I’ve written a lot about my mother, a.k.a. Saint Nancy, but not much about my dad. Like my mom, my dad wasn’t a slave to the kitchen, but he did have a few recipes that were undeniably his when I was growing up. One of those recipes also happens to be an iconic Texas recipe: Chili.
Basically, I remember my dad being in the kitchen for what seemed like hours throwing ingredients into a great big pot like a mad scientist. Most importantly, though, I remember thinking that chili must be something pretty special if my dad was taking the time to make it for us. And it was.
Now, this recipe was really hard to write for two reasons. First, Texans (at least the ones online) have very strong opinions in regards to chili. For example, there’s the never-ending controversy surrounding beans vs. no beans. Another hot button issue among chili experts: should you add tomato? Yikes! Then, finally, and this is where the chili queens really get their panties in a wad, is whether to use dried chilies or not. Technically, an authentic Texas chili recipe should be made with dried chilies, meat, and water. Now, if you have access to a plethora of dried chilies at your magic grocery store and have 7 hours to kill, I wish you well on your journey to becoming your most authentic chili self. I, however, do not have a magic grocery store or 7 hours of free time, and neither did my dad. He used dried spices, added tomato, and never added beans. Therefore, I shall do the same.
Second, and most important, my dad never actually wrote down his recipe, and, if he did, he can’t find it. After a long consult over the phone, this is my dad’s recipe/advice for making a successful pot of chili: 1) Add chocolate to the pot to cut the bitterness (that’s a trick from Lady Bird Johnson) and 2) At the end of the day, making chili is just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot until it tastes good. So that’s what I’ve done.
Is this chili recipe the most authentic Texas chili recipe out there? Probably not. However, it tastes really good and is the result of one born-and-raised Texan telling his little (or not so little) born-and-raised Texan how to make chili, which is authentic enough for me.
Texas Chili, serves six-ish to eightish depending on how hungry everyone is
- 2-3 pounds Beef Chuck Roast, timed and cubed to bite-sized pieces (you can also use eye of round or lean stew meat)
- *Optional: 1 lb. of extra lean ground beef
- about 2-3 tablespoons of Vegetable of Grape Seed oil for searing the meat
- 1 onion, chopped (I had a large onion, so it came out to about 3 cups of chopped onion, but you can use less. Chili is not an exact recipe)
- 1 fresh jalapeño*
- 1 fresh poblano*
- 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce*, ribbed, seeded, and chopped (see how in step 1) plus 1 tablespoon reserved adobo sauce from the can.
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 3/4 cup Tomato Puree
- 2 tablespoons Tomato paste
- 3 teaspoons of Cumin
- 2 teaspoons of Chili Powder
- 3 tablespoons Masa Harina
- 2 oz. chocolate
- 1 ¾ to 2 cups Water
- 1 beer (Use good Texas beer for extra flavor and Authenticity-I used Shiner Bock, which as good to drink as it is to cook with)
- 1/4 cup Black coffee
- Kosher Salt to taste (at least 1 teaspoon)
- Fresh ground black Pepper
- *Optional: 3-4 fresh tomatoes, seeded, roughly chopped, and smooshed with your hands.
- Dutch Oven or large pot (fun fact-the dutch oven is the state “cooking utensil.” Yay facts!)
- Wooden spoon
- A couple of bowls for prepping ingredients as you cook
- Optional, though recommended, a food processor
- Optional for sensitive skin: latex gloves for cutting up chilies
The Process (its a long recipe, but worth it):
1) Preparing your chilies:
- Set your oven to broil. Place your poblano and jalapeno on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
- Broil the chilies on each side until the skin is blistered and black (its about 3 per side depending on your broiler. You’ll need to watch them pretty closely to make sure they don’t burn).
- Place the chilies in a paper or Ziploc bag and close up the bag. Let your chilies steam in the bag for about 10-15 minutes. Take your chilies out of the bag and begin peeling the charred skin off. Discard your charred pepper skins.
- Using a knife cut your chilies in half and take out the seeds and rib. I typically cut around the the main core, then using the back of my knife, I scrape out the ribs and seeds (ribs and seeds are the spiciest part of the chili). Roughly chop up your chilies and place them in a food processor (if you are forgoing the food processor then finely chop your chilies using a knife).
