Doré's Damnfine Chili

Texas Red chili, chili sauce, and a side of beans

Revised: Feb 6, 2016
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About Chili

Chili in it's simplest form is a stew of meat and chili peppers. Any other ingredients are there to give the chili a particular character. Just about any meat can be used though beef if the standard. With a little looking you can find chili recipes that use lamb, venison, pork, chicken, turkey, and a variety or less likely meats such as squirrel, armadillo, rabbit and snake. My favorite is a blend of beef, buffalo, pork, and turkey, 1 Lb each.

What really makes chili worth eating is a complex mix of flavors. To make really good chili it is necessary to use ingredients that will create bold, obvious flavors and subtle, almost hidden tastes. At the same time you must avoid making it taste like other dishes, such as beef stew.

Because chili is based on the use of peppers it is always spicy but it does not have to be blazing hot. The peppers commonly used as a base for chili are mild ripe peppers, though not as mild as bell peppers. They have a strong rustic flavor but very little heat and they are often simply called chili peppers. Chili made from these peppers is called "Texas Red".

Many other peppers also find their way into chili. Ancho peppers are very mild and have a sweeter flavor than most other peppers. Hatch chilies come from New Mexico and have a rich, unique flavor. They are used green or ripe (red). Chipotle chilies are much hotter than the other two with a savory, smokey flavor. Chipotles are simply ripe smoked jalapiños. Jalapiños are a hot pepper and are typically served green (unripe) and pickled. Cayenne peppers are very hot and though they have a good flavor they are typically added in small amounts to make a dish hotter. The habanero pepper and the scotch bonnet pepper are blazing hot and only recommended for those who like the hottest of foods. There are many other peppers including the anaheim, serrano, poblano, bananas, piquin and cherry peppers. Each has it's own flavor and heat, and both vary according to whether the pepper is green or ripe. Each type of pepper will give your chili different characteristics.

Chili peppers can be used fresh -- seeds removed and diced -- or dried and powdered to become chili powder. Always read the ingredients on any chili powder you buy because they often contain other spices. With a powder of just peppers you can adjust how much of each spice you add to your chili. I recommend you avoid chili powder that contains MSG (monosodium glutamate), or anything autolyzed or hydrolyzed. These are flavor stabilizers and will prevent your chili from being able to develop a full, rich flavor. Also watch out for these additives in tomato sauce and spice mixes. To use fresh peppers, simply add them to this recipe. Chop them fine or mince them in a food processor. I recommend you use no more than ½ cup minced peppers but you're the one cooking so experiment as you wish. You will still need the same amount of spice mix to develop the proper flavor.

I prefer chili to be spicy with just enough hot pepper to give it little bite. Remember, you can always add more but once the chili is too hot for you it cannot be fixed. Chili also gets hotter and spicier the longer it cooks - or sits.

When serving chili you can add beans, tomatoes, tomatillas, hominy or tortilla chips and top with fresh diced onion, green onions, cilantro, crackers, shredded cheddar, colby or jack cheese, and/or fresh or pickled jalapiños. Chili can be used as a sauce on many types of TexMex food. If it is served over Fritos corn chips and topped with cheese it is called Frito pie.

If you find you have eaten a pepper that is a bit too hot, acidic drinks will help to cut the heat. Lime juice is great for this which may help account for the popularity of the margarita with TexMex food and the daiquiri with hot Caribbean food.

Finally, a little chili lore. In Texas it is well know that chili does not have beans in it. It is considered proper etiquette in Texas to serve beans on the side to allow the diners to choose for themselves whether to add beans to their chili. Failing that it is at least expected that such a hybrid will be referred to as "Chili With Beans", not simply "Chili".

Chili Spice Mix - Makes enough for 2 batches of chili with 4 TBSP left over for beans and other dishes.

Chili

In a large skillet on medium heat lightly brown the meat and put it in a 5 quart pot. You may need to do this one or two pounds at a time. Dice the onion and saute it in the same pot used to brown the meat, stirring frequently. The pan should already be greased with the fat from the meat so you should need to add very little or no oil. When the onion is beginning to brown on the edges, add it to the meat. Add in all the other ingredients, mix well and place the pot over a medium heat. Stir about every 5 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour, stirring every 10 to 12 minutes. The chili should be almost thick enough to stand a spoon in it.

If you used fresh tomatoes and peppers, your chili may still be a bit thin or watery. If so, continue to cook it uncovered on low to medium heat stirring about every five minutes until it is thick.

The recipe above makes a chili that has a rich spicy flavor but not much heat. If you like your chili with more bite to it I recommend you add chipotle powder which has a better flavor than cayenne. Add ½ Tsp at a time until you get the heat you want. Remember, it gets hotter as it cooks.

You may also wish to add a smokey flavor to your chili by adding a liquid smoke flavoring. About ½ Tsp should be enough without overpowering the other flavors in the chili. The best of these products contain only water and smoke flavor. Additions such as sugar, salt and caramel coloring should not have much effect on the flavor. Beware of products with flavor stabilizers such as MSG (monosodium glutamate), or anything autolized or hydrolized. These additives stunt the development of full, rich flavor in the chili and give it a fake, packaged taste.

How I Cheat: I make my chili just as above but without the meat to produce chili sauce. Chili sauce can be used as a condiment on burgers, meatloaf, and dozens of other dishes. It also freezes well. When you are ready to make chili just brown some meat, stir in the chili sauce, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. This gives you chili with that "simmered for hours" taste in 20 minutes. You can also add it to cooked lintils to make vegan chili for your vegan and vegetarian friends.

Pinto Beans - The traditional addition to or side dish for chili.

Use this method (boil, drain, rinse, boil, drain, cook) to reduce the gas often associated with beans:

For classic chili and beans serve hot beans and chili about half and half and top with diced onions and shreaded cheddar cheese. For a lighter dish serve chili over white hominy and top with chopped green onions. Part of the fun is experimenting with different additions and toppings to find what you like best.