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You Call That Texas Chili? Get A Rope.

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Well, at least it doesn’t have beans in it.

That was Brennan’s-trained Houston chef (and native son) Randy Evans’s first reaction on scanning over the “Texas chili” recipe in today’s New York Times, one purportedly handed over to writer Julia Moskin—who is co-authoring an upcoming chili cookbook with veteran Texas food sage Robb Walsh, a former co-worker of mine at the Houston Press and Houstonia Magazineby someone described only as “a native of Austin.”

“Usually when it’s someone from New York talking about chili, the first they they say is ‘It has to have beans in it,’” Evans said. “I was happy that at least this one doesn’t.”

Two ingredients in the mix definitely did catch his attention though: toasted coriander seeds and an ounce of unsweetened chocolate. (Cue the old Pace Picante cowboys…)

“That was what I thought was the craziest. I’ve never put chocolate or coriander in chili,” Evans says. “[Chili] has cumin, chili powder, onions, garlic, a little bit of tomato paste, and I put masa in mine. That’s my thing. But chocolate? That’s mole! And coriander? I’ve never seen coriander seeds put in chili, ever.”

Those ingredients also strike our own food editor, Patricia Sharpe, as more than a little odd for a Texas chili. “With the whole chilis, and the whole coriander seeds and the chocolate, and toasting the spices in a skillet or a comal, it definitely goes in a more Mexican direction. If they had tailgate parties in Mexico, this would be great, but this is not Texas chili.”

Evans agrees. At Haven, his critically-acclaimed though now-closed restaurant, the wild boar chili was one of the signature dishes, and once listed as one of the five best bowls in Houston.

“And that”coriander, chocolate“was never something that we did. Chocolate and coriander, when I read that I was just like ‘Really?’”

Robb Walsh, Moskin’s co-author, contends that coriander is an authentic chili ingredient, that it was brought to San Antonio along with cumin by that city’s famous influx of Canary Islanders in the eighteenth century.

It seems odd, then, that if it were present in the Queen City of Texas Chili’s earliest recipes, that it would be so rare now, while cumin remains a defining component. Evans says his recipe flows from those of the San Antonio Chili Queens. “Their con carne thing, with the coarse-grind. The grinding plate I used was kidney bean-shaped, so it was a larger grind, never fine-ground,” he says.

Moskin contends that the only possibly authentic Texas garnish for chili is saltine crackers. Evans takes exception to that too. “Typically I like a little bit of cremaMexican-style sour creamon mine, a little cheese, and really fine minced onion. That’s about all I need. And I like a little cornbread with it, triangles of it that are kind of crunchy on the side. It almost becomes a saltine. Saltines are an okay filler, but I am a cornbread guy I guess. Saltines are what you get with the greasy chili at the diner, to soak up all the grease from the bad chili.”

Evans’s verdict on the New York Times’ “Texas chili”?

It seems an interesting stew, but Texas chili it ain’t. “This is not the kind of chili I would want to eat a big heaping bowl of,” he says.

Sharpe recommends the Texas chili recipe in Texas Cowboy Cooking, by Tom Perini, the chuckwagon cuisine maestro and 33-year owner-operator of the Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap.

Here is a list of more than 20 prize-winning recipes from the Terlingua International Chili Championship.

And here is Lady Bird Johnson’s recipe for Pedernales River Chili, chocolate- and coriander-free:

(Photos: Bowl of Chili: Agentseven at en.wikipedia;  Chef Randy Evans: Southern Sons Consulting Facebook; Recipe: LBJ Library)

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  • Damon

    That happens with “Cajun” recipes also! I’m originally from Lafayette, La and I have seen some ridiculous additives in so called Cajun dishes! Tomatoes in Gumbo is the biggest! I think chefs like to take liberty’s with dishes to “make them better”. That’s all fine and good but then it is no longer Texan or Cajun!

  • AmyDrinkie

    The only acceptable garnishes for Texas chili are cheese, Fritos, and onions. :::gavel:::

  • Nick Panzarella

    What about serving it on rice? Southeast Texas represent!

  • Darryl Smyers

    Dark chocolate or chocolate powder is a great chili ingredient. I can make a mean catfish chili that uses cinnamon as well, To label is to limit.

    • BuckeyePride

      Are you from Ohio?

      • Guest

        There is no such thing as catfish chili.

    • Boniface Wolfsong

      There is no such thing as catfish chili, ever.

  • RoxieInTexas

    I’m native Texan and always put a smidgen of chocolate in my homemade chili. It adds just a richness and mellows the heat.

  • FattyFatBastard

    Hmm. This looks awfully similar to the post I made when Robb posted this link yesterday. Right down to showing Lady Bird’s “pedernales” recipe… Interesting.

  • Sam

    I overall agree however take exception to the “whole chilis” comment by Ms. Sharpe. Chili powder is a relatively new invention and prior to the late 19th century whole chilis boiled and ground down into paste were the only option. This is what the chuckwagon cooks on cattle drives and innumerable frontier Texans used and many Texans still use. Plus the flavor is incomparably better to powder. Chocolate though? No way.

  • Watcho

    So far as I can tell, Texas still exists, and we still eat food here. All of this is based on what some folks did 150 years ago, as if there’s a cutoff date for ‘authentic’ recipes. I appreciate folks trying to discern the roots of a dish, or recreate what some historic section of people did, but the insistence on a definitive way to, say, garnish your own personal bowl of chili is ridiculous. I’ll take mine with chocolate, beans, rice, and gummi bears if I want, and as a Texan I’ll tell folks that’s how I do it in Texas. If there’s anything un-Texan, it’s telling another man how he should eat his food.

    • 5-gen Txn

      HAY-MEN! “If there’s anything un-Texan, it’s telling another man how he should eat his food.”

  • minime13

    Coriander is a bit odd, but having something akin to mole is not. Original Texas “cowboy” chili doesn’t touch tomatoes, but it does touch those other spices (including, at times, a mole sauce). I use unsweetened dark chocolate all the time, and am a born-and-raised Texan.

    Don’t state that a Texas chili recipe is bastardized when you’re going to bastardize it with tomatoes.

    • Lee Nichols

      Ageed. I think mole in chili would be perfectly acceptable. Surprised I haven’t seen it suggested before.

  • K1ngB00

    No beans in chili is a publicity stunt dreamed up in the late 60’s by Texas journalists, Carroll Shelby, and some PR guys to sell cookbooks and chili “fixins”.

    • starumbra

      This discussion has been going on for awhile. I grew up in Texas and my mama always cooked chili with beans. My friends from North Texas (closer to the Oklahoma border) always said no beans in chili. I think the winds of Oklahoma affected their taste buds. Chocolate was saved for dessert.

  • Boniface Wolfsong

    Unsweetened Cacao (not chocolate, learn the difference) is perfectly fine in Texas chili, and traditional, as is putting in Coriander seeds. I have a problem with this guy adding tomato paste. No! No tomato paste. The color of chili comes from the peppers. As for garnish, cornbread is traditional. I’m old, and I remember chili in the ’50s always having cornbread with it. Crackers came later, from lazy cooks in greasy diners.

  • Ryan

    Next time I go to Wendy’s, I’m going to dump a Frostie into my chili so I can see what it feels like to be a New Yorkite.