Chili con Carne, Chili sin Carne

Nancy’s Fiery Fare:

by Nancy Gerlach, Fiery-Foods.com Food Editor Emeritus

Chili

     Recipes in this Issue:

  • San Antonio Chili con Carne

  • Venison Red Chili Stew

  • Jalapeño Black Bean Chili

  • Cincinnati 5-Way Chili

  • Pork and Tomatillo Chili

What could be a better way to warm-up on a blustery, cold, winter day, than from the inside out.

And at this time of year, for most of the northern hemisphere, it’s safe to assume that no matter where you are, it’s cold. A hot steaming bowl of chile, either con carne (with meat) or sin carne, without meat, is one of the best ways I know to cut the chill and stay warm.

I love chili and I’m not alone. It appears on menus all across the country and every year there are hundreds of chili cookoffs being held all over the world. I even found one in the small town of Mulege in Baja, Mexico. And people who love chili, love it with a passion. The outlaw Jesse James even refused to rob a bank in Texas because his favorite chili parlor was in that town! Now that’s passion. And whenever you get two passionate chili lovers together, you can always generate some sort of controversy. The spelling, history and origin, and what constitutes a great bowl of chili, are all subjects for debate.

Hopefully, after all the years I’ve been writing about my favorite vegetable (fruit), we can agree on the spelling. Chile with an “e”, the original Spanish spelling, refers to the plant and pod. The word chili is the abbreviated form of chili con carne, which is a combination of the Anglicized spelling of chili, from chile, and the Spanish word for meat. So chili is the dish and chile is the ingredient.

Although the actual origin of chili is murky, there is one misconception, however, that’s easy to clear-up. Even though the combination of meat and chile peppers in stew-like dishes is common in Mexican cooking, chili did not originate in Mexico, and Mexicans flatly deny any link to the dish. In one Mexican dictionary I found chili con carne defined as “a detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican.” Chili is a uniquely American, or specifically a Tex-Mex or Southwestern, creation.

Stories abound as to how the dish evolved. One has Texans pounding dried beef, beef fat, wild chiltepins, and salt together to make trail food for the long ride to San Francisco and the gold fields. The concentrated, dried mixture was then boiled in pots along the trail as sort of an “instant chili.” A variation of this tale is that cowboys invented chile while driving cattle along the lengthy and lonely trails. Supposedly, range cooks would plant oregano, chiles, and onions among patches of mesquite to protect them from the cattle. The next time they passed along the same trail, they would collect the spices, combine them with beef and make a dish called “trail drive chili.” There is even one tale that refers to nuns and divine visions. The more probable, but not so romantic, explanation is that some trail driver picked wild chiles and threw them in a pot of beef stew to flavor the dish that might have turned rancid. Whichever story you choose to believe, chili did have a humble, and probably accidental beginning.

Most chili aficionados will agree however, that the “chili queens” of San Antonio, Texas were responsible for making the dish popular. In the 1880s, these women cooked up chili in big clay pots during the day and sold their wares from rickety chili stands on street corners all night long. From there, its fame spread and soon chili con carne began appearing on menus in Mexican restaurants all over Texas and elsewhere. In 1893, chili made its worldwide debut at the Chicago World’s Fair, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So what are the ingredients in the perfect bowl of chili? Well, if you’ve ever judged a cook-off, you’ve already found out that almost everything and anything has been a “secret ingredient” of someone’s bowl of chili–armadillo and squirrel, fish, chocolate, curry powder, even lemon grass. The list is endless.

My definition of chili is rather broad and includes just about any stew-like dish, usually served as a main course, that contains dried or fresh chiles as a dominate ingredient. For me at least, what makes up the perfect bowl bowl, depends on the part of the country you ask. A Texan might say a good chili is made with beef and dried red chile. Other Texans may add tomatoes, thicken the stew with cornmeal, and add beans to the chili or serve them on the side. In other parts of the country, beans are an abomination in chili. In New Mexico, chili is usually made with pork rather than beef, and can either be made with plenty of red or green chile. And the folks in Cincinnati like theirs seasoned with cinnamon and a combination of spices that can include cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and coriander and served over a bed of spaghetti.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a very diverse and wide range of chilis–some that are more traditional and some that stretch the definition of chili. As long as they taste good and have lots of chile, they are great bowls of chili to me. So the next time the weather turns bad and the wind starts to howl, don’t reach for a sweater, reach for a bowl of chili and warm yourself from the inside out.



San Antonio Chili con Carne

There must be as many recipes for chili as there are cooks in Texas, New Mexico, Arizonia, California, and even Cincinnati! Cooks seem to guard their recipes as if they were classified information. This recipe is my version of the classic San Antonio chili. Health-conscious cooks should prepare it the day before, chill it, and skim off any fat that rises. Even if you aren’t concerned, the chili will taste better on the next day.

  • 6 dried red New Mexican chiles, stems and seeds removed

  • 3 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed

  • 2 pounds coarse ground beef or sirloin, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1 pound coarse ground pork or pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 6 chiltepins or piquins

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 3 cups beef broth

  • 1 cup tomato sauce

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cups cooked pinto beans, optional

Place the New Mexican and ancho chiles in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Allow the chiles to steep for 15 minutes to soften. Drain the chiles and place them in a blender or food processor along with some water and puree them until smooth.

