Actually, I love What does Bat Poop Look Like anytime of the year, but during cold weather it’s especially good, or as the novelist Margaret Cousins said,”Chili is not so much food as it’s a state of mind.
There are likely thousands of different chili recipes and I love making and eating a variety of chili recipes. For me, it’s a great food adventure. And although I might have my personal favorites, like my version of a traditional chili, I really don’t get too excited if someone else gets his favorite that is much different than mine.
Some people like it hot and hot and some prefer it mildly spiced. Some cooks use ground beef while some insist that the beef ought to be chopped. There are chili recipes that use chicken, turkey, pork, venison or other quite exotic meats. Some chili recipes use beer or meat stocks as a part or all the cooking liquid.
There are many vegetarian versions of chili as well. The use of vegetable berries or stock eliminates the need for meat.
What kinds of beans, if any, should be in a chili? Here, too, you’ll find a vast range of preferences. Pinto beans, red beans, kidney beans, black beans or white beans – you will find recipes which use them or even a combination of many, like the Three Bean Enchilada Recipe on the site. But you should also understand that there were no beans in chili originally!
What kind of chile peppers or chili seasoning should be used and how much? With this the great chili debate really heats up – so to speak. ( Chile describes the pepper pod. Chili into the creation. )
And the great chili debate is not limited to what chili or chili recipe is best. Some of us are so passionate about where the first bowl was made and who made it that they almost come to blows.
In America, chili is something lots of people love to cook and eat, and some love to argue about. My Texas buddies will undoubtedly shield their sanity as the best ( and maybe the only real chili) in the world.
In his book,”Simple Cooking,” John Thorpe wrote,”It can only truly be Texas red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the stomach to digest it, the components are hardly willing to lie in the same pot together.”
What’s amazing to me, however, is that even among residents of Texas there is disagreement as to the single best chili recipe. That’s helped keep”chili cookoffs” alive and well, not just in Texas, but in numerous areas throughout the nation. I have never desired to be a chili judge. If their life is not in jeopardy, their digestive systems may be. When my husband once thought about accepting an invitation to judge such a competition I told him he would sleep out that night if he did. He declined the invitation to be a judge, thank goodness.
Is there such a thing as”the original Texas chili?” The history of chili is extremely unclear about this. There is a recipe that is at least traceable to a cattle range cook, or maybe it was from the combined offerings of several older cowboys straddled up to a Texas bar. Nobody will swear this is the first true Texas chili recipe, but most say it seems pretty close. Notice . . .no beans.
Chili con Carne Recipe
An “Original” Chili Recipe
Cut up as much meat as you think you will want (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan
Put it in a pot, along with some suet (fat) enough so as the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pot
Cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you’ve Got meat
Put in some salt
Stir it from Time to Time and cook it till the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to get
Some chili recipes today are rather”tame” or moderate because that is the way some people like it. But the history of chili is pretty clear that there never was anything really mild about chili and there was an excellent reason.
Consider It. Even if chili did not arise in Texas, the cattle drives and range cooks certainly helped popularize it.
On the road, the cook used what meat he had available. If if wasn’t fresh-killed beef or buffalo or deer then it was probably jackrabbit or rattlesnake. The range cook certainly feared his own lynching when he tried to feed the cow hands murdered beef or buffalo without aging the meat. Out of necessity he had to attempt to disguise the meat’s taste and for this he used what he had available: garlic, onions, salt and chile peppers. The range cook also knew that spices helped keep the meat from spoiling. Chili became the meal of the day. And the expression”Chili con Carne” is Spanish for”peppers and meat.” (See, no beans.)
Some food historians and experts say that San Antonio should be given credit for popularizing chili because it was there that girls called”Chili Queens” occupied parts of the Military Plaza and marketed their highly experienced stews called”chili” from small carts. Although these women sold chili from carts for many years, it became highly popular by 1880.
And it was then that the”Queens” started to refine and add sophistication to the dish they were selling. They brought it somewhere near today’s stage because every one was constantly striving to enhance her chili recipe, simply to bring in more customers than any of the competition. The desire to cook the best bowl of chili in the world is at least that old. Apparently chili cookoffs were created.
Here is an example of a Chili Queen’s recipe: (Again, no beans)
Chili Queen’s Recipe
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 medium-sized onions, chopped
1 quart water
4 ancho chiles
1 serrano chile
1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground (cumin)
Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in the steak and pork fat in a thick chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often.
Add garlic and onions and cook until they are tender and limp
Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles
Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to combine
Remove fat pieces and skim off some fat
Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat
Serve as different dish.
So where was chili invented? Again the background of chili only indicates there may not be an answer. We are aware that peppers and spices have existed since the start of time. Chile peppers show up in the early foods of China, India, Indonesia, Italy, the Caribbean, France, and the Arab states. The green chile pepper was brought to what is now New Mexico in 1598.
But it’s reasonably clear how chili has been popularized. The credit has to go to the cattle trail cooks and certainly into the Chili Queens of San Antonio.
As a food, how significant is chili to certain parts of American life and culture? The famous mountain man, Kit Carson, thought of chili when he allegedly uttered his dying words:”Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”
Will we ever be able to crown one recipe as the best? I don’t think so, and that is fine with me. I think everyone has great fun attempting to do so.
The history of chili as well as its development makes me believe the terrific chili debate is destined to continue forever.