Chili Con Carne, Texas-style

Last week on Top Chef the challenge was to cook chili since they are, after all, in Texas this season.  I found out that the authentic Texas chili has no beans.  No tomatoes either; just meat - beef chuck and/or brisket, chili paste, and a few flavorings.  How I wished I could taste every dish each team made as they all looked so good.  But then again I could just make one using siling labuyo, or bird's eye chili.  For the base, I used dried chilies since a handful of these is enough to pack loads of heat in a kilo of meat.
The secret to making this dish is in your source of heat.  Making a paste from scratch using dried chilies makes all the difference, as opposed to just using fresh ones.  I lightly toasted the chilies then soaked them in hot water to rehydrate.  I then put them in the food processor with a bit of water, some cumin, black pepper and salt to make a chili paste.
Brown the meat, put in the stock and the chili paste and let it simmer until tender.  Add a tablespoon of vinegar towards the end - this gives a nice acidity and dimension to the dish.  After about two hours of simmering you get a thick stew that is not only spicy but flavorful as well.  Top with sour cream or plain yogurt.  Best served with bread to mop up all that sauce.

Texas Chili con Carne recipe:
  • 25 grams (about 5 Tbsp.) dried bird's eye chili (siling labuyo)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 5 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 kg. boneless beef chuck or brisket, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt
  • lime wedges
1. Place the chilies in a frying pan over medium-low heat and gently toast them (no oil) until fragrant.  Don't let them burn.  Place the chilies in a bowl and cover them with hot water and soak until soft, 20-30 minutes.

2. Drain the chilies; split them and remove stems and seeds.  Place the chilies in a food processor and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water.  Puree the mixture until a smooth paste forms.  Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a stewpot.  When it begins to smoke, add half of the beef.  Lightly brown the meat then transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of oil and the remaining beef.  Reserve.

4. Let the pot cool slightly, and place it over medium-low heat.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3-4 minutes.  Add the stock, 2 cups water and gradually whisk in the dissolved cornstarch.  Stir in the chili paste, scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula to loosen any browned bits.  Add the browned meat (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is tender, about 2 hours.

5. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste.  Gently simmer 10 minutes more.  Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the pot, leaving a thick sauce.  Adjust the balance of flavors with a bit of additional salt, sugar, or vinegar.

6. Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt) on top and a lime wedge on the side.


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