Something tells me that Americans have lost touch with what chili really is.
Go down to the supermarket and you’ll find your choice of chili, chili con carne, and the mind-boggling “chili con carne with beans.” All of them are stultifying assaults to any palate and not worth the label of “chili.”
Red–a hearty meat stew–is to my heart and mind the original chili: nothing but meat and chili peppers. Sometimes called “Texas Red,” my version is definitely un-Texan, so I just call it “red,” but it is, at its core, a purist’s chili It has been a standard big-batch-home-cook recipe of mine for years. I usually cook up a big batch, we have a great meal, and then I freeze what’s left in discrete two-person servings that we can pull out at a moment’s notice.
Last night, for the first time, I rolled it out to non-family at a potluck evening, and it got raves all night. Anything that gets that kind of response deserves to be shared.
This red is best served in a bowl, over a hunk of freshly baked cornbread.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
- 3 lbs lean beef
- Up to 6 tbsp. rendered fat (bacon, beef, chicken, or duck)
- 1/2 cup ground dried chili peppers (see Notes)
- 1 tbsp. ground cumin seeds (see Notes)
- 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped fine
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 3 to 4 cups stock/broth (beef, chicken, or duck)
- 1/4 cup masa harina
- 1/4 cup cold water
- Cut the beef into 1/2″ cubes
- Put a large pot over a med-high heat and put a tablespoon or two of fat in it to melt.
- Brown the cubed beef in batches. Don’t crowd the pot. When each batch is browned, set aside and go to the next batch, adding fat as needed.
- When all beef is browned, return it all (with all the juices) to the pot.
- Add the powdered chili peppers, cumin, oregano, salt, and garlic. Stir to evenly distribute the spices.
- Pour in enough stock/broth to cover the meat plus a little more.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours, minimum, stirring occasionally. Add more stock as needed to keep the meat covered.
- In a small bowl, mix the masa harina and the cold water to make a paste.
- Take a cup of liquid from the cooking pot and add it to the paste to thin it out. Now add the mixture back into the pot, stirring to avoid clumps.
- Let the stew simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Serve in a bowl, ladled over fresh-baked cornbread.
- You can use your favorite chili powder, or you can grind your own dried chilies in a spice grinder. I prefer this, because I can control the heat and the flavor.
- My preferred mixture follows the proportions below. This combination has a lot of fruit and smoke flavors, but doesn’t overpower the uninitiated palate with heat. If you like more heat, drop the proportion of New Mexico and Poblano chilies, and up the proportions of Guajillo and Chipotle. If you’re a real chili heat wimp, use smoked paprika instead of chipotles, If you’re a real chili-head, you know what you like.
- My favored “safe for public consumption” mixture is as follows:
- 1/3 New Mexico chilies (very mild)
- 1/3 Poblano chilies (fairly mild)
- 1/6 Guajillo chilies (some heat)
- 1/6 Chipotle chilies (spicy and smoky)
- If you want a more complex flavor, try replacing the ground cumin with a tablespoon of my ras al hanout spice blend. It adds just that extra…something.
- The proportions of this recipe are easily scaled up. If you find a nice, 6-pound roast on sale, snap it up and make a double-batch o’ red.