This chili is so damn Texan it made me forget how to be a New Yorker.
Let me explain. Remember a few weeks ago when I made turkey white bean chili and I hemmed and hawed because it just wasn’t Texas chili? It was spicy and warm and just exactly what I wanted on a cold winter day. But it was full of beans and tomatoes and turkey — oh my!
So a couple weeks later I made myself some good ol’ Texas chili, without any City shortcuts. This recipe starts with toasting whole, dried chiles (no chili powder) and browning chuck roast (not ground beef) in rendered bacon fat and then the whole thing simmers for a whopping five hours while the beef gets meltingly tender and the chiles and baking spices make a lovely spicy-nutty gravy. No beans, just a complex bowl of fall-apart tender meat in a mole-style chile sauce. A spoonful of this stuff — topped off with a few crunchy Fritos and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese — is big and spicy and so purely Texas, it’ll hit ya like a subway door to the face.
Which, it just so happens, is exactly what happened to me after I made this chili. The Boyfriend and I were trying to catch a crowded A train out of Penn Station. We ran up the stairs, and just inside the nearest door, I saw three of our friends from law school. What luck! I ran and jumped into the train with them. But The Boyfriend didn’t see them. He ran down to the next door and squeezed in. I watched him from down the car turn, look behind him, realize I wasn’t there, and step off the train. The doors closed. But then they popped open again! My mind clouded with Texas chili, I stuck my head out to get his attention. Annnnnnd the doors closed. On my face. Not, like, near my face. On my face. But don’t worry, by this time I had The Boyfriend’s attention, and everyone else’s on the train and platform. So I shouted, “The doors are on my face!” (Cool as a cucumber in a crisis, y’all.) After an excruciatingly long couple of seconds, the doors popped open again. I stepped off the train, bid my friends farewell, and joined the Boyfriend on the subway platform. Then I promptly burst out crying and he used the tears on my face to wipe the subway door dirt off my cheeks. True love is hard to find, amirite sisters?
Anyway, I blame the chili. It was all wide open spaces and big Texas sky in a bowl, and it made me forget all that I’ve learned in my five years of City livin’. So, warning to all: it’s a pain in the ass to make, and it’s going to suck when you get your head stuck in a subway after eating it, but this chili is totally worth it.
- 6 anchos
- 2 pasilla
- 2 costeños
- 2 guajillos
- 4 chiles de arbol
- 1 c. water
- 4 slices of bacon
- 4 lbs. chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ½ t. cinnamon
- ½ t. clove
- ½ t. allspice
- ½ t. cayenne
- 1 T. cumin
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of your knife
- 2 espresso shots (or 1 c. brewed coffee)
- 1 beer (bottle or can, less a sip or two if that strikes your fancy)
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- Shredded cheese
- Red onion, diced
- Pickled jalapeno
- In a dry cast-iron skillet (I use this one and I love it!), toast the dried chiles on both sides over medium heat. You are just getting their oils flowing, not blackening the chiles, so go easy on them. Once they are bend-y and you can smell them, they are sufficiently toasted. Cover the chiles with water and let them soak for 30 minutes or so.
- While the chiles are soaking, start with the rest of the chili. In a medium skillet, brown the bacon over medium-high heat until it renders its fat.
- Remove the bacon strips, leaving the fat in the bottom of the pot. Crumble or chop the bacon into small pieces, and put it into the slow cooker. Keep the fat going over medium-high heat, and use it to brown the chuck roast on all sides. Don't crowd the pan. You'll probably need to do this in 2 or 3 batches -- if too many pieces of meat are in the pot at once, the oil temperature will drop and the meat won't brown. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it's actually faster to do it in separate batches.
- Once the meat is browned, remove it from the pot and add it to the slow cooker but, again, leave the rendered fat and juices in the bottom of the pot.
- Turn the heat under the rendered bacon and beef fat and juices down to medium and brown the onion in it. Saute the onion, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until it's translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon, clove, allspice, cayenne, cumin and smashed garlic cloves and saute for another 3-5 minutes, until you can really smell the spices and garlic.
- Add the espresso shots or coffee to the onion mixture, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get all of the spices into the coffee. Then add the espresso-onion mix to the slow cooker, along with the beer.
- At this point, your chiles should be done soaking. Drain them, reserving their soaking liquid. Puree the chiles, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add the chile paste to the slow cooker and stir.
- Nestle the beef chunks down into the liquids.
- Cook on high for 8 hours, until the meat is fall-apart tender.
- Serve warm with cheese, red onion, pickled jalapenos, and fritos.
This chili only gets better with time. It freezes well and would be great if you made it all the way through and stored the cooked chili in your fridge for a few days before serving it. You could also prepare all of the steps until everything is in the slow cooker and it's time to start (slow) cookin'. Just combine everything in the slow cooker and cover and refrigerate until you're ready to cook, no more than 2 or 3 days.
If you are shopping for a slow cooker, I use this Crock-Pot brand 6-qt. slow cooker, which I like mostly because it's roomy, lightweight, and it has a digital timer. I've also heard good things about the touch screen version of my Crock Pot, if you want to get super fancy. Both are great because you can set the timer and leave them -- once the time runs out, they will automatically switch to warm.
If you don't have a slow cooker, but really want to make this chili, follow the instructions as written. But instead of adding everything in a crock pot, add it to the pot in which you intend to cook the chili.