Recipe: The Best Texas Chili Ever
Contributor Lisa Fielding is a private chef and boutique caterer based in Manhattan who weekends in Litchfield County whenever possible. Many of her Manhattan clients are also Litchfield County weekenders, so work brings her to Northwest Connecticut as well. A Los Angeles transplant, Fielding was a former Hollywood film executive who segued into screenwriting several years ago, which enabled her to pursue her passion for food and entertaining. Lisa’s culinary skill set draws from a broad spectrum of dishes and ingredients.
There is a prevailing argument in the food world about what constitutes real chili, and it boils down to beans or no beans. Texans swear that a bowl of red comprises large chunks of beef, fresh chiles, and broth cooked into a rich, spicy concoction—with no tomatoes, I might add. Almost everywhere else, chili is made from ground beef, beans, and a tomato-based sauce.
I approach chili as if it were a Venn diagram, borrowing from both approaches but never following either to the letter. I cannot imagine chili without beans, and I would never make chili with ground beef. When I make chili it’s a several-hour event that requires a good amount of prep and cooking time. Where I become a militant chili chef and resident know-it-all on all things chili is that chuck is the only beef suitable for making the best bowl of chili, and this I will go to war over. In fact, chili wars, competitions, and cook-offs are legendary events held around the world, from the small county fair to the urban food festival, because cooks and chefs are that passionate about their chili recipes.
(And just to clarify for the uninitiated: chile refers to the pepper and chili to the actual dish. This distinction will keep you from scratching your head when you decide to enter a local chili competition and write down your own tried-and-true recipe.)
So why, you ask, is a bowl of beef, smothered in a delectable sauce and served with either cornbread or tortillas so incredibly delicious, satisfying, and addictive? Well, according to the International Chili Society, “Perhaps it is the effect of capsicum spices upon man’s mind; for, in the immortal words of Joe DeFrates, the only man ever to win the National and the World Chili Championships, ‘Chili powder makes you crazy.’”
I’m not sure that lunacy accurately defines the effect that chili has on a person when digging into a bowl of the aromatic sauce, succulent meat chunks, and subsequent heat that accompanies each bite, but my own paternal grandfather, Rennon Preston Fielding, used to remark, “Put a bowl of Texas chili on my head and I’ll slap my brains out getting my hands on it.” My papa, as well, was no stranger to expressing himself hyperbolically — the bigger the better. He was Texan, after all.
So I invite you to pull out your big chili pot, spend several hours in the kitchen, invite a group of your favorite friends over, and feast on my version of the best Texas chili in the world. And if you know this guy Joe DeFrates, invite him over, too. I’m sure he’ll agree that my chili is better than his!
When working with chile peppers, always wear rubber gloves and be careful not to touch your eyes or skin. Wash cutting boards and utensils in hot soapy water before reusing.
Prepare the Meat
1/2 cup bacon grease
5 lb. chuck roast, trimmed, cubed, and seasoned with salt and pepper on all sides.
2 tsp. salt for seasoning the meat
2 tsp. ground black pepper for seasoning the meat
Prepare the Chili
1 large white onion, chopped
3 large jalapeño or serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 Tbs. ground cumin
2 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 32-oz. can chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 12-oz. bottle quality beer, such as Sam Adams
2 oz. tequila
3 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
8 cups beef stock
1 16-oz. can black beans, rinsed
1 16-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 16-oz. can pinto beans, rinsed
Minced fresh cilantro leaves
Serve with warmed flour and corn tortillas
1. In a large heavy pot (such as a cast-iron Dutch oven), heat about a third of the bacon grease over medium heat. Add part of the meat in a single layer and sear until the pieces are browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl and repeat, adding bacon grease and single-layer batches of beef until all the meat has been browned.
2 With the heat still on medium, add the onions and jalapeños and cook until wilted, 5 minutes. Next, add the garlic and chili powder and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano, salt and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the canned tomatoes and heat for another minute. Add the brown sugar and cook until dissolved. Add the beer and tequila and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan. Add the poblanos, chipotles and adobo sauce, and the beef stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add all of the beef chunks. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is very tender, up to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the rinsed beans to the pot. Cook for another 30 minutes to heat through.
3. The chili should be thick, extremely fragrant, and deep mahogany in color. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with cilantro, a wedge of lime, and a dollop of sour cream. Serve with a stack of warmed flour and corn tortillas.