospel.