"Authentic" Texas Chili

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Audeo

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Chili is a serious subject across this continent and everyone has their own way of making it, as Lifter kindly mentioned in his delicious post on the subject. But, as requested by dear Alix, here is the recipe for “authentic” Texas Chili, given to me by Texas Gov. Ann Richards, avid hunter, great cook, and downright warm, wonderful gal.

As I mentioned under Lifter’s recipe, with tongue in cheek, Texans claim that chili is a Texas creation, a Texas invention, and a Texas tradition! It was created as a cheap food for cowboys, one that could easily be made while riding the hard trails and that would also travel well. In other words, it was quick and easy to make, but could be made to serve lots of people over a long period of time. Following the herds across country, a group of cowboys could start a pot of chili and continually add meat scraps and fat to the pot over the weeks as they traveled…and it only got better as the trail went on.

Think about this for a minute from an historical standpoint. Chili was cowboy food…food made by and for cowboys traveling across the ranges away from civilization back in the 1800s. There were no canned tomatoes, and certainly no fresh tomatoes on the trail. There were no pasta makers, and there certainly weren't any beans very often in real life. (Beans were dried (of course) and required you to soak them in water for a day or more and then boil them for hours more just to make them edible...a whole lots of inconvenient work.) Chili is fast, easy food, and is made up of nothing but ingredients you can travel with safely without refrigeration, or scrounge around and find while you're on the trail. That limited the ingredients to only a few things: meat, chili powder, and possibly a few wild leaks, onions, or a little garlic, and maybe a few wild vegetables on top of that, but darned little.

I encourage you to try this recipe at least once, so you will understand how far this dish has come to its present variations a century and a half later.

Here's how to make real Texas Cowboy Chili. Start with the following ingredients:

2 pounds of coarsely ground beef (not lean!)
2 ounces of animal fat (bacon grease or beef suet--the pork fat is a little better)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 large chopped onion
3-5 tablespoons chili powder (McCormick's is authentic enough, although you can mix your own with cumin, ground red pepper, oregano, cumin, black pepper and salt if you're really, really serious…)

And that’s it -- the entire ingredient list. Nothing more.

First, render your pork or beef fat by frying it over low heat until it melts. An iron skillet is best if you want to be really authentic. Remove the rinds from the fat, if any, then add the coarse ground beef. Brown the beef lightly over medium heat, until it just begins to turn brown. Then add the minced garlic and chopped onions.

Do not drain ANY of the fat off. (I know, I know...!) Continue to cook.

Once the onions begin to become translucent, slowly start sprinkling in the chili powder, stirring slowly and gently as you add it. Once it's blended, reduce the heat and let the chili simmer at a very low, mildly bubbling heat for at least two hours. Stir the chili gently every half hour or so.

Add salt to taste. You shouldn't need much though!

You will notice that the consistency of this chili changes rather dramatically over time, becoming thicker the longer it cooks. You can add a little water if it gets too thick, but keep in mind that it's supposed to be thick – I’ve met more than a few “serious” Texas Chili folk who will tell you that a spoon should stand up if you stick it into a bowl of real chili!

That's it! Two hours, and the chili is ready to eat. However, the longer it cooks, the better it will be! Cook it four hours, six hours, eight hours…start it in the morning and eat it for dinner, whatever. Refrigerate the chili and reheat it the next day, and it will taste even better still!

Sound boring? You will be absolutely astounded with how good it is. Feel free to add a fresh, sliced jalapeno or two for a nice kick. A SINGLE fresh tomato chopped into the mix isn't too far from the original to be sacrilegious to a native Texan. A single chopped green pepper might not hurt either. However, I encourage you to try the plain, original recipe at least once, to understand what it was and perhaps, even, how far the dish has evolved.

Hope you enjoy it, and I hope you'll try the real thing at least once in your life!


** This recipe is attributed to Jim Perry, an exceptional cowboy, cook and fiddler who worked on the XIT Ranch, located primarily in the Texas Panhandle. Jim, by the way, was one of many African-American cowboys that our history has only recently begun to celebrate.

The XIT Ranch (XIT=Ten in Texas) included land in ten counties and was one of the largest ranches in the history of our nation. Its lands were sold to a Chicago company in exchange for constructing our state capitol building, which was completed in 1888.

The exact date of this recipe is unknown, but is estimated to have been created somewhere around 1840.
 

Lifter

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Seeing as the 13th century "search for the new world" was in fact trying to get a maritime spice route...

