Chili is a deliciously mysterious dish. Some whisper it’s an American creation inspired by Mexican cuisine, others will tell you, no, it’s from a 17th-century Spanish nun who psychically preached to Native Americans and came back to her body with their recipe. Another camp will tell you its origins lay in the far-flung Canary Islands …
Ultimately, Texas gets to claim it. At least from a proof standpoint. The earliest write up of chili is from J. C. Clopper during his 1828 trip to San Antonio, though, in keeping with chili’s air of mystery, he never uses the “chili” name. Instead, he refers to a kind of meaty hash. In the 1880s, a San Antonio market became the home to “Chili Queens,” women who sold “bowls o’red” and attracted celebrities like O. Henry and William Jennings Bryan. Cut to 1893, and the San Antonio Chili Stand bursts on the national stage at the Chicago World’s Fair.
There’s nothing that beats chili on a cold, wintry night, and there’s nothing that tastes better on a hot dog at blistering, summer baseball game. Chili even saved lives during the Great Depression since it was so cheap. Basically, it’s never a bad time to whip up some chili.
In the past century-or-so, plenty of places and people have put their own stamp on it. There are many camps: beans or no beans; beef or venison; meat or tofu?
We’ve put the recipes of this iconic Southern dish to the test: Since everything is bigger in Texas, we’ve got two chefs’ takes on Texan chili and one from North Carolinian.
Texas, Get Us Started!
Chef Casey Thompson’s Chili Con Carne
Bravo’s Top Chef can’t get enough of Dallas native Chef Casey Thompson. They’ve had her back three times, which means you’ve probably seen her before. From Southern to French to Asian, there’s nothing she can’t cook after getting her start in Texan institutions like Mansion at Turtle Creek and Shinsei. She’s opened restaurants in Texas and California, and these days finds herself in Napa, helping the fire-ravaged community rebuild. The veggie-loving chef’s recipe for Chili Con Carne might surprise you. It includes fish sauce…
- 4 lbs beef scraps, cut into cubes (if not available, ground beef is your next best bet)
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 3 New Mexico chiles, dried
- 2 small arbol chiles, dried
- 3 ancho chiles, dried
- 2 chipotle chiles (plus 2 tablespoon chipotle chile sauce)
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, grated
- 2-3 tbsp masa
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Hot sauce
- In a large sauté pot, toast the chiles over med-high heat for 2-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not burn.
- Remove the pan from the heat; remove the stems and seeds from the pot.
- Add half of the chicken stock and the chipotle chiles. Bring to a boil.
- Turn off the heat and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.
- Blend mixture in a blender until smooth.
- Season the beef scraps generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add half of the beef in a single layer until deeply browned. Flip and brown longer. Remove and cook the second layer of beef. Remove and set aside.
- Cook onions until translucent and soft, or for about 2 minutes.
- Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and oregano; cook stirring constantly or until fragrant.
- Add the beef back to the pan, along with the chile puree and remaining chicken stock. Stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce to a simmer and cover, leaving the lid ajar slightly. Cook until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally or for 2½ to 3 hours. It can also be cooked in a 200-degree-Fahrenheit oven with the lid slightly ajar.
- Stir in fish sauce, masa, and vinegar. Add hot sauce to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
Brian Bailey’s Venison and Blueberry Chili
Our next Texan recipe comes from Houston. Executive sous chef Brian Bailey keeps guests extremely well fed at the Marriott Marquis Houston, which has a whopping six options for food, ranging from a coffee shop to classic American restaurant to spots boasting Mexican cuisine and tapas. (The hotel even has a Texas-shaped lazy river!). Hold onto your Stetson-shaped chef’s hat because Chef Bailey’s recipe is berry unique.
- 1/2 lb. ground venison
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2-3 tbsp bacon fat (feel free to add the bacon in; it adds great texture and flavor)
- 1/3 onion, diced
- 1 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1.5 tsp salt (more if additional flavor is needed)
- 1-2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp dark chili powder (less if you’re using something rather potent)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt (more if additional flavor is needed)
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- In a large pot, heat bacon fat over low medium heat.
- Add garlic and onion, and cook for two minutes.
- Add in ground beef and venison. Break up the meat into pieces and stir frequently until nearly cooked.
- Add chopped tomatoes, blueberries, and all remaining ingredients. Cook on low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, for up to an hour.
What’ve You Got, North Carolina?
Asheville gets all the love, but if you’re looking for a spectacular mountain getaway, head to Cashiers, North Carolina. It’s here that chef Adam Hayes cooks up a feast in the Canyon Kitchen in the Lonesome Valley community. The native son grew up cooking with his grandmother, like all good Southern chefs should, and has even hosted a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. Make yourself a cup of coffee before you make …
Adam Hayes’ Chili Recipe
- 2 lbs very lean hamburger
- 3 jalapeños, remove seeds and chop
- 3 poblano peppers, remove seeds and chop
- 2 onions that have been sautéed
- 2 cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 Corona beer (more if chili is too thick)
- 1 cup leftover coffee from the morning
- 1/2 cup chili powder (I even sprinkle chili powder on my hamburger as I cook it)
- 2 tbsp cumin
- 2 tbsp adobe powder
- Avocado oil to cook
- Texas Pete Hot Sauce to taste
- Cook hamburger meat in avocado oil until parts are somewhat crispy.
- Mix together with rest of ingredients and cook slow for about 4 hours.
Let us know who you think wins this round!
Images courtesy of iStock/Getty Images.
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