Making chili is a meditative act, particularly in the short, cold days of winter. It fills your house with the aroma of spices and browned beef, and it promises a full, warm belly at the end of a long day of work. There are all kinds of chili: vegetable, with tomatoes, without tomato, using ground beef, or heck, ground turkey. But my favorite special occasion, all-day chili is one that I make every year for the Super Bowl, a classic bowl of red. You may know the dish by other names—Texas chili, Texas-style chili, chili con carne, or Texas red—but the rules are more or less the same. No tomatoes, no onions, no beans. Just beef and spices braised long and slow until they’re coaxed into a spicy, thick bowl of chili.
I’m not from Texas and have never lived there, so this chili doesn’t qualify in the least as authentically Texan. Think of it as a loving cover band tribute to authentic Texas chili. The recipe began with one from Frank X. Tolbert, a Texan journalist and chili historian who, by all accounts, was something like a wizard when it came to his bowls of red. Over many Super Bowls spent making chili, I tweaked the original bowl of red recipe into something that’s less authentic, but extremely delicious. The best part of this chili is, like many meat braises, it’s even better the day after you make it. In fact, it’s exceptionally good as a breakfast, on, say, the cold grim Monday after the Super Bowl. Top it with a runny egg or two, add some cornbread, and it’s a brunch feast.
3 to 4 pounds of chuck roast or chuck steak
1 quart beef broth
3 to 6 fresh jalapenos (depending on how hot you like your chili)
4 to 6 dried ancho chile pods
3 to 4 dried guajillo peppers
1 tablespoon cumin
2 to 3 tablespoons masa harina
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Tabasco, to taste
How to Make It
Roughly cut the chuck roast or steak into 2 inch cubes. In a large stew pot, heat the vegetable oil on medium heat. Brown the chuck in batches, just until the outside of the chuck chunks develops a sear. Don’t worry about cooking it through, and don’t clean out the pot between batches (though you can add a bit more oil if the chuck starts sticking to the pot between batches).
Soak the dried chiles in hot water for about 10 minutes, until they’ve plumped up. Drain, reserving a cup of the pepper pot water. De-stem, de-seed, and chop the reconstituted peppers as best you can, trying to avoid washing away the flesh inside. Be careful to not touch your eyes while handling hot peppers—use gloves if you need.
De-stem and de-seed the jalapeno peppers, and roughly chop them. Place them with the dried chiles and the minced garlic in the bowl of a blender, and pulse until a thick paste forms. If the spice paste isn’t quite coming together, add a tablespoon or so of the reserved pepper liquid to smooth it out.
In the bottom of the stew pot, which should still be crusty from cooking the beef in it, place all of the chuck along with the blended pepper paste. Add cumin and 1 tablespoon of the masa harina and stir together.
Add the beef broth and the reserved pepper liquid. The goal is to have liquid just slightly cover the beef—if there’s not quite enough, you can add more water or broth. (I make this chili gluten-free, but if that’s not a concern, you can also add beer as a supplementary liquid.)
Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Leave the pot simmering for about 2 hours, checking on it often until the meat breaks apart easily with a fork.
Once the meat is tender, taste the chili and see if the spice level is to your liking. If it’s not hot enough for you, apply your desired quantity of tabasco. Add the vinegar and brown sugar and the other tablespoon of masa harina, stir, and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
If the chili gravy isn’t thick enough for you, turn off the heat for a while and let the chili settle for about 1/2 an hour. The meat tends to re-absorb some of the liquid, making for a thicker chili. You can also add more masa harina, or, in a pinch, ground-up corn tortillas.
Serve in a bowl with your favorite chili accompaniments, like scallions, sour cream, shredded cheese, or limes. And you can’t go wrong with a side of cornbread. Or Fritos.