Skip to content

Texas Chili

January 19, 2011

Can a Cincinnatian make Texas chili and publish it in her blog without offending a state that could pound her beautiful city, tucked inside the geographical bowl made by seven rolling hills, to a pulp, if it so chose? I mean, I hear Texas takes its chili seriously. It makes SoupAddict nervous.

Did you notice the run-on sentence? SoupAddict speaks in run-on sentences when she’s noy’vous.

I’ll have you know, though, that Cincinnati takes its chili seriously, too. And we’re tough in our own way. You have to be, in order to put cinnamon and chocolate in your thin meat sauce, and still call it “chili.”

And let me tell you, we have to work extra hard to be tough when they build our skyscrapers in the shape of tiaras. (They did that on purpose. We’re the “Queen City.” Get it?)
So what makes chili “Texas chili?” SoupAddict had to do some research. And here’s what she found:

Meeeat. Lotsa meeeeat.

No tomatoes. No beans. No weird vegetables, like carrots. Carrots aren’t weird. Except when they’re in chili. Carrots + meeeeat = stew.

Chili peppers also make Texas chili. It has to be spicy, although not necessarily to the point where it sets your tongue on fire. Although it can be, if that’s your thing.

So let’s see how this turns out. First, the disclaimer:

Dear Texans,

I love your state. Please do not throttle me if I get it wrong. I’m using a recipe from Please throttle them instead. I’ll give you the link.

However, if you approve of the chili, please feel free to give me all the kudos, as the execution counts as much as the recipe, right? Right?!



One thing that simultaneously shocked and drew SoupAddict to this recipe was the creation of a chili paste. A huge amount of chili paste, like 1/3 cup. As in, instead of tomato puree, you use chili paste. Fascinating. I happened to have a larder filled with dried chilis, so I picked a variety of mild/mediums: New Mexico, guajillo, cascabel, chipotles, ancho. I wanted a very deep, rich flavor, rather than just raw, mouth-scorching heat.
Although not stated in the recipe’s instructions, my intention from the start was to use the chili-soaking water in the creation of the paste (instead of plain water), so I removed the seeds first, prior to soaking. Seeds contain the lion’s share of a pepper’s heat, and I didn’t want the liquid (nor the peppers) to absorb that heat.

Yes, those are pepper seeds. Yes, SoupAddict’s not perfect. But surely you’ve figured that out already.

While the chilis soak, prep the meat. This gorgeous cut of chuck barely needed any trimming. Cut into 1/2″ chunks. I’m not a fan of ground beef in chili, so even though that’s easier (with a meat grinder; or, just buy it ground), the mouth feel is better with a diced preparation. Believe it, it’s true.
Brown the meat thoroughly. This step is always time-intensive, so do plan accordingly. I don’t have a large skillet, so I prepared this in a shallow 5 qt dutch oven. It still took 3 batches and almost 30 minutes to brown all the meat.
Onions, garlic, black pepper and cumin round out the spices. I also added smoked paprika, which is my only variation from the recipe (and, I’m sure, not traditional. Please still don’t throttle me).
Mmmmmmm, look at those browned bits the meat left behind: the intensely-flavored, caramelized crumbs of meat sticking to the pan. Yummy things are produced with browned bits in the mix.
Look at that gorgeous chili paste. All I can say is, wow. Just when I was wondering where the flavor was going to come from, I scraped this out of the blender.
The recipe includes some interesting cooking instructions, which I pretty much just ignored. For my tastes, simply simmering the chili for the full 3 hours — rather than letting it cool down for 30 minutes and then reheating — produced the kind of sauce I was looking for. The ignoring of the cool-down might, however, be a Texas-chili-blasphemy. But please don’t throttle SoupAddict!
And this also might totally be Texas-chili-blasphemy, but SoupAddict likes freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese on her chili. (And lots more than is pictured here.)

After the fact, I read a tip to mix some fresh lime juice and a bit of lime zest into the sour cream before serving. That sounds soooo good, I’m going to try that next time.

Okay, Texas, how did this Cincinnati girl do?

Texas Chili

2 ounces dried, whole New Mexico (California), guajillo, or pasilla chiles, or a combination (6 to 8 chiles)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons lard, vegetable oil, or rendered beef suet
2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (to yield 2 pounds after trimming)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock , or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons masa harina (corn tortilla flour)
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed
Sour cream
lime wedges

