The cool weather that came sneaking into town this week has certainly been welcome in our kitchen. In just under a week, I’ve made a big pot of beef stew with carrots and potatoes and a thick gravy, a hearty chicken and rice soup, and most recently, a large Dutch oven’s worth of spicy, tender Terlingua Chili with a side of cornbread.
In my humble experience, West Texas weather, wacky as it is, doesn’t really ease us into any season in particular… we can go from triple digit heat to freezing from one day to the next. Beautiful, blue skies one moment to hailstorms the next. This week last year, we were anticipating snow in Fort Davis, in the beginning of October. You don’t get this kind of weather in any ol’ place, that’s for certain.
I’ve made chili any number of ways over the years, and I’ve recently settled on one favorite recipe. I read somewhere that truly authentic Texas chili is meat, spices and red chile peppers. I know that it sparks great debate online whenever anyone suggests beans go in a pot of chili, and I’m not here to rile up an argument.
I’m here to tell you that beans, in fact, have no business in my chili. They can be served on the side, but rest assured that my chili will never, ever contain a bean, a morsel of cheese, a diced bit of raw onion, an elbow of macaroni, a grain of rice or even a smidge of sour cream.
Before I developed my personal chili preferences, I used to dress up my bowl of red (that had beans lurking amongst the beef) with diced onion, grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Macaroni or rice on the bottom, to be stirred up with everything else. I couldn’t even taste the chile in the chili with all those other flavors fighting for dominance, when in fact, the melding of meat, spices and chile pepper should be center stage.
At least, that’s the attitude I’ve developed after being exposed to the Chile Appreciation Society International’s rules and regulations in judging a chili cook-off a few years ago.
As judges, we had to judge each sample of chili on five criteria: aroma (does it smell appetizing?), consistency (is it a smooth combo of meat and gravy?), red color (they don’t call it a “bowl of red” for nothing), taste (it should taste good), and aftertaste (did it leave a pleasant aftertaste?). Also, no fillers, like beans, rice or macaroni, were allowed in the entries. If CASI says beans and fillers aren’t allowed, Krysta says beans and fillers aren’t allowed.
The world famous Terlingua Chili Cook-Off is just around the corner. Here’s the short of how it came to be… the ghost town of Terlingua was brought back to life in the late 1960s by a chili competition born of some chili-know-it-alls. A New Yorker named H. Allen Smith wrote a magazine article called, “Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do,” that included beans in his chili recipe… clearly a challenge to Texans that could only be settled by a cook-off. Frank X. Tolbert, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and the author of the everything-there-is-to-know-about-chili book A Bowl of Red, led Team Wick Fowler. In Dallas, Fowler was also a newspaper man and was thought of as the best chili cook in all of Texas.
The first chili cook off in 1967 was a huge party in Terlingua, and the final tie-breaking judge supposedly gagged on a bite of the New Yorker’s chili. So, they decided to try it again the next year. The Terlingua Chili Cook-off continued through the 1980s, until two separate cook-offs formed for whatever reasons. The Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) and the Behind the Store cook off each have their own devotees today.
This year is the 53rd annual CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship, and will be held Oct. 28 through Nov. 2 down in Terlingua. Even if you don’t make it to the Ghost Town for the cook-off, you can win your own chili championship at home.
Okay, FINE… my secret ingredient is… a can of good beer! My brother-in-law brought me a six pack of this beer the last time they visited. Since I normally stick to IPAs, I drank a couple, and used the rest for that extra little somethin’ in my pot of Terlingua chile and in making beer bread. NOW you know how I win all of the cook-offs at our house 😉
One Version of Terlingua Chili
(rumor has it this was The Original Recipe)
2 lb. very lean ground beef (I use round steak and cut it into small cubes)
7 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons masa
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
Brown beef and drain. Stir in tomato sauce and 2 cans of water (or 1 (8-ounce) can of water and 1 (12-ounce) can of beer). Mix in all ingredients except cayenne pepper and masa. Simmer 30 minutes to one hour, until the meat is tender and flavors have blended. Add as much cayenne pepper as desired, and add a little water here and there if it gets too thick. The longer and slower you cook your chili, the more tender the meat will be. Mix masa and ¼ cup warm water and add to chili, and stir well. Simmer another 30 minutes… just be sure and add your masa during the last 30 minutes of simmering.
Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche