My Citizens – I, the ever-vigilant TFD, am preparing to blockade my secret lair and am feverishly building up new walls of protection all geared to one earnest purpose. That purpose, dear Citizens, is the preservation of my life and sanity, as I wade into the seething morass that is “what makes a good Texas chili.”
The fact that my in-laws are all from south Texas, all pack heat and all are extremely opinionated as to what makes for the finest pride of Texas recipes, this is at best humbling and at worst absolutely terrifying as their Jewish, NYC-born familial interloper dares to take on their cherished recipe.
That said – my fear is mitigated by one, indisputable fact: I am the first person in the history of the International Chili Society to ever win a regional competition on their first-ever entry. Usually, it takes many years to eke out a win – I did it on my first attempt! I went on to the World Championships in Palm Springs in 2013 and placed in the top 1/3 of all contestants!
So – to all my in-laws: prepare to be blown away by this, my recipe of recipes for Texas-style chili.
The first rule of Texas chili – THERE ARE NO BEANS IN IT. Repeat this over and over until they are branded into your brain in glyphs of white-hot fire. Second, the beef should ideally be finely-cubed, not ground. Third, make your own Chili powder – Gebhardt’s of Texas makes a fine product, but this is where you really want to make your own (and you will!). Fourth, and this depends on what part of Texas you’re in, use some finely ground Masa Harina (corn flour) to thicken the chili.
As described on nationalchiliday.com:
When it comes to the story of chili, tales and myths abound.
While many food historians agree that chili con carne is an American dish with Mexican roots, Mexicans are said to indignantly deny any association with the dish.
Enthusiasts of chili say one possible though far-fetched starting point comes from Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun in the early 1600s who never left her convent yet had out-of-body experiences in which her spirit was transported across the Atlantic to preach Christianity to the Indians. After one of the return trips, her spirit wrote down the first recipe for chili con carne: chili peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes.
Another yarn goes that Canary Islanders who made their way to San Antonio as early as 1723, used local peppers and wild onions combined with various meats to create early chili combinations.
Most historians agree that the earliest written description of chili came from J.C. Clopper, who lived near Houston. While his description never mentions the word chili this is what he wrote of his visit to San Antonio in 1828: “When they [poor families of San Antonio] have to lay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family; it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat–this is all stewed together.”
In the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chili stands from which chili or bowls o’red, as it was called, were sold by women who were called “chili queens.” A bowl o’red cost diners such as writer O. Henry and democratic presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan ten cents and included bread and a glass of water. The fame of chili con carne began to spread and the dish soon became a major tourist attraction. It was featured at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand.
By the 20th century chili joints had made their debut in Texas and became familiar all over the west by the roaring ‘20s. In fact, by the end of that decade, there was hardly a town that didn’t have a chili parlor, which were often no more than a shed or a room with a counter and some stools. It’s been said that chili joints meant the difference between starvation and staying alive during the Great Depression since chili was cheap and crackers were free.
Citizens, my Texas chili hits the ground running with only two or three idiosyncratic notes: I use a square of Dove brand dark chocolate as I prefer the slight bitterness it adds and I also add my secret ingredients. That includes Knorr Aromat, a common seasoning used in Europe that adds a meaty savoriness. I also add a hint of Bolner’s Fiesta Brand Mesquite-flavored fajita seasoning mix for a bit of smokiness as well. Lastly, I like a blend of beef and bison in my chili, but you can easily just use beef if you prefer.
I am reasonably confident I will survive this close encounter of the scary kind to write another day!
Battle on – The Generalissimo