At the end of Goodfellas when Ray Liota’s character enters the Federal witness protection program and is relocated far from his home (one presumes NYC), he laments that he asked for spaghetti with marinara sauce at a restaurant and received egg noodles with ketchup.
I can relate, for the first time I ordered chili in Ohio, I received tomato soup with ground beef and beans in it. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too terribly surprised; I honestly thought I’d gone beyond surprised when connecting through the airport at Cincinnati and saw that these nutty Ohioans eat their version of chili on a bed of spaghetti.
To each their own.
Texans take our chili – like our barbecue – very, very seriously. So much so that we not only invented the chili cookoff, we have a different set of rules for “eatin'” chili as opposed to “competition” chili. And since chili originated in San Antonio, it is also the official dish of the state of Texas.
I think I can safely say that while you may call that stuff that sits on top of a plate of spaghetti “chili,” in all likelihood? It ain’t.
I’ve been cooking chili for over 30 years and nothing (well, very little) excites me more than that first truly cool, crisp day of fall, for it heralds chili cookin’ weather. My recipe has evolved a great deal over the years and I never make it quite the same way twice, but what follows is the basis of my chili. Made to the letter, it will produce a fine pot of the stuff but it lends itself well to experimentation and variation. It is also not very spicy hot (at least by a Texan’s standards) but very flavorful and satisfying.
A few comments before we move on to the actual recipe:
- Those of you who subscribe to the old adage “people who eat chili with beans don’t know beans about chili” can bite me. I grew up eating chili with beans, probably because it made it go farther and in a blue collar household with four kids that was important. I like my chili with beans – preferably kidney beans but pinto beans are fine, too. Just no “white” beans such as navy or Great Northern. Of course, if you are adamant about the whole thing, don’t put them in; I sure don’t give a hoot.
- Regular ground beef does not make chili – it makes chili-flavored sauce. If you must use a ground beef, make sure it is coarsely ground (in the south, you can find “chili grind” beef in most grocery stores). I, however, prefer chuck or round steak, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 1″ pieces.
- While venison and leaner cuts of pork are fine for chili, poultry in any form is not. Sorry, you can call it chili-flavored chicken stew or something, but it will not be chili.
- While my preferred accompaniment to chili is cornbread, corn tortillas are quite good with it. Note I said corn, not flour, tortillas. Crackers are also acceptable, but PLEASE – saltines, not Ritz or Town House or Wheat Thins.
- However, if you want you can go all-out Texan and throw a good handful or two of plain Fritos in there with some cheese and chopped raw onion; chances are I’ll join you in that one. Frito Pie is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Texas Style Chili
serves 6 to 8, or me and Beloved
2 pounds chuck or round steak, cut into 1″ cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 – 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large pablano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 – 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican oregano
2 – 4 cups beef stock or broth (canned is fine, but use low sodium)
1 large can kidney beans, drained (optional)
Heat the oil in a large, preferably cast iron, Dutch oven or stock pot. Season the beef with salt and pepper, and brown in the oil. Add the onion, cooking until the onion begins to soften. Add the peppers and garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, paprika and oregano, cooking until fragrant, another 1 – 2 minutes.
Add enough of the stock or broth to cover the mixture well; bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until meat is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if the liquid is boiling away too quickly. Once the meat is fork tender, add the beans, if desired, and continue to cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens, 15 to 20 minutes.