How to Make Chili

Photograph by Adam Voorhes

When Ben Z. Grant, a state representative from Marshall, persuaded the Sixty-Fifth Legislature to make chili the official state dish, in 1977, he had history on his side. Many people believe that chile con carne was invented in San Antonio during the late nineteenth century by women called chili queens, who cooked the concoction over open flames and sold it to soldiers and tourists. Although countless variations exist, a time-tested recipe was published in Frank X. Tolbert’s 1953 history of chili, A Bowl of Red. Missing from the ingredient list? Beans. “You can’t cook them with the chili, because the chemistry isn’t right,” says his daughter, Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, the co-owner of Tolbert’s Restaurant, in Grapevine, which sponsors the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff. But if you decide to add them, we’ll never tell.

Ingredients:

2 ounces beef suet (may substitute vegetable oil)
3 pounds lean beef, preferably stewing meat
3 to 6 ancho chile pods, boiled for 30 minutes, then cooled, stemmed, seeded, chopped, and returned to cooking water (may substitute 3 to 6 tablespoons chile powder or ground chile)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon crushed cumin seed
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
2 to 4 minced garlic cloves, to taste
2 to 4 extra ancho chile pods, stemmed and seeded (but not chopped)
2 tablespoons masa harina or cornmeal

1. Cook suet until fat is rendered. Remove suet. Sear meat in fat in 2 or 3 batches.

2. Place meat in large pot with chopped ancho chiles and as much reserved liquid as needed to keep meat from burning (about 2 inches of water above the meat).

3. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except extra anchos and masa. Return to a boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off grease.

4. Add extra ancho chile pods to taste and masa harina to thicken. Simmer another 30 minutes until meat is tender. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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