1. Place the chiles in a straight-sided large skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the chiles until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don’t let them burn or they’ll turn bitter. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water and soak until soft, 15 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice.
2. Drain the chiles; split them and remove stems and seeds (a brief rinse helps remove seeds, but don’t wash away the flesh). Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Purée the mixture, adding more water as needed (and occasionally scraping down the sides of the blender jar), until a smooth, slightly fluid paste forms (you want to eliminate all but the tiniest bits of skin.) Set the chile paste aside.
3. Return skillet to medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons of the lard. When it begins to smoke, swirl skillet to coat and add half of the beef. Lightly brown on at least two sides, about 3 minutes per side, reducing the heat if the meat threatens to burn. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of lard and the remaining beef. Reserve.
4. Let the skillet cool slightly, and place it over medium-low heat. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of lard in the skillet; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, the remaining 2 cups water and gradually whisk in the masa harina to avoid lumps. Stir in the reserved chile paste, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spatula to loosen any browned bits. Add the reserved beef (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender but still somewhat firm and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 hours.
5. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste; gently simmer 10 minutes more. At this point, it may look like there is excess sauce. Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the skillet, leaving the meat bathed in a thick, somewhat fluid sauce. Stir in additional broth or water if the mixture seems too dry. If the mixture seems a bit loose and wet, allow it to simmer a bit more (sometimes we like to partially crush the cubes of beef with the back of a spoon to let them absorb more sauce). Adjust the balance of flavors with a bit of additional salt, sugar, or vinegar, if you like.
6. Reheat gently and serve in individual bowls with lime wedges on the side and a dollop of sour cream on top.

  1. January 19, 2011 8:18 am

    I LOVE Chili.
    Although I don’t eat beef….Meatless Chilli is SOOOO delicious

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 19, 2011 9:07 am

      Agreed! I eat beef, but I do love vegetarian variations, too.

  2. Skinny Cook permalink
    January 19, 2011 8:24 am

    I’m a fifth-generation Texan transplanted to Florida. I have won multiple chili cook-offs. Take a deep breath…..

    Ya done good. Yep.

    Can’t like the sugar. Need lots more cumin. Lots. But ya done good. And tears came to my eyes when I saw real chunks of meat instead of ground beef. *sniff*

    Don’t tell anybody, but I put tomatoes and beans in mine and have never offended anybody. But you’re right, *real* Texas chili is meat and chilis. Oh, and you have to place hand over heart whenever you say Texas.

    Love ya!

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 19, 2011 9:14 am

      Yay! Whew! What a relief! I agree with you on all accounts. I was tasting this thing like mad throughout, and I didn’t notice any benefit from the sugar. Vinegar, yes. Brown sugar, no. I had completely forgotten to check my cumin seed jar before I started, and that pile in the photo above is all I had left (which happened to be the amount called for in the recipe). Like you said, it needed lots more cumin. I’m used to doing chili with multiple spice dumps throughout cooking time, so I was a little worried that the chili wouldn’t turn out as flavorful as it should, but that chili paste was really something!

  3. January 19, 2011 11:27 am

    I’m with you on the chunks of meat as opposed to the ground meat. And the chili paste looks out of this world. I can only imagine the lovely layers of flavor all those different chilis added.

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 20, 2011 9:16 am

      Once you try the chunks, you’ll never go back to ground. 🙂 The difference is amazing. I think the different chilis really a made difference, too. I can’t imagine it would be half as good with just, say, anchos.

  4. January 19, 2011 1:27 pm

    I really like ur pictures and the chili sounds amazing! I must try it, Im a bit of a chili addict:)
    Anyway really big kudos for the photos, Im trying to improve myself in that way, I didn`t take any pictures for ages, and its hard to start again…

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 20, 2011 9:24 am

      Thanks! Chili addicts must try all variations of chilis: it’s your duty. 😉

  5. January 19, 2011 7:19 pm

    I do a chili that has the blasphemous tomatoes, carrots, peppers and beans in it in addition to the ground meat. But I use chili powder.

    I do want to try your chili paste though as I think I’d get much greater flavor out of it.

    And I think I’ll hit the local meat market and get some chuck. That looks so good!

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 20, 2011 9:22 am

      I use chili powder, too. I think I’m going to add the chili paste to my regular chili repertoire rather than replace the ground forms completely. Maybe chili paste goes in first, then the ground spices go in during cooking.

      I guess I shouldn’t knock the carrots until I try them. Peppers, yes. Carrots, I’m spektical. 🙂

  6. Susan permalink
    January 20, 2011 9:33 am

    You had me laughing out loud, which might frighten people since I am at the Reception desk. Looks fabulous!

    • SoupAddict permalink
      January 26, 2011 8:45 am

      Nah, they’ll just assume you’re happy where you work. 🙂

  7. Lily permalink
    January 25, 2011 12:28 pm

    As a Texan, I can definitely tell you that our state approves of liberal amounts of cheddar on chili. If you want to make it REALY Texas-y, dump some fritos into the bowl of chili before you eat it along with the cheese and sour cream.

    • Lily permalink
      January 25, 2011 12:29 pm

      Also I meant to spell “really” the right way, but got too excited about using caps locks and thinking about frito pie…oops.

      • SoupAddict permalink
        January 26, 2011 8:50 am

        Mmm, fritos. Funny, that’s also how my fam eats Cincinnati chili, kinda-sorta, when it’s not served over spaghetti: using Frito Scoops to eat the chili like a dip.

        I also put fritos on ham sandwiches. Is that weird? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that out loud. 🙂

  8. Jennifer permalink
    February 2, 2011 4:14 pm

    We are going to try it tonight. My 13 y.o son hates tomatoes, so I wanted to try this. I also pureed some refried beans and garbanzo beans to thicken it a bit we’lll see . Thanks for the ideas though

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: