Recipe: Real Texas Chili

A bowl of red chili, Texas style

A Bowl of Red with possible condiments

[Spoiler Alert: real Texas chili contains no beans.] Frank X. Tolbert was a columnist who worked with my father at the Dallas Morning News. Later he opened a chain of chili parlors and became a celebrity judge at chili cook-offs. This is a light modification of his original “Bowl of Red”. Serves 12.

3-4 lbs beef chuck
3-4 T chili powder (see note)
1 t ground oregano
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 oz beer or other liquid
1 t Kosher salt
2 t masa harina
Cayenne pepper to taste
Additional chili powder to taste

Method: Chop the beef into small pieces “about the size of the top joint of your little finger”. Separate and reserve the fat. Sweat (render the fat) in a dutch oven or heavy pot over very low heat for about half an hour, till it throws off a good amount of oil. Discard the pieces of fat. Toast the chili powder, oregano, cumin powder and coriander powder in the oil till the chili powder begins to smoke. Immediately add the chopped beef and garlic; turn up the heat and sauté, stirring, until the meat is thoroughly seared, about 10 minutes. Add the beer and salt and bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for at least 3 hours or until the beef is very tender. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, skim any congealed fat if you like, bring to a simmer, and taste. Add more chili powder, salt and cayenne as you like (I think the base recipe is undersalted). Continue cooking a couple more hours until the meat is falling apart. Add masa harina and cook ½ hour to thicken. (You can also use cornmeal or flour if masa flour isn’t available, but masa is recommended to provide a distinctive tamale-like taste.) Serve with tortillas, beans, and whatever you like in the way of condiments.

Note about chili powder: I start with 2 T of a mild chili powder (“New Mexico” or equivalent), 1 T of ancho or chipotle powder for a smokey/toasty taste, and a light teaspoon of cayenne for heat. If dried chili pods are available use those and reduce the chili powder accordingly.

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