Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Story of Texas Chili

Word has it that chili was invented in San Antonio, Texas. It began as a simple peasant stew using materials inexpensive and at hand. Meat, chile peppers, comino, oregano and garlic made up the first recipes. All the spices, except the comino, grow wild in South Texas. The straight story on the origin of chili is difficult to determine, as it's mixed with much conjecture and story-telling. General consensus dates its beginnings to the mid-1800s with Texas trail cooks who had to feed hungry cowboys on long trail drives, using whatever ingredients were on hand.

In 1967, at the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas, the first known chili competition took place. The object was to determine who was the best chili chef in the whole world. This happening grew into the huge chili cook-off industry that continues today. Every weekend, hundreds of chili heads gather at dozens of chili cook offs to find the perfect bowl of red. Here's a starting recipe for chili novices:

Basic Texas Chili

  • 2 pounds beef, round or chuck, cut into ½" cubes, all white removed
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Water
  • 2-3 tablespoons blended chili powder, Adams preferred
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup water
In a heavy skillet, sauté the meat in a small amount of oil or shortening until it is gray and gives up its juices. Transfer the meat to a stew pot and discard the juices.

While the meat is still hot, mix in the onion and garlic, salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and let set for 30 minutes.

Add enough water to cover the meat. Put in the spices and bring to a simmer. Cook until the meat is tender. You may have to add more water if the mix becomes too dry. Add the tomato sauce and simmer another 20 minutes.

If the chili is not spicy enough for your taste, add a small amount of cayenne.

Mix 2 tablespoons flour with one half cup of water. Raise the heat under the chili until you get a good boil. Stir in the flour/water mixture and continue stirring until mixture thickens. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 more minutes. Serve with saltines or tortillas.

This recipe will get you started on your way to becoming a fine chili chef. Experiment with the recipe. Try different brands of chili powder. If you end up with two favorite brands, mix them half-and-half and see what result that brings.

Garlic needs to go in the pot in the last half of the cooking process as it will lose its whomp if cooked too long. Oregano will become bitter with too much cooking, so it too needs to go in toward the end of the cooking time.

Most of all, experiment. Read all the recipes you can find. This way you will be ready for that cool weather that demands CHILI!
Article from the Texas West BBQ, Sacramento, news letter.

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