Monday, September 6, 2010

Traditional Texas Chili

The greatest debate in Texas cooking must be about Chili con Carne. When was it first made? By whom and how?

I've been studying the history of Chili con Carne (Chili)  for quite some time and the more I read, the more confused I get. I have managed to find at least a few "agreed" facts:

  • Chili comes from Texas, not Mexico
  • Chili was a popular Cowboy food already in the early 19th century 
  • first Chili recipes had only meat, chile pepper, cumin, oregano and garlic
  • Texas Chili never has beans, but modern versions often have tomatoes

Here is one of the oldest known Chili recipes from early 1800's from a Texas range cook:

"Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won't stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it's going to get."

Sounds good to me, relaxed and easy recipe. Note, there are onions mentioned in this recipe.  I'll be doing my traditional Chili more or less like this.

There are some great reads on the internet about the history of Chili. I won't be listing them here, just Google the subject and you'll find them.  The best book I've read about Cowboy Cooking  is the excellent Texas Cowboy Cookbook by Robb Walsh. This book brings a great insight into what cooking in the Wild West actually was, and how it has evolved to modern times. This book actually inspired me to get in to traditional Cowboy cooking in the first place.

Anyway, enough about the history, let's get cooking.  Cowboys cooked their food in Dutch Ovens, so I'll be doing my Chili with a Dutch Oven (DO) as well. Got myself a nice Lodge 12" DO.

Ingredients for the Chili:

  • 1 kg (2lbs) of beef
  • two large onions
  • 1 garlic
  • 1 heap tablespoon of ground cumin
  • wild oregano
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • dash of salt
  • various chilies
  • liquid (more on that later)

I got some dried Ancho and Pasilla chilies.  Soak them in the water for about a half an hour. Get rid of the soaking water, put the softened chilies in a blender after removing the stems and seeds, add a cup of water and make a nice paste of them.

As I'm growing chilies myself in my garden, I picked up two fresh Poblanos and one Red Savina for some serious heat. Chopped them up really fine. I used a whole garlic, crushed and chopped, 2 large onions chopped coarsely, wild oregano and a couple of bay leaves.

Heat up the DO with hot charcoal under it. Pour in some vegetable oil and brown up the beef in two or three batches, as you want to give the meat some space while browning it.  I sprinkled some salt on the meat at this stage.

Take out the meat and sauté the coarsely chopped onions until golden, add the crushed garlic and finally the browned meat. Now you can add all the spices; cumin, oregano and the chilies (fresh, powder, paste or all of them).

Let it simmer for a minute or two and add the liquid. As I was drinking strong black coffee, I poured a good cup of freshly brewed coffee in to the Chili. Close the lid of the DO and place around a dozen of hot charcoals on the lid.  Now it's time to sit and wait for a couple of hours. However, you just can't forget about it.  Every hour or so check the amount of liquid and add more if needed. Also turn the lid around for more even heat distribution.

After 2 hours or so, the Chili could use a bit more liquid.  I was thirsty as well, so I opened a bottle of beer. Gave the Chili half of the beer and drank the other half myself.  About two more hours of slow simmering and the Chili is ready. Meat is really nice and tender with rich flavors.

How to serve the Chili?  Well that could be another long debate. I served mine with chopped onions, grated cheese and crackers.

It was delicious.  Seriously hot, but that's how I like it. Well worth the effort.


Anonymous said...

Amen. Meat,spice,and time. No amount of money can buy you better.

Anonymous said...

Back again a year later, and your post is still my go-to chili recipe. Figured it was about time I said Thank You.

Sterno said...

Hey, that's very nice to hear, thanks!!


Lucas said...

been using your recipe as a guide for a few years now. latest rendition:

3.5 lb chuck roast
2 large onion (~32 oz)
21 oz canned tomato roasted red pepper mix
1/2 bottle white wine
4 dried pasilla chiles, 3 smoked serranos, 1 red chile don't remember name
8 fresh roasted fresno peppers
4 heads garlic (used maybe 2/3rds, 5 or 6 oz)
several (small) bay leaves
1/2 container fresh oregano chopped
3 large spoonfuls whole cumin toasted then coarsely ground

few tbsp lard to brown meat
olive oil

on the stove now, see how it is in a couple hours...

thanks for this post, not many legitimate chili recipes out there. merry christmas &c.