C & S Note: If you have very sensitive skin, you can wear rubber or latex gloves for this part. Whatever you do, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling your chilies and DO NOT rub your eyes while handling your peppers. I did this when I was little and thought my eyes were going to melt out of my head.
2) Place your chopped poblano, jalapeno, chipotle, reserved adobo sauce, garlic cloves and tomato puree in the food processor. Add a small pinch of salt. Blitz in the food processor until a smooth puree forms. Set aside. If you do not have a food processor, finely chop the above listed ingredients and ix in with the tomato puree.
3) In another bowl, mix together the tomato paste, cumin, and chili powder until a paste forms. Doing this helps your spices from being clumpy or chalky in your chili. Set aside.
4) On medium heat, heat your Dutch oven until its warm when your hand is placed about an inch over it. Add your oil and let it heat up for abut 10 to 20 seconds. Season your beef with a generous pinch of kosher salt and some freshly cracked pepper.
Browning the Meat: In batches, so you do not overcrowd your pan, brown your meat until it is dark, caramel brown on the outside. There will be all kinds of brown crispy goodness at the bottom of your pan too. All of that business will add so much depth of flavor to both your meat and chili. I know its easier to throw it all in there, but, if you have the time and patience, try to not rush browning your meat. When your meat is browned, set it aside in a bowl.
6) On medium to low heat, Add the onion to your pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the caramelized crusty bits of the bottom of your pan as you stir and sauté your onion.
7) When your onions are translucent and soft, add a pinch of salt to season them. Add your tomato paste/spice mixture. Stir this in with the onion for about a minute or two while vigorously stirring. This allows the spices to cook a bit, which allows the flavor of your dried spices to bloom and become less chalky tasting.
8) Add your pureed chilies and tomato puree. Cook this for about a minute, then add your meat and their juices back to your pot. Make sure to give your ingredients a good stir to combine.
9) Add your beer and water to your pot. Turn the heat up to medium high. When your chili just begins to boil, turn your heat down to low and let your chili simmer. Your chili will need to simmer until the meat is tender, which takes about an hour to an hour and a half. While your meat is simmering, continue to check on it every 15-20 minutes or so to make sure there’s enough liquid and its not burning. If it looks like its drying out add another quarter cup of water. Give it a few good stirs and let it continue to simmer.
10) When your meat is tender, stir in your chocolate and make sure it is thoroughly melted and combined. The chocolate will add a nice “Mexican mole” vibe to your chili and counteract any bitterness from the tomato and spices.
11) Thickening your sauce: When your meat is tender, you can now begin thickening it up. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix together your masa with 1/2 cup of your chili broth. Stir until a smooth paste forms. Add the paste back into the chili and stir it in for a good 2-3 minutes to help start the thickening process and to prevent lumps. Continue to cook the chili until it has thickened up a bit (think thin brown gravy) about 15 minutes. If it thickens up too much, just thin it out with a little water until you reach your desired consistency.
Optional: As your cooking your chili to thicken it up, you can add your crushed fresh tomatoes. This is optional. I do it because I like the addition of something fresh and a little acidic to brighten up my chili, but this step isn’t necessary.
12) When your chili has thickened, taste it for seasoning and season with salt and pepper accordingly. Serve your chili straight up or make it fancy with freshly chopped cilantro and a little shredded cheddar cheese.
A quick note on substitutions: I realize that not every grocery store in America is jam packed with a variety of fresh or dried chilies. Just do your best with what you have. At the end of the day, chili is a way to feed a bunch of people using relatively humble ingredients. So if you can’t find a fresh jalapeno or poblano, don’t fret. Here are some quick substitutions:
*Jalapeño: This is pretty common, but if you can’t find it canned jalapeño works just find. You don’t even have to roast it.
*Chipotle in arbol: Chipotle peppers come dried whole and dried in powder. A teaspoon or two of chipotle powder and an additional tablespoon of tomato paste should be a perfect substitute in this recipe
*Fresh Poblano: These can come canned or dried whole. If you can’t find either, just omit it and increase the chili powder by a teaspoon or two.
*Masa Harina use a few tablespoons of flour whisked into the broth. Ad a chopped up corn tortilla (it will disintegrate in the hot chili), to add that masa flavor that will be missing with the flour.
Disclaimer: Neither I, nor my father, received any compensation for this post. We are both super pissed about that.