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.

There are three rules for making chili that I will not violate.

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.

Rule Two: Beef.

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.


1 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

~ by Taste Invader on February 1, 2010.

12 Responses to “Texas Five Chili”

  1. This looks like my kind of chili. I have to say that this is amazing.

  2. Thank you so much! You have to try it.

  3. Great photos and even better recipe I will be trying it soon having trouble getting the dried chillies in Australia. But I have found a great store that sells all of the required ingredients. And that final shot of the chilli is wonderful. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  4. Is it really 1/4 cumin!!! That is 4 tablespoons!!!

  5. Sorry it should of read
    Is it really 1/4 cup cumin!!! That is 4 tablespoons!!!

    • Hi there, thanks for the comments. yeah 1/4 cup ground cumin. but you can always adjust. i really like cumin, and it is a lot of meat and chili but you can always start with one tablespoon and taste and add if you want more. I grew up with a lot of cumin in my family’s cooking. I hope you can find the chile. if you can get the ancho and the morita i think you will have a good chili, those i think are the most flavorful. Let me know how it turns out!

  6. Yes I can find them all here, there is a fantastic Mexican food shop in Sydney called fireworks foods that has a very very extensive range of dried chillies (except chihuacle negro and oaxaca unfortunately!). So I will be making it in the next few days though I will do some Aussie tweaks we have great fresh Asian chillies here that are unique in flavour (one is called black bastard it is a very dark black colour has a deep smokey taste with some aniseed,cinnamon, mango, lime and bitter chocolate aftertastes) of course I will be adding vegemite which adds a lot of umami taste sensation to the dish (adding vegemite to stews is very common here in the Land of Oz) also I want to do a red mole (Rick Bayliss’ version). Thank you for your wise advice and prompt reply. When I finish it I will post it and link to your posting (if I can have your permission of course saying my tweaked recipe is based on your recipe and experience). I have a reasonable readership so you should get some hits from the link I would guess. Cheers from Audax.

  7. OBTW what is the heat rating for this recipe out of 10? We have a lot of very hot Thai and Indian (curry) chilli recipes in Australia. I like them to be about 6-7 out of 10 though for Thai Beef salad it can be a 7-8 for me I just love it. Also I found all the dried chillies here and will do the recipe very soon. Does it freeze well and can it be used as a filling for meat pies or enchiladas? Cheers from Audax.

    • I cant wait to hear how it turns out! and of course you can twesk and post ur recipe. i would say that my chili is about a 6-7 on the heat scale. it really depends on the morita or chipotle chiles. they are the hottest ones that i use. i do like dried thai chiles and use them a lot to kick up soups and stews and sauces. it freezes beautifully and is good for about 6 months. GREAT for enchiladas or chilequiles which is basically strips of fried corn tortillas topped with the chili a little mexican crema or creme fraiche, maybe a sprinkle of cheese and a fresh salsa and a poached egg. I love chilequiles esp for brunch or breakfast. if you were going to use it as a filling for meat pies i would set some aside and reduce down the liquid for a drier filling and use less salt since you will be concentrating the flavor by evaporating the liquid. should make an amazing pie! the other thing you can do and i have done this before is make the sauce without the meat. grill up some steak and cut in to strips, toss in the chili sauce and use that in the meat pie. I made some ribeye empanadas a while back that were pretty amazing.

  8. I have made it!!! I used mainly brown chipotle, the standard Mexican mole trinity and a few Thai and Sri Lanka chillies I thought it was low to medium heat rating (3-4 on a scale of ten) I have tweaked it a lot to suit Aussie tastes and what we can get here. I will be making a meat pie using a masa blue cornmeal pie crust and some enchiladas with it. The chillie purée by itself is amazing I was surprised how mild and fruity (this is a good thing) the final dish was I think it is due to me using mainly meco (brown chipotle) instead of your recommended morita (much hotter than the brown chipotle I think) I wanted a smoked meat savoury taste overall. The colour is amazing and it tastes so good the next day. Thank you for your experience and the great recipe. I will post in the next few days. I will ping you when I do. I’m looking forward to the meat pie version. The pixs look great especially the final chilli. I think you will enjoy the tweaks I have done to it. Cheers Audax

  9. I cant wait to see the pics! Let me know when you post!

  10. I have posted about the chilli at this blog posting
    I tweaked it a lot using vegemite and seaweed to add a lot of umami taste sensation hope you like it. Yours Audax

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