Crumble the beef and pork in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and saute the meat until it browns. Drain off any excess fat that accumulates. If using the cubed meat, add a little vegetable oil to the skillet and then brown the meat. Add the onions and garlic and continue cooking until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan or stockpot.

Crumble the chiltepins over the mixture and add the oregano, cumin, sugar, broth, and tomato sauce. Simmer the chili for 45 minutes.

Stir in the chile puree, season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and add cayenne chile to increase the heat.

Ladle the chili into bowls and serve the beans on the side. Guests can add the beans to their chili if desired.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Serves: Medium hot



Venison Red Chili Stew

When you order chili in New Mexico, you will be served a variation of this recipe. It is a recipe that has its roots in old Pueblo Indian cooking and is basically meat in a seasoned chile sauce. Pork and beef are more commonly used, but venison is a tasty variation. If you want beans in your chili, you need to ask.

  • 6 to 8 dried red New Mexican chiles

  • 1 ancho chile

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 cups beef broth

  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Place the chiles on a baking pan and toast them in oven for 15 minutes, or until fragrant, being careful not to let them burn. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and crumble them into a bowl. Cover them with hot water and let them steep 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the venison, and brown. Remove the meat and add the onion to the pan. Add more oil if necessary and saute until the onion begins to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Place the chiles and the onion mixture in a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of the broth and puree until smooth, adding more broth if necessary. Strain the mixture through a sieve.

In a large saucepan, combine the chile mixture, venison, and remaining broth. Bring to just below boiling, reduce the heat, and simmer until the meat is very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Ladle the chili into bowls and serve with a warmed flour tortilla.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium



Jalapeño Black Bean Chili

Turtle, or black beans, have always been a favorite in both Central and South America and have been gaining in popularity in the country. These are also the beans that the Chinese ferment for their black bean sauce. This is a great recipe to serve your vegetarian friends and is so tasty you won’t even miss the meat.

  • 1 ½ cups black beans, sorted, rinsed, and soaked overnight

  • 6 to 8 jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

  • 3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 15-ounce can peeled tomatoes

  • 1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional

  • Salt to taste

  • Garnishes: Sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, add the jalapeños, onion, and garlic and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

In a large saucepan or stockpot, combine the beans, onion mixture, cumin, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are soft, about an 1 ½ hours. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and continue to simmer, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes or until the chili has thickened.

Remove the chili from the heat and stir in the sherry and season with salt. Ladle the chili into bowls, garnish with a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle the cilantro over the top and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium Hot



Cincinnati 5-Way Chili

The basic recipe for Cincinnati chili is much like others containing beef, onions, and chili powder, but that’s where the similarity ends. Cinnamon and a variety of spices such as cloves, ginger, and allspice are also added to make this very unique chili. You order the chili by which “way” you like it—2-Way is chili over spaghetti, 3-Way with cheese added, 4-Way adds onions, and 5-Way is the works: spaghetti, chili, beans, onions, and cheese. No matter what “Way” you order the chile, it’s always served with oyster crackers.

  • 2 pounds ground chuck

  • 1 cup chopped onions

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 6-ounce tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne chile

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 bay leaf

  • Salt

  • 2 cups cooked spaghetti

Accompaniments: Grated cheddar cheese, chopped onions, cooked kidney beans, Oyster crackers

Saute the beef, onions, and garlic in a large kettle or stockpot over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink. Break up any large clumps of meat with a spoon.

Add the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, chili powder, paprika, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, and salt along with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the chili for an hour.

Taste and adjust the seasonings and continue to simmer for an additional hour, adding more water if necessary. The chili should be thick but still be able to be ladled over the spaghetti. Discard the bay leaf before serving.

Put the accompaniments into serving bowls. To serve, place in the spaghetti into bowls, ladle the chili over the top and allow your guests to garnish the 2-Way chili with whatever accompaniments they choose. Serve the crackers on the side.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Mild



Pork and Tomatillo Chili

Adding tomatillos gives the variation of a traditional New Mexican chili a south of the border twist. They provide a tangy, citrus-like taste that can at times be very tart. The heat in this dish will very depending on the heat of the green chili you use. The Big Jim variety will be mild, the Sandia hot, and most will fall into the medium range.

  • 2 pounds boneless pork, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 large onion, diced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 to 4 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 2 12-ounce bottles of dark beer

  • 1 12 to 15-ounce can tomatillos

  • 1 15-ounce can peeled tomatoes, including the liquid

  • 4 to 6 green New Mexican chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1 16-ounce can pinto beans, including the liquid

  • Salt

Heat some of the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Brown the pork, remove and put in a large kettle or stockpot. Add the remaining oil to the skillet and saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and serrano chile and cook for an additional couple of minutes. Remove and add to the pork.

Pour one of the bottles of beer into the skillet, raise the heat and deglaze the pan scraping up all the bits and pieces. Add the liquid to the pork.

Add the remaining beer, tomatillos, tomatoes, green chiles, oregano, and cumin to the stockpot. Bring the mixture to just below boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the pinto beans, adjust the seasonings and simmer for an addition 30 minutes.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium Hot

 

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