Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Chili Queens and the Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili


Chili con carne (simply known as "Chili") is a Texas obsession, even passing legislation making it the official dish of Texas in 1977! But who do we thank for this deliciously spicy Tex-Mex concoction? Why, the Chili Queens! The Chili Queens were the most beautiful, voluptuous, dark-eyed senoritas who would transport their perfected homemade chili in colorful chili wagons to Military Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, cheerfully serving stockmen, soldiers, rounders, and prowlers. Even Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to their allure! 

The Chili Queens are believed to have been selling their spicy creations for 200 years, but they had sold chili only for the last third of that period, selling strictly Mexican faire before that. Alongside roaming Mariachi bands, they would build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, light colorful lanterns strewn along their wagons, serving chili to whomever they could charm and convince that their chili was the best. I read an article years ago talking about how masterfully they could handle even the most brutish of men, smiling, inserting fresh red roses in customers' lapels with a lingering touch, craftily picked from a great mass of roses on her bosom! Oh my! With a twinkle in her eye, she nearly always had trouble making change, which was usually not a problem for her smitten customers! The Chili Queens remained a highlight in San Antonio until the late 1930s, when sadly the health department put an end to their time-honored profession.   

I love making chili for the earthy hunger-inducing smells, the fiery flavors, and for the longstanding tradition. So, in honor of my Texas heritage, I give you this:

The Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili:
  1. Thou shalt only use beef, cut into small chunks, never ground.
  2. Thou shalt never include beans.
  3. Thou shalt never use tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even paste.
  4. Thou shalt never include bell peppers. (That goes for salsas as well!)
  5. Thou shalt only use Texas beer. (preferably Shiner Bock)
Got that? Remember that making chili is not an exact recipe. You should gently cook it all day, tasting and adjusting to your likes and dislikes. In addition, this is simple campfire cuisine and should not cost a fortune. Use simple cuts of meat, like chuck. Chili is often best the second day, which makes it easy to remove the fat that will rise to the top and harden after refrigeration. And finally, it is almost impossible to make a bad chili. So, embrace your inner Chili Queen and get cooking!


Chili Con Carne (Chili)

Serves 4-6, can easily be doubled

Ingredients:
For the chili:
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with some salt and pepper
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt, if possible)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano (Mexican oregano, if possible)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (this ensures it will not taste bitter)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 serrano chiles, slit down one side (or whatever chiles you prefer, chipotle chiles work well too)
8 ounces strong beef broth (I add 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef base to 8 ounces water)
1 bottle Texas beer (preferably Shiner Bock)
1 tablespoon Masa Harina
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For garnish (pick and choose as you like):
Sour Cream
Freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Diced Avocado
Sliced jalapeno, seeds and all
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced green onions
Your favorite hot sauce
Oyster crackers
Cornbread (I like the simple Jiffy brand mix, sold at most stores. I always mix in some honey, as well.)

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch oven or large pot. Add the meat in batches to brown slightly. Remove to a plate, or the lid of the Dutch oven! Drain off any excessive amount of fat that may accumulate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, adding additional oil if needed. Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan.

Combine the chili powder, flour, paprika, and cumin. Sprinkle the mixture over the meat. Stir with a wooden spoon, reducing the heat to low, until the meat is evenly coated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, sugar, cayenne, serrano chiles, beef broth, and beer. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for at least 2 hours, or all day, until the meat is very tender. (Remember to stir occasionally adding more beer or water, if needed! If it dries out too much, it can burn and ruin your chili!)

Sprinkle in the Masa Harina and cilantro, stirring occasionally and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the serrano chiles and taste and add additional salt, etc., if necessary. Serve with garnishes laid out in bowls, so everyone can garnish as they like!

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