The reason Europe wanted spices was to disguise the smell and taste of rotting meats (there being no refridgeration)

Extend this thinking to the "trail" in the 19th century, and its pretty obvious where the chili powder got evolved....

Lifter

Chili=Texan Stir Fry
 

Audeo

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Lifter (LMAO), you have a very valid point there!!!

Perhaps I omitted the wee important point that chili was a Winter meal???

Too funny!
 

GB

Chief Eating Officer
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Audeo, Thank you for posting this. This is exactly what I have been looking for. I just have two questions...

1. I was under the impressing that real chili did not use ground beef, but actually used little diced pieces of meat instead. Is this not correct? What are your thoughts on this?

2. In the recipe, you render the pork then add the beef et al. then it says to simmer. Is there liquid somewhere in this that I am missing? Maybe I misunderstand what simmer really means.

This sounds delicious and I can't wait to make it. Thanks so much for posting it and giving us the history behind it as well! I was looking for a good chili recipe to test out my new dutch oven and this is the winner. I will give this a shot on Sat or Sun :)
 

Audeo

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GB, the old stuff surely didn't use ground beef. It was just too much trouble, so diced/cubed meat would be correct.

But there is no additional liquid -- just what comes from the meat. (Yet, if it becomes too thick, I add some water anyway, just not much.) Lifter made an exceptional point, in my opinion, regarding various vegetables that would be found at settlements and homesteads along the way, so you're not going to offend any authenticity by adding another vegetable you find vital, unless it's a daikon radish perhaps...!

I can't wait to hear your opinion -- this is very different from most modern chilis, but it's darned good on my taste buds!

Mega kudos on the bravery, GB! Hope you enjoy it!
 

GB

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Thanks for the clarification Audeo. I am very very VERY excited to try this. It sounds fantastic. I will give a review on Monday.
 

Chief Longwind Of The North

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Audeo: I took the liberty of copying your entire post onto my computer as I believe it to be of great value (I'm a knowledge loving kind of guy). I know it is to me. I will definitley be trying your the recipe. If there are no objections, I may even make it for next-year's chili cookoff. Thanks for the post. :D

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
 

Lifter

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In reviewing the "Texas Chili" concept, I doubt very much if the beef was in fact cut up much more than you will find today's stewing beef, or much different from neck cuts such as stewing beef...

Audeo and I conversed on this point off-Board, and I reminded her that this was beef that was "grass fed", as opposed "feeder lot finished" as we enjoy today...likewise, I've done a fair bit of reading on the 1800's "Western" lifestyle and cooking history...its substantiated in the Laura Ingalls Wilder writings that the drivers of the herds drove them to Chicago for processing, and traded slaughtered "cuts" to settlers in exchange for assistance in herd monitoring and/or the oh so neccessary veggies...certainly, tomatoes and peppers would have been available in such "trades" as would onions or at the very least "leeks", which would have been as good...

Therefore Audeo's comments are likewise spot on the mark in that it would be the weird and wonderful "untradeable parts" that would have been hacked up and tossed into the pot...and by this, I do not mean "diced", but rather "roughly cubed" at best...(and this may be the source of "making the spoon stand up straight" in Texan chili...) but I expect that they were just tearing meat scraps off he bones, to keep the herd from diminishing...

In reference my somewhat "ribald" remark on the evolution of "Chili Powder" as Texas's answer to disguise the "flavour" or "scent" of rotting meats or fats. I mentioned, privately, to Audeo, that there was a "chuck" wagon, with an assigned cook, who gathered firewood and fed it into a (probably) cast iron pan suspended on the wagon, which kept the "chili" working night and day, and marched beside it, ladle in hand, stirring as they went (and, with cattle, this was NOT terribly quickly!) which gives doubt to the "winter" nature of chili...

Anyways, a century and a half later, we get lazy and use "cheap" ground beef, and I'd agree with Audeo that this was hardly available to the cattle drovers...

And it will be terribly "far" from what we'd normally cook today, but its not the only thing that tasted different a hundred odd years ago....and those "cowboys" would have killed for my recipe, with tomato sauce, etc, and extra veggies, just they had a ton of problems accessing it...no matter what they traded, settlers could hardly give up the veggie garden for beef they could neither freeze nor otherwise preserve...

Lifter
 

Psiguyy

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If you add a couple of cans of kidney beans, a can of tomato soup, and a can of tomatoes to that chili and I'm there! :P
 

Audeo

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A lot to chew on here -- thank you, gentlemen!

Goodweed, I hope this version serves you exceptionally well in the next competition! I know it has for a couple of folks down here. People are usually surprised to discover that the "secret ingredients" are the dearth of ingredients, instead of additions! It is really tasty stuff for my palate.

