Are there beans in it? Then it’s not chili. Real chili has no beans in it.Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory
While there is great debate among Texans whether or not beans belong in chili, few realize that the choice has significantly richer roots in Texas history than Sheldon Cooper’s exclamation. Texas Chili is also called Cowboy Chili—and for good reason. Tell a cowboy on the cattle drives of south Texas that beans go in chili…and well, “them’s fightin’ words.”
First crafted in San Antonio, original Texas Chili boasts hearty beef chuck roast and spicy roasted chile peppers, producing a thick, deep red blend sure to satisfy any cowboy’s hunger. Not only will you not find beans in real Texas Chili, you won’t find tomato sauce or tomato paste either. That’s because Texas Chili, or Cowboy Chili, was made on the cattle trails, where chile plants were abundant and beef aged well as they traveled.
Legend has it that as the cattle drives continued north through Oklahoma and across the Midwest, chiles became less abundant and beef supplies dwindled—but cowboys’ stomachs still needed filling. So, beans were gradually added in as the chili meat was curtailed, and tomatoes were subbed in place of chiles, thereby keeping the pot full and the chili red. Over time, the pure beef and chile blend has distinguished Texas chili as heartier, beefier, and spicier than it’s chili cousins up north of the Red River.
Right after college, I lived in the Washington, D.C. area. In the summer months, it seemed like there was some sort of chili tasting/festival every other weekend. It was great fun to taste all the ways that people make chili — the meats, the textures, the spices, and of course, beans or no beans.
Now that the wind chill factors and winter storms have brought temperatures to record lows in most parts of the country, it’s time for another Sunday dinner that beckons warmth and comfort. In fact, chili is one of my favorite meals — hot in every way that raises the soul and says, “You are home.”
We’ve established that there are no beans in Texas Chili. Another correct assumption, errrr….”rule” is that it has to be spicy. This recipe has a great array of spice and flavors. And with the addition of poblanos and jalapenos combined the onions, you can easily adjust it to the Wild Wild West of your taste buds.
One sure fire way to get the spice and texture just right for the chili is to make a chili paste. This little concoction not only amps up the flavor of the pot but it serves to create the texture and thickness of the sauce. It’s really easy to mix all of the spices together with some cornmeal and water to form a thick paste. Please don’t skip this step because it’s the base for all the flavor in the pot.
Another rule with true Texas Chili is to use beef, and by that, I don’t mean your standard ground beef. Texans love their beef, so it’s almost another commandment in the religion of chili to use chuck roast. This will produce large chunks of melt-in-your-mouth heartiness that evokes visions of ranching. Meanwhile, back at your local store, look to purchase a chuck roast with some good marbling in it. Trim off the excess fat and cut it by hand into large size chunks. Stew meat can also be used in this recipe. However, in my opinion, it’s too lean for this dish, and won’t produce the same flavor and tenderness as the chuck roast.
Once the paste is made, it’s time to brown the meat. Cut the chuck roast into chunks that are even in size. Season them well with salt and pepper and/or some of your favorite spices, then brown the meaty chunks. Remove to a bowl with paper towels to drain.
Now it is time for the onions, peppers and garlic. Add a wee bit more oil to the pot (if there isn’t any remaining from browning the meat). Cook down the peppers, onions, and then garlic until they are soft and translucent. Take care in breaking up the brown bits in the bottom of the pot; these little nuggets will add so much more flavor to the chili throughout the cooking time.
Once the peppers and onions are cooked down a bit, it’s time to add the balance of the ingredients. Not only do a lot of chili recipes call for beans, they may also call for cut tomatoes. Again, that’s not an ingredient standard to Texas chili. This recipe calls for beef broth and tomato sauce, along with the chili paste that you made at the start.
Patience is not one of my virtues. However, with this recipe, it’s important that you start early and give yourself plenty of time. Cooking this low and slow is what’s required for this pot of comfort you’ve just mixed together. Stir every 30 minutes or so. Otherwise, just give it a few hours for the meat to get tender and all of the flavors to meld together. Add a lid or not? That depends more on how much broth (or not) you enjoy with your chili.
Chili is a terrific Sunday dinner and perfect for the family. Start it in the morning, and by afternoon, you have the most beautiful and flavorful pot of yumminess to ladle into your bowls. Make some cornbread, and set out some bowls of your favorite condiments (i.e., Frito’s, sour cream, cheddar cheese, green onions). It’s a dinner where each will make their own, and the family will help themselves to seconds and even thirds while lingering around the table.
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