How to make a pot of Texas red: Part one

How to make Texas red DSC 2709

“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.

  1. Nicholas Borelli

    Does Virgils (44th between 6th & 7th)at all satisfy your homesickness? Or is that just some New Yorker’s version of real BBQ?

  2. Anonymous

    Magnificent post. Poetry. Maybe your best yet… maybe. Well done.

  3. Oh man, I was just bugging my boyfriend the other day about chili. He’s slowly opening up to more foods from my constant exposure… but he refused over and over if I attempted to make chili for him. I tried to tell him “No beans” after he said he didn’t like beans, so he responded by saying he just doesn’t like the taste of chili. Sigh. I was so looking forward to attempting to make my own chili… and now you’re posting a recipe, it’s going to make me want to make it even more. I’m not a crazy person! well except about food. Please let me come over and taste test it… but can we watch baseball instead? 😉

  4. Chicken Fried Gourmet

    very good post, cannot wait for part II….I love me some anchos

  5. Lisa Fain

    Nicholas–Virgil’s makes a mean batch of cheese grits, but that’s all I’d recommend.

    Anon–Poetry? Why thank you!

    Yvo–That pot was spoken for, but I can invite you the next time I cook some chili. Unfortunately, I’m leaving for an Italian holiday in the next few days and hopefully, by the time I return, the Mets will have won the World Series. But you don’t need sport to enjoy chili!

    Chicken Fried Gourmet–Thank you! I hope the actual method can live up to the overture.

  6. I just found you blog (via Moveable Feast), and wanted to say hello. I’m a native Texan (born in Waco; graduated from Texas Tech) living in southern California. I don’t miss living in Texas, but I DO miss the food. Your blog is fabulous at reminding what I’m missing. My mother’s a good ole Texas cook with lots of typical recipes that I now use. I’ll be back!

  7. cool, i had some decent pulled pork up in northern ny state today. tues i go to my butcher for the beef, buy the beer, then make coffee. i like your mix of roasted chilies for the powder. i’m