Lifter has offered some very thought-provoking comments for me in this thread, helping me to expand my thoughts on the making of chili and cooking and food preparation in general on the trail. (Thank you for the continued reparte, lifter!) We take so very much for granted in our lives today, not the least of which is the foods available to us so readily. And I darned sure agree that the rare availability of beans and tomatoes to this mix would have seemed like mana from the heavens to the cowboy!

As always, I appreciate the thoughts here and very much look forward to your comments after the fact of making the stuff, Goodweed!
 

Lifter

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A quick thought on the "beans" thing...

Dried beans are both light and cheap, and, of course, an excellent source of dietary fiber.

In cooking, it was probably a day to soak (incidentally, the water that we discard from soaking beans has some miraculous properties in cleaning your clothes, according to 18th/19th century writings) and likely a day to cook...

In moving big cattle herds, it was periodically necessary to let the herd rest and forage, let alone allow the cowboys a decent wash, rest and feed up...no doubt the chuck wagons were busy during this "still" time, and I think it reasonable to believe that beans were an integral part of "Texas" or "Cowboy" chili..

(Audeo, please swallow the tea, and put down the cup...the rug is getting bad!)

(This was "handsomely" re-enacted in the famous "Blazing Saddles" Alex Karris film scene, of "Mongo" at the campfire....<no wonder my Irish ancestors came to Canada!>)

Beans were a staple of the Pioneer diet, if not the diet of the western world (ie both Europe and N America) at this time, as they are a form of protein, and Europe was chronically short of meats for the citizenry (and thus the exploitation of the Grand Banks, and North America generally) and so I believe it entirely reasonable to believe them in that "Texas Chili", even if only as an "add-in" to the base recipe Audeo has provided us with...

Lifter
 

Lifter

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Audeo DID mention that the "recipe" "gained flavour" and appreciation as time wore on...

(Yes! I'm saying that as the Texican recipe wore north, it was gradually, but wobderfully, improved!)

(Snicker!)

Lifter
 

Audeo

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Marmalady, I think this is as much a personal preference here, as it is anywhere else. And there are probably as many "Authentic Texas Chili" recipes as there are Texas highways! I have seen chilis here done both ways and local chili cook-offs always offer both versions, as well.
 

GB

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I made this chili recipe yesterday and it was delicious. I used a chuck roast though and diced the meat. Other than that I followed the directions. I let it cook for over 3 hours and it did get better as time went on. I had to add water a few times because it would get real dry, but the end result was fantastic. I served it with cheddar cheese and chopped raw onions on the side. It was fantastic and will be my lunch today as well :)
 

Audeo

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Well, I'm very happy to hear that you enjoyed it, GB! Chuck roast for the chuck wagon chili...very poetic! Hope you also enjoyed your lunch today!

Thank you for sharing your opinion!
 

Lifter

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We cooked up chili for dinner tonight and tomorrow, using the "Lifter Left Wing" technique, with a variation or two that have come out on this and other threads...

For the FIRST time in however many years, I did not drain off all the fat from the meat, and this DID add considerably to the flavour and texture of the result!

I note, too, that after an hour's cooking, (and note I was making a small quantity in a large pot!) the spoon would indeed stand up by itself...

Red Kidney beens served "in" rather than "beside"!

Great dinner with fresh bread and dill pickles...

Lifter
 

mudbug

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Another precinct tallying the vote......

Made Audeo's recipe as specified, using a cast iron deep skillet with lid. I dearly wanted to add some cumin, but refrained.

Found it very spicy tastewise, but almost too uniform in texture (all that meat). I like a little more chunkiness and missed the beans. However, the slow cooking and bacon grease gave it a wonderful aroma and flavor. The leftovers will be making their appearance over rice, I think.
 

LEFSElover

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This is very much my favorite chili recipe from my favorite moldy worn out cover missing, cookbook.
Its use of suet was odd to me as a young lady I had to ask a butcher what that meant.
It calls for water and plenty of it though.
It simmers away for hours on end and calls for chili powder also the other ingreds yours says.
It smells up the house wonderfully and is always a traditional winner. I include beans with ours also.
We like our chili with beans and my choice is Gebharts spiced red beans in sauce. I use 3 cans and include the sauce from them.
 

Brook

Assistant Cook
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Apr 12, 2011
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Audeo and Lifter,

I just found this site and discussion in my search for the original (or one of them) Chili recipes and had to sign up to say;

I have so enjoyed reading what you both have written on the history of chili.

thank you!

brook
 

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