In search of the best chili - so many spices to choose from

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dbsoccer

Assistant Cook
Joined
Nov 15, 2022
Messages
5
Location
Colorado
Of course "best" is according to the preferences of the one who is eating but I digress. I am a novice cook, at best, but have tried several times to develop an outstanding chili recipe. I like Wendy's chili but no mater what I do, I fall short, sometimes way short. I've read different recipes and figure that maybe I should add this spice or that ingredient to the point that one version of my recipe had probably all the spices and ingredients from all the different recipes I analyzed. I'm exaggerating but regarding to spices, probably not a lot. I've concluded that I am trying to be too clever or too fancy and that I need to back off and keep it simple. And this leads me to questions - lots of questions. I feel my goal is to develop a basic sound recipe that I can build from, but only if needed, rather that putting a bit of every spice on the shelf in the pot.

Most all recipes (those with meat) start with ground beef/chuck or cubed beef, onions and garlic. Most have tomatoes and versions of tomatoes (like paste, puree, sauce, etc) and some beans - pinto, kidney or both. Green peppers are common and Wendy's chili has celery. Not sure why as celery, IMHO, is pretty bland. And then there are the spices which where I see the most variation.

Obviously chili powder is needed. But why chili powder and paprika? Sometimes smoked paprika? Just for the smoke flavor and nothing more? And often cumin is added. Why cumin? I'm not sure I'm a big fan of cumin but it is in a lot of recipes that I like so maybe it's not the cumin I don't care for but something else. And if I left the cumin out the chili would be lacking. Beer is often added. Not a particular brand of beer just beer. There is some really bad tasting beer. And Worcestershire sauce? Oregano? Ground cayenne pepper vs jalapeño pepper? Both are hot but does the jalapeño (even one that has been seeded) bring something that the ground powder does not?

So there is a ton of questions here that I don't expect answered, no way. But I am hoping someone can help me simplify and understand why beyond chili powder - what do the other spices bring? The addition to paprika and cumin are the most confusing.

Thanks.
 

pepperhead212

Executive Chef
Joined
Nov 21, 2018
Messages
3,740
Location
Woodbury, NJ
Cumin is in most chili's, but you'll have experiment, to see how much is good for you. It is in premixed "chili powder", so if you use that, you are adding additional cumin by itself. Chili powder usually has garlic powder added, too, and often salt. That's why I never use CP, only pure ground Chile powder, which can be one, or many varieties - again, it's finding what you like. I found a recipe one time, that I still use today, with some changes. For one, it called for 6 tb of cumin - 1 tb/lb of meat, which I knew would be way too much! However, this was written back in the 80s, and a lot of the spices in markets back then was really old! That's still true today, in some dollar stores and the like, but it seems to have gotten better. Plus, if you grind it yourself, the difference is incredible, and you don't need as much, unless the recipe was based on super fresh spices. Oregano is another thing that can be overpowering, if too much is used. And if you can find it, try some Mexican oregano - less intense, but a more complex flavor. And paprika isn't really necessary for chili - just another, mild pepper added to the batch.

There really aren't that many spices in chili, when you think about it. As for the celery, some like it, but most don't seem to enjoy it in their chili.

Oh, and something I almost forgot to mention, about the cumin - something that will actually change the flavor, starting with whole cumin, is toasting the seeds, before grinding, by tossing around in a dry skillet over medium heat, for just a minute, then cooling, and grinding. Dry chiles are often toasted in many Mexican dishes, before grinding. Not usually done with Texas style chili, but it can be done, for a delicious flavor.
 
Last edited:

caseydog

Master Chef
Joined
Jan 19, 2017
Messages
5,796
Location
Dallas
Here is the recipe for the original "Texas Red" chili that I use.

2 ounces dried, whole dried chipotle and ancho (6 to 8 chiles), seeds removed
1½ teaspoons ground cumin seed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons lard, rendered beef suet or rendered bacon fat
2½ pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into ¾-inch cubes (to yield 2 pounds after trimming)
⅓ cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock , or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
2¼ cups water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons masa harina (corn tortilla flour)
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more as needed

Step 1​

Place the chiles in a 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.

Step 2​

Drain the chiles. Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and ¼ 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.

Step 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.

Step 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 1½ to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 to three hours.

Step 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.

Step 6​

Reheat gently and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sour cream on top and a lime wedge on the side.


TexasRedChili001.jpg

CD
 
Last edited:

caseydog

Master Chef
Joined
Jan 19, 2017
Messages
5,796
Location
Dallas
Obviously chili powder is needed. But why chili powder and paprika? Sometimes smoked paprika? Just for the smoke flavor and nothing more? And often cumin is added. Why cumin? I'm not sure I'm a big fan of cumin but it is in a lot of recipes that I like so maybe it's not the cumin I don't care for but something else. And if I left the cumin out the chili would be lacking. Beer is often added. Not a particular brand of beer just beer. There is some really bad tasting beer. And Worcestershire sauce? Oregano? Ground cayenne pepper vs jalapeño pepper? Both are hot but does the jalapeño (even one that has been seeded) bring something that the ground powder does not?

Chili powder. I make my own from dried chilis that I toast in a skillet, then grind in a spice/coffee grinder. You get a lot more flavor than with store bought chili powder.

Paprika. I would think smoked paprika would be used just for the smokey flavor. Just my opinion.

Cumin. Called comino in Mexico, it is a common spice in chili. I find that a little cumin goes a long way, so I use less than what most recipes call for. I would recommend that you use it, but cut back on the amount.

Jalapeño/Cayenne. Chipotle is smoked and dried jalapeño, so I don't use any fresh jalapeños.

Oregano. Mexican oregano is used in a lot of Mexican/TexMex food. It is a little different than the oregano used in Italian food, but the Italian oregano is close enough to use as a substitute. Again, go easy on oregano if you use it in your chili -- like cumin, a little goes a long way.

CD
 

dbsoccer

Assistant Cook
Joined
Nov 15, 2022
Messages
5
Location
Colorado
Here is the recipe for the original "Texas Red" chili that I use.

2 ounces dried, whole dried chipotle and ancho (6 to 8 chiles), seeds removed
1½ teaspoons ground cumin seed
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons lard, rendered beef suet or rendered bacon fat
2½ pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into ¾-inch cubes (to yield 2 pounds after trimming)
⅓ cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef stock , or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
2¼ cups water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons masa harina (corn tortilla flour)
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more as needed

Step 1​

Place the chiles in a 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.

Step 2​

Drain the chiles. Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and ¼ 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.

Step 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.

Step 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 1½ to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 to three hours.

Step 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.

Step 6​

Reheat gently and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sour cream on top and a lime wedge on the side.


View attachment 62471

CD
This sounds like a great recipe and maybe not as involved as I first thought after having read through it a few times. Thanks!!
 
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