How to fit four dinners into just three nights? This is the sort of problem that confronts us when I get together with my family in Texas. I just went to see them. During my week-and-a-half trip, I spent nearly every minute cooking with them and for them and eating. It’s all about food, that’s the way it works in my family.
This visit may have been the most indulgent ever. It began with my parents taking me out for crawfish bisque and crawfish po’ boys to remedy the crawfish deficiency I suffer from here in the Pacific Northwest. Then it continued with a sort of Russian boiled meat dumpling called pelimeni, seafood pasta with two-and-a-half pounds of shrimp, scallops, and crab, rib-eye steaks (grilled on my father’s gleaming new Weber, which can reach temperatures so hot it can give Hell a run for its money) with garlic butter and gorgonzola butter, three rotisserie chickens (also cooked to succulent, crispy-skinned perfection on said grill), eleven pounds of mussels in saffron broth, cheesecake baked by my little brother, veal parmigiana and homemade extruded bucatini with red sauce, biscuits and sausage gravy, and a smattering of gorgonzola dolce, very ripe Brie, Roquefort, truffle salami, and wine. The visit culminated in a big pot of Texas chili and homemade cheese fries (a joint effort with my little brother and a bonding experience indeed). So much food, so little time.
It’s been a mere twenty-four hours since I left them, and I miss the fam already. I miss eating like that too.
Real Texas Chili
4 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
¼ cup canola oil
3 pounds ground beef chuck, preferably chili grind
2 yellow onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano, diced
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
10 to 12 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup tomato paste
¼ cup mild New Mexico chile powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup beer, preferably a pale ale
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 quart beef broth
Juice of 1 lime
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat a medium, heavy sauté pan or griddle over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 2 of the chiles and toast, pressing down on them firmly with a spatula, for 10 to 15 seconds, or until golden brown. Turn the chiles and continue to toast, pressing down on them firmly with the spatula, another 10 to 15 seconds, or until fragrant, golden brown, and pliable. Remove the toasted chiles to a bowl and toast the remaining chiles in the same manner. Combine the chiles and 2 cups boiling water in a medium bowl and let soak for 10 to 12 minutes, or until rehydrated. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Heat a large, heavy pot over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add half of the beef and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, tossing about 2 times, until crusty and brown in spots.* Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a plate. Sear the remaining beef in the same manner and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, and sauté for 8 to 9 minutes, or until soft. Add the bell peppers, poblano, and jalapenos and sauté for another 6 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic, tomato paste, chile powder, cumin, Mexican oregano, and cayenne and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add the beer and simmer for a minute or so, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, broth, and chile puree. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours, or until thickened and saucy and the flavors come together. Remove from the heat and skim off any fat from the surface of the chili. Stir in the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.
Serves 8 to 10. A true bowl of red. Chili grind is coarsely ground beef and makes for a chunkier chili than regular ground beef. New Mexico chile powder brings a distinct flavor to the chili, but if you can’t find it, substitute another mild pure chile powder such as ancho or pasilla. (Also keep in mind that most “chile powders” marketed in stores are actually blends of chile and other spices such as cumin, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. These are to be avoided.) Dried Mexican oregano, which has a unique floral character, can be found at some gourmet grocers and (usually for less than a dollar) at any Mexican market. If you can’t find it, just omit it from the recipe; don’t substitute common oregano. This chili is pleasantly spicy but not too hot, at least in my opinion. If you like it hotter, add more cayenne pepper. Add some chipotle if you like a smokey flavor. The chili is perfect all by itself, but it can be topped with diced onions, sour cream, and/or shredded cheddar. And in case you’re wondering, real chili does not have beans.
*Searing the beef in this manner adds tons of flavor to the finished dish. For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores in the fall of 2010.