It’s important that we start with a matter of full disclosure. I’ve spent next to no time in Texas, or at least no more than the time it takes to slurp down a few oysters from Pappadeaux before I head to my next flight. I didn’t grow up eating the fabled “pot full of red,” and I have no misty-eyed recollections of sitting around with my family knocking back big bowls of the stuff.
This one fact will immediately disqualify me from speaking on the subject, in the minds of nearly all self-respecting Texans. And that’s fine. This stuff is all yours. But after a lifetime of eating chili packed with beans and tomatoes, or the more Mexican-influenced slow-simmered pork and tomatillo style of chili, I really wanted to try my hand at a real, honest-to-goodness bowl of the Texan stuff, even if it was prepared right here in my kitchen in Maine.
The details of what qualifies as an “authentic” Texas red chili recipe seem to be somewhat up for debate. At its core, a real Texas chili should be cubed beef chuck, lard or fat, chile powder or paste, garlic, and some stock or water for cooking. That’s all. That’s where the purists say the story ends. Some will suggest adding some tomatoes, and eventually, someone will suggest adding some beans. That person will be lynched at daybreak. Or at least made fun of relentlessly.
When dealing with such a very specific preparation of a recipe from the Lone Star State, particularly one that is such a hot topic for debate, I do what I always do. I turn to the Homesick Texan. As with any outstanding chili, layers of flavor are developed from the complex blend of chiles in the homemade chile paste, resulting a a bowl of red so thick and hearty, you can stand a spoon straight up in it.
“Texas Red” Chili
Serves 8; Adapted from a recipe by Homesick Texan
- 6 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried chipotle chiles
- 1 to 4 dried chiles japoneses (according to heat tolerance)
- 2 dried California chiles
- 4 pieces of bacon
- 3 pound chuck roast, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of brewed coffee
- 1 bottle of beer
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon clove
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- Salt, to taste
Stem the dried chiles, and shake out the seeds, tearing each chile in half as needed. Heat chiles in a dry, high-sided cast-iron skillet over medium heat, until they become fragrant. Add enough water to the skillet to cover the chiles, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and set aside to soak for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook bacon over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Transfer to paper towels to drain bacon. Working in two batches, add beef to pot to cook in the leftover bacon grease, stirring often, until brown. Remove beef (leaving drippings) and set aside. Repeat with second batch.
Add onions to pot and cook until slightly translucent. Add garlic, and cook for one minute more. Return beef to pot, and add coffee, beer, two cups of water, and the remaining dry spices. Crumble bacon into pot.
Drain soaked chiles and transfer to blender, along with a cup of water. Puree until smooth, and add to the chili pot.
When chili boils, reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for five hours, stirring occasionally. Add water (or more beer!) as needed to keep the consistency nice and loose until the last hour of cooking, when you can allow the chili to “tighten” to your liking.
Serve with cheddar, onions, sour cream, and tortillas.