“Chili is not so much food as a state of mind. Addictions to it are formed early in life and the victims never recover. On blue days in October, I get this passionate yearning for a bowl of chili, and I nearly lose my mind.” – Margaret Cousins, novelist
When I woke up this morning, my apartment was as cold as a frosted frog. My super hasn’t turned on the heat yet, and as all but two of my walls are exterior (which is lovely in terms of light but awful in terms of climate due to shoddy insulation), my hands and feet had turned to marble. And since there’s no better way to chase away a case of the chills than hovering over a pot of chili simmering on the stove, I put on my boots and started my preparations.
To make true Texas chili—a pot of Texas red—you first need to set the scene. I reckon if you’re down in, say, Terlingua, all of these things come natural—it’s just part of life. But when you’re holed up in a tiny Manhattan kitchen, before you start boiling your beef you need to create some ambiance, some flavor, some feeling that you’re not where you are so you can pretend that this pot of red was made for real, in Texas.
First—you need time. Set aside at least 4 hours for the task at hand. Don’t worry, the time will fly. Then you need to make your list. I usually have most of the ingredients for chili on hand, but others may not. Here’s what you need: 6 or more pounds of bite-sized cubed beef (never, ever use ground beef, unless your store sells something called “chili chuck” or “chili grind”), four dried ancho chiles, one medium-sized onion, four cloves of garlic, chile powder (either a rich, dark store brand such as Whole Foodsor Gebhardt, or homemade chile powder), Mexican oregano, one bottle of beer (preferably Shiner Bock if available or a Mexican brand such as Negro Modelo), a lime and masa harina. You should also have some garlic powder, cayenne—either fresh or powdered—and unsweetened Mexican chocolate.
After you go to the store and buy what you need, you should call your friends. You’re making chili, after all, and it’s the ultimate share food. You’re going to make enough to feed at least six people and who wants to eat that all alone? Just tell them they can watch the game while you shake in your spices and stir your meat and they’ll come running. Who can resist the lure of football served with a side of Texas red?
Is your knife sharp? If not, make it so—you’re going to be doing some chopping. Then set out your dutch oven, your iron skillet and a wooden spoon. Now, brew a pot of strong, dark-roasted coffee—none of that flavored nonsense. After you drink a cup (you’ll need the caffeine for the cooking marathon you’re about to embark upon) be sure and save a cup or two, without cream and sugar.
Last, but not least, you need to choose your music. I like to pop in some Jerry Jeff or some Willie Nelson when I’m making my chili. Perhaps you should do the same.
Now that you’ve set the scene—sit down, sip your coffee and close your eyes. Think of tumbleweeds, herds of cattle, hungry cowboys on horses and a chuck wagon ran by a grumpy old codger named Cookie. The stage is set, and you’re playing Cookie as you follow in an old Texan range-life tradition—making a pot of Texas red.
Next time, I’ll tell you how to prepare and assemble the ingredients for maximum potency.