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A Big Bowl of Red by Adam Byrd

As the seasons begin to shift from summer to autumn and the mornings are filled with chill air and cool breeze, our culinary creations are taking a noticeable shift from picnic foods and summer beverages to hot dinner, soups, and stews. It is the time of year when we cast off shorts and tanks to don jeans, boots, and scarves. Football season is here and Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner. 'Tis the season of chili, warm desserts, and good hot food for the soul.

 

In my part of the country, folks gather 'round the television in mid-october in celebration of our two beloved football teams: the Longhorns of The University of Texas and the Sooners of Oklahoma University. For decades, the game has been played at the Cotton Bowl in Fair Park, Dallas which is also the site of the Texas State Fair. Attending the Texas State Fair in October is a wonderful event, especially for the whole family. The food, of course, is incredible. Did you know that the corn dog was invented at the State Fair of Texas? It's true. For me, the Texas-OU game means chili ... Texas-style chili. That is, real chili. None of that cinnamon-laced slop they serve over spaghetti in Cincinnati.

 

No, I'm talking about a big bowl of red. The kind that cattle train cooks would slow cook for hours over a campfire to feed a herd of hungry cowboys. It's the kind of chili that is made with the fewest ingredients possible, yet retaining that hearty, spicy flavor that is the root of the dish and what makes it the state dish of Texas.

 

Chili is usually made with beef, onions, peppers, chili powder, tomato sauce, and various other ingredients. But what makes chili is the chile, or chili peppers. Most common batches of chili just uses store-bought chili powder, and that's just fine. Long ago, my basic chili recipe was just onions, garlic, bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, tomato sauce, ground beef, and water. I could make that batch of chili with my eyes closed, and boy did it taste good over a campfire.

 

But my tastes and sensibilities have changed since then, and I take a more mature approach to making chili. First and foremost, the question comes up: why use water, when you can use beer? By replacing some of the water with a regular beer, you are going to give the chili an unbelievable set of flavors. The hops, wheat, and other grains will make an average chili come alive into a hearty stew. Just be careful to not use any flavored beers. In my experience, raspberry flavors do not make a good chili.

 

The other major change I have made to my recipe is to use reconstituted dried chile peppers instead of chili powder. It's a bit more work to bring the dish together, but well worth it. There is an unbelievable world of flavors inside a dried chile that cannot be duplicated inside of a plastic container of ground chili powder.

 

Real Texas Chili

 

- 1 Large White Onion, Chopped

- 1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped

- 3 Jalapeno Peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped

- 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

- 4-5 TBSP cooking oil

- 10-15 Dried Chile Peppers, such as Pasilla, Mulatto, or Anaheim

- 1 small can tomato sauce

- 2 lbs. lean ground beef

- 1/2 cup flour

- 1 Tsp. Salt

- 1 Tsp. Pepper

- 1 Tsp. Ground Cumin

- Regular Beer

- Water

 

Prepare the dried peppers by cutting off their stems, slicing them on one side, and scraping out the seeds. Does this for all the peppers, then place them in a bowl of warm water. Use another bowl or plate to force them under the water. After a 30-minute soak, remove the now soft peppers to a food processor and puree them, adding a couple of cups of the soaking liquid. The resulting puree should be similar to that of tomato sauce. Set aside.

 

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions, bell pepper, jalapenos, and garlic. Fry until the onion is translucent and the bell pepper is softened. Add the ground beef and brown. Sift together the flour, salt, pepper, and cumin. Add this mixture to the ground beef and stir to incorporate. Now add the chile puree and tomato sauce, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a slow bubble while stirring. Add a couple of dashes of cumin and a pinch of salt and pepper.

 

From here, add as much beer as you would like. I like to add a full 12 oz. bottle. Stir the mixture while waiting for the foaming to die down. Now add as much water that will make the mixture as thick as you want it. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for and hour and a half. Taste often and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

 

Serve with grated cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions, and corn chips. Or just by itself.

 

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This article was published on Thursday 28 September, 2006.
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