Texas Five Chili
Frank and Jesse James reputedly downed a few bowls before pulling some of their heists — and supposedly spared one town because of it. O. Henry spun a short story around it, and Will Rogers allegedly judged a town by its quality. It’s said Eleanor Roosevelt tried — without success — to get the secrets of one recipe, and that Lyndon B. Johnson remarked that the kind concocted outside his home state of Texas was “usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing.” Not even Elizabeth Taylor was immune — she had whole quarts packed in dry ice and shipped to Rome while she was filming “Cleopatra.”
Carter, Noelle. “Chili: a bowl of red-blooded American heaven.” Los Angeles Times 4 Feb. 2010: Food
They, of course, could only be referring to chili. Chili is a deeply personal and strangely polarizing dish. So just to be clear, I am not out for converts to my “house of chili” religion. I am just going to put out my general thoughts on chili—my hard n fast rules, the areas where I will play around and try new things, and finally, the latest pot I made and how I made it. (Point of reference, I will use the English word “chili” for the dish and the Spanish word “chile” for the pod.)
So I am a bit of a chili purist and snob. I grew up in a Hispanic household in Texas with a mother of outstanding culinary abilities. This, more than anything else, defines how I consume, evaluate and make chili.
Rule One: fresh, dried whole chile pods not, chile powder.
There are two and only two stars in this dish. Meat and chile. And as the name implies, the chile is the lead. I only use fresh, dried, whole chile pods. Chile peppers are botanically a fruit. And, like other fruit, when dried, their flavors intensify, develop and deepen, their natural sugars become more pronounced, they become highly aromatic and their flesh plumps, softens and becomes supple like a sweet raisin or pitted date. Each variety also has a distinct flavor, color, aroma and level of heat. I find the powders to be dry, musty, and gritty. They never have the chile “punch” I am looking for. The subtlies and complexities of the pods are lost. I also wonder how long the powder sat on the shelf at the store before I bought it. And with powder, I loose control of the flavor profile. I like the to change the flavor based on what I am in the mood for—the level of heat, the level of fruitiness and the amount and type of other seasonings and spices. I like to change the flavor profile and experiment with different chile combinations and different ratios of chile to spices. I like to use fresh chile pods. I wouldn’t buy and eat dried fruit that was hard and brittle (imagine a raisin that cracks and splinters). And I certainly would not put something that was old and dusty into a pot of chili.
I’m from Texas. What’d you think I was gonna say. For the record, I also love other meats, pork especially, and love to stew them with dried chiles. I just don’t call them chili.
Rule Three: NO BEANS!!!
C’mon, beans, really?!? I mean, why bother? Sure they add texture but they suck up flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pot of beans, what Mex-Tex man doesn’t. Trust me. I’ll do a whole separate post on the virtues and versatility of beans—a la charra, refried, con chorizo… Just not in chili.
When I cook, I cook with what is fresh, what looks good and what is available. And thats exactly how I make my chili. When I went home to Texas for the holidays my family made tamales. The guiso or pork filling my mom and dad made for the tamales used a combination of ancho and morita chiles. A combination that I had never tasted and one that I completely fell in love with. So, I went to the local grocery store (Fiesta) and both varieties were amazingly fresh so I bought both and brought them back up to New York.
Morita are a type of chipotle (dried and smoked jalapeno). Moritas are a dark reddish black color and pack a pretty spicy bite. They are very fruity—plum and red pepper—and are surprisingly sweet. Because of the smoke, they carry almost a toasted, tobacco flavor. Ancho is a dried poblano. They are a blackish brown color. They smell like toasted raisins and taste of prune, blackberry and coffee with a mild heat.
I am also a big fan of guajillo, pasilla and the New Mexican red chiles. Gualjillo are a deep red, thin-skinned chile from Mexico. They have a bright flavor with notes of raspberry and sun dried tomato. Pasilla are long, dark brown-black medium heat chili. Pasilla means raisin in Spanish and the chile has a black cherry and grape like flavor with notes of molasses and clove. New Mexican reds are long and have a deep red color. They taste remarkably like a sweet red bell pepper with a slight berry sugar and acidity.
I normally use a combination of ancho, guajillo and pasilla with ancho playing the lead chile. But this time I wanted to taste the ancho/morita combination with the other three chiles playing supporting roles. And so the Texas Five Chili was born.
For the meat, I had originally intended to make the chili with brisket because I love the flavor and richness of the point cut or fatty end of the brisket. When I went to the meat market however, I fell in love with a chuck roast and two hind shank steaks. So that’s what I used.
Ground vs. cubed? I have to say that I am a fan of the cubes myself. I prefer ¾ inch chunks for a couple of reasons. I think the cubed meat browns better than the ground. I also like that some of the cubes will start to fall apart and soak up the chile sauce around them similar to pulled pork in barbecue sauce. The resulting texture is some bite from the stew-sized chunks with the chew from the chile soaked shreds.
So here is what I did.
Ingredients1 lb beef hind shank steak 3 lb beef chuck roast 6 large ancho chiles 6 morita chiles 2 pasilla chile 2 guajillo chile 2 New Mexican red chile 3 medium yellow onions, medium dice 5 cloves garlic, finely minced 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes, medium dice 1/4 cup cumin 1 tbsp Mexican oregano 3 bay leaves 4 cloves 1 quart beef stock 2 tbsp Olive oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In large, heavy Dutch oven or stew pot on medium high heat, sauté onion in olive oil until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Add meat and brown, slowly and in small batches (to effectively brown the meat, not steam it). Remove from pan and set aside. Quickly add garlic and sauté until aromatic and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Add 1 cup stock and deglaze pan scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes and their liquid and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes to reduce total liquid to about ½ cup.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring remaining stock to a boil. Add cloves, cover and boil for 5 minutes. Remove cloves and add seeded and de-veined chiles to boiling liquid. Cover and reduce heat, simmer chiles for 15 minutes. With an emersion blender on low speed, purée chiles in hot liquid until smooth.
5. Add chile purée, meat, onion and garlic back to Dutch oven and bring to simmer.
6. Lightly toast cumin in small pan over medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until aromatic and golden, not browned. Grind to a fine powder in mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Add to Dutch oven.
7. Crush oregano with your hands until aromatic and add to pot. Add bay leaves and 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
8. Simmer over medium low heat for about 1 ½ to 2 hours or until meat is tender and some pieces are falling apart. Taste for salt and pepper. To finish, add ½ teaspoon each of crushed oregano and ground cumin and remove from heat. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Serve and garnish with your favorite toppings.Note: The ratio of chile to meat that I generally follow is approximately 1.5 oz. of dried chile per pound of meat. A large meaty, fresh ancho might weigh up to about .5 oz. A few chile combinations I like to use are: 2 ancho and 3 morita per pound of meat 2 ancho, 1 pasilla, and 1 guajillo per pound of meat