Can a Cincinnatian make Texas chili and publish it in her blog without offending a state that could pound her beautiful city, tucked inside the geographical bowl made by seven rolling hills, to a pulp, if it so chose? I mean, I hear Texas takes its chili seriously. It makes SoupAddict nervous.
Did you notice the run-on sentence? SoupAddict speaks in run-on sentences when she’s noy’vous.
I’ll have you know, though, that Cincinnati takes its chili seriously, too. And we’re tough in our own way. You have to be, in order to put cinnamon and chocolate in your thin meat sauce, and still call it “chili.”
And let me tell you, we have to work extra hard to be tough when they build our skyscrapers in the shape of tiaras. (They did that on purpose. We’re the “Queen City.” Get it?)
So what makes chili “Texas chili?” SoupAddict had to do some research. And here’s what she found:
Meeeat. Lotsa meeeeat.
No tomatoes. No beans. No weird vegetables, like carrots. Carrots aren’t weird. Except when they’re in chili. Carrots + meeeeat = stew.
Chili peppers also make Texas chili. It has to be spicy, although not necessarily to the point where it sets your tongue on fire. Although it can be, if that’s your thing.
So let’s see how this turns out. First, the disclaimer:
I love your state. Please do not throttle me if I get your Texas chili wrong. I’m using a recipe from epicurious.com. Please throttle them instead. I’ll give you the link.
However, if you approve of the chili, please feel free to give me all the kudos, as the execution counts as much as the recipe, right? Right?!
One thing that simultaneously shocked and drew SoupAddict to this Texas chili recipe was the creation of a chili paste. A huge amount of chili paste, like 1/3 cup. As in, instead of tomato puree, you use chili paste. Fascinating. I happened to have a larder filled with dried chilis, so I picked a variety of mild/mediums: New Mexico, guajillo, cascabel, chipotles, ancho. I wanted a very deep, rich flavor, rather than just raw, mouth-scorching heat.
Although not stated in the recipe’s instructions, my intention from the start was to use the chili-soaking water in the creation of the paste (instead of plain water), so I removed the seeds first, prior to soaking. Seeds contain the lion’s share of a pepper’s heat, and I didn’t want the liquid (nor the peppers) to absorb that heat.
Yes, those are pepper seeds. Yes, SoupAddict’s not perfect. But surely you’ve figured that out already.
While the chilis soak, prep the meat. This gorgeous cut of chuck barely needed any trimming. Cut into 1/2″ chunks. I’m not a fan of ground beef in chili, so even though that’s easier (with a meat grinder; or, just buy it ground), the mouth feel is better with a diced preparation. Believe it, it’s true.
Brown the meat thoroughly. This step is always time-intensive, so do plan accordingly. I don’t have a large skillet, so I prepared this in a shallow 5 qt dutch oven. It still took 3 batches and almost 30 minutes to brown all the meat.
Onions, garlic, black pepper and cumin round out the spices. I also added smoked paprika, which is my only variation from the recipe (and, I’m sure, not traditional. Please still don’t throttle me).
Mmmmmmm, look at those browned bits the meat left behind: the intensely-flavored, caramelized crumbs of meat sticking to the pan. Yummy things are produced with browned bits in the mix.
Look at that gorgeous chili paste. All I can say is, wow. Just when I was wondering where the flavor was going to come from, I scraped this out of the blender.
The Texas chili recipe includes some interesting cooking instructions, which I pretty much just ignored. For my tastes, simply simmering the chili for the full 3 hours — rather than letting it cool down for 30 minutes and then reheating — produced the kind of sauce I was looking for. The ignoring of the cool-down might, however, be a Texas-chili-blasphemy. But please don’t throttle SoupAddict!
And this also might totally be Texas chili blasphemy, but SoupAddict likes freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese on her chili. (And lots more than is pictured here.)
After the fact, I read a tip to mix some fresh lime juice and a bit of lime zest into the sour cream before serving. That sounds soooo good, I’m going to try that next time.
Okay, Texas, how did this Cincinnati girl do?
2 ounces dried, whole New Mexico (California), guajillo, or pasilla chiles, or a combination (6 to 8 chiles)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons lard, vegetable oil, or rendered beef suet
2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (to yield 2 pounds after trimming)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock , or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons masa harina (corn tortilla flour)
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed
1. Place the chiles in a straight-sided large skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the chiles until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don’t let them burn or they’ll turn bitter. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water and soak until soft, 15 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice.
2. Drain the chiles; split them and remove stems and seeds (a brief rinse helps remove seeds, but don’t wash away the flesh). Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Purée the mixture, adding more water as needed (and occasionally scraping down the sides of the blender jar), until a smooth, slightly fluid paste forms (you want to eliminate all but the tiniest bits of skin.) Set the chile paste aside.
3. Return skillet to medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons of the lard. When it begins to smoke, swirl skillet to coat and add half of the beef. Lightly brown on at least two sides, about 3 minutes per side, reducing the heat if the meat threatens to burn. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of lard and the remaining beef. Reserve.
4. Let the skillet cool slightly, and place it over medium-low heat. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of lard in the skillet; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, the remaining 2 cups water and gradually whisk in the masa harina to avoid lumps. Stir in the reserved chile paste, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spatula to loosen any browned bits. Add the reserved beef (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender but still somewhat firm and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 hours.
5. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste; gently simmer 10 minutes more. At this point, it may look like there is excess sauce. Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the skillet, leaving the meat bathed in a thick, somewhat fluid sauce. Stir in additional broth or water if the mixture seems too dry. If the mixture seems a bit loose and wet, allow it to simmer a bit more (sometimes we like to partially crush the cubes of beef with the back of a spoon to let them absorb more sauce). Adjust the balance of flavors with a bit of additional salt, sugar, or vinegar, if you like.
6. Reheat gently and serve in individual bowls with lime wedges on the side and a dollop of sour cream on top.