I’ve lived all across the South – Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida – and I’ve tried all kinds of chili at different restaurants. I can say that you won’t find me at any fast food joint orderin’ chili. It’s greasy and lacks flavor other than ‘maters and meat.
And that just ain’t right. Gods bless ‘em.
For a good Texas-style chili, chunks of steak so tender your throat just opens up and takes it whole is the heart and soul of stewin’ up some of the best eatin’.
The one time I made this recipe for my friends, I received a standing ovation – the first one ever. Made my daddy proud, that did.
Now, it would be, to my mind, sacrilegious to just hand out the opus of my recipe, but what I’m happy to provide are the basics, and the rest, you can conjure to taste.
Unlike my sister, who prefers Nina Simone or Ray Lamontagne, I like to crank up some Garth Brooks, Creedence or – love ‘em ‘til I die – Big n’ Rich. My chili likes me singin’ country to it.
Just like any good potion (‘Cause that’s what it is, right? A stew and a brew?), you gotta talk nice to yer meat. Massage it, get personal with it, tell it how pretty it is.
I like using steak, but feel free to use a good stew meat. Either way, set it in some kind of soak (don’t forget the wine) and leave it be for a couple of hours in the fridge.
This is a good time to whip up some cornbread, chop up some fixin’s, like raw onion, cheese, jalapeños, bacon and what-not. (Keeping a damp cloth or paper towel over the onions will help keep the vapors away, and if you cook the bacon up while the meat’s soakin’, you can use a bit of the grease for the sauté coming up later. And dump the rest in the pot. Trust me.) Whip up some guacamole with fresh ‘maters and onion, adding a healthy dollop of salsa, and set it in the fridge to chill.
Take the meat out of the soak but keep the juice. We’ll use it later. (No point in wasting, right?) Roll those beautiful chunks of meat in a bit of masa or flour then toss ‘em into your cast iron pot to sear the hell out of ‘em in butter or whatever. Pour in the soak, your fave ‘maters, a bit more wine (having a glass, while you’re at it) and whatever chili seasonings you like to use.
Bring it to a hard simmer then lean into the steam, smile and take a good, deep breath. Don’t add. We’re not there yet.
I like doing this next bit in a separate pan, but you can do this step earlier on if you like. Either way, you add them about the same time. In that bit of leftover bacon grease, sauté up some onions, peppers, garlic, mushrooms and whatever else you like with that carmelized yumminess that comes cookin’ all that down together. Toss it all in the pot and stir real good. Turn the heat down a bit.
Give it a good whiff and taste. Needs more juice? Go ahead. Add salt and pepper or whatever other spice or seasoning it needs. If it’s too soupy, that’s okay. You’re gonna let it simmer for a bit. Keep a lid on it but let it vent a little, have a glass of wine and relax.
Check the chili and stir. If you like it spicy with some heat, add a couple of dashes habeñero sauce to the pot. If it’s still too soupy, now would be a good time to add some masa or whatever you use to thicken. Too thick? Add some liquid. We want this to cook just a little bit longer, so don’t use much.
Be sure to check your cornbread. If you burned it ‘cause you were too involved with yer meat, cut off the burnt part, crumble up the rest, and call it a topping. Make yourself some more cornbread. (Yes, I’ve done this.)
I like to have another glass of wine about this point, turnin’ the heat down low under that chili pot. Have a sit and relax, remembering to check every now and again and stir the pot.
Check your cornbread. You don’t wanna burn this one, else you’ll run out of time.
Take the chili pot off the heat and let it set for a few minutes with the lid letting out some of the steam. Get out anything you need for dinner that you haven’t already taken care of, fetching the guac from the fridge along with some sour cream. Then get yourself a healthy-sized bowl and dig in.
After you take the meat out of the soak, this conjurin’ takes an hour-and-a-half to two hours.
And darlin’s, trust me … you ain’t gonna miss the beans.
Camenæ E. deWelles is a High Priestess in Pagan family spirituality, a certified Reiki Master-Teacher, a single mother, a writer, an editor, a domestic goddess, is educated and still has a Southern accent, and is a transplant from Texas to the Deep South. You can follow her personal blog at http://theliterarywitch.wordpress.com or find out more about her professional writing and editing at http://jillianmsmith.wordpress.com.