I appreciate the craft enough to not get caught up in the “real” games. Sans beans is just the way I like it. I worry when people get too caught up in “real” or “authentic” discussions because I think it ruins the motivation to play and innovate, and that is what is really fun about cooking. You need to let loose a little and try something new.
I have been making chili with chili powder since I started making chili. I already made pretty good chili, but I thought of chili powder as something that was the same across the board. It never really occurred to me to look at the labels and ask what was actually in the stuff. This might seem obvious to you.
But “chili powder” is usually a proprietary blend of chiles and other spices. So every brand of chili powder you buy contains chile powder, but not necessarily powder from the same chiles, and there is also stuff in it like oregano and salt and garlic powder. And if you change brands willy nilly as I am apt to do, you will end up with a different bowl of red.
Enter, Dotty Griffith. I have been using a recipe adapted from her little cookbook Wild About Chili for years. At some point Pitts and I started looking at my chili and thinking, “Is this all there is in chili life?” I had to wonder why I was stuck. Then I realized there was more than one page to the book, thus it being called a book. And, I set about reading about chili. There are a million resources out there and you can certainly get very deep in study about the major chili cook-offs and people getting quite bent out of shape over the “best” and the “right” way to make chili, but Dotty’s little book is just a solid little primer on the basics, with a great collection of recipes that will allow you to find a chili that suits your needs. Then, one should definitely set about tinkering. I like chili enough to know that I will always be tinkering. But she inspired me to take a moment away from the pre-mixed chili powders and get down to the essence of a big bowl of red. And that is all about chiles, not chili.
If you have a strong Hispanic population in your area, your local stores will have plenty of whole chiles. If you are really fortunate, you will have an abundance of grocery stores that cater to this population and you will be in chile heaven. So if you have not ventured into a Fiesta or El Rancho Supermercado, you need to do so. There are more chiles, sugar cane, fresh peppers, tamarinds, tortillas, sauces and other preparations than you will ever know what to do with. It will open a door in your mind and you will find yourself shopping there all the time.
I always thought starting with the chiles would be extremely time consuming and cumbersome, but I was wrong. I strongly encourage you to play around with your chili and find out what it is all about.
Much like chiles, I always thought “chili meat” was much the same. You can make great chili with plain hamburger meat, true. But go bug your butcher and ask questions. I went to Kuby’s and asked for a suggestion and ended up with 3 pounds of loin tips (sirloin tips) which they ground especially for me. It was lean and dense, and the resulting dish didn’t have a pool of grease on top, like mine often does. And each bite was more about steak than hamburger. It was lean, but it became tender without losing its identity.
Preparing the chiles: This may be done a day ahead…then again, it can all be done a day ahead. Chili is always better on the second day. Lay out your dried chilies. If you have sensitive hands, consider wearing rubber gloves. Don’t rub your eyes. Cut the chiles open and remove the seeds and any membranes that are easily removed. Keep the cleaned peppers (minus the seeds, stems and membranes) for the chili.
|Texas Chili|| |
- 3 fresh jalapenos, seeds removed
- 4 dried chiles anchos
- 4 dried chiles arbols
- 2 dried chiles japones
- 3 heaping teaspoons ground cumin
- 7 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 to 4 pounds loin tips (ask your butcher to grind it to chili grind) or available chili beef
- 2 cups water (if needed…I didn’t add water)
- ¼ cup corn masa flour
- Place the dried chiles, cleaned of seeds, stems and membranes, in a small pan with just enough water to cover them. Simmer them for 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the liquid with a slotted spoon or tongs and reserve the remaining red water in case you want to add more heat and flavor at the end.
- Place the reconstituted dried chiles, fresh jalapenos, onion, garlic, tomatoes, salt and cumin in a food processor. Process until smooth.
- In a large stock pot, combine the meat and the tomato and chile mixture. Add water to just cover the meat. Bring the chili to a simmer. Either simmer on stove-top for 1½ hours or set the oven to 225 and cover the pot and leave it in the oven for 2 hours. Mix the masa with enough water to make a smooth paste. Slowly add the liquid to the chili while stirring. Return the pot to the oven or stove-top for an additional 30 minutes. Season as needed with salt. Add a little of the reserved chili liquid, if needed.
Serve with cheese, Fritos, saltines, fresh chopped onions and Tabasco Sauce…or whatever other goodies are your custom. I have even served chili with sautéed polenta rounds and it tastes like tamales. I like that. Or you can make Homemade Cornbread, a terrific side for chili. Don’t forget to take butter out of the refrigerator to soften beforehand.
Occasionally, I “brown” the meat before adding the other ingredients, but given the large amount of meat involved and my lack of patience in browning batches properly, I always ended up “graying” my meat instead and essentially just steaming it. I skipped the process altogether here with no ill effect.
Experimenting and Substituting!!
I have had questions before about access to good dried chiles. Sometimes you can find one kind but not another. You should feel free to experiment and play and try new combinations. In fact, my last go around was my favorite and I used 3 ancho, 1 guajillo, 1 chipotle, and 4 chile arbol for the dried chile combo. And I used about 1.5 pounds of fresh Texas tomatoes instead of canned. It was one of the best pots of chili I have ever made. I also used 85% lean hamburger 3 meat and 2 pounds of small cut stew meat for this pot. If you use stew meat you will have to increase the simmering time until it softens thoroughly…you have to just wait it out like a brisket. But it was phenomenal. So feel free to play around. You need your own chili recipe…so use this as a starting point and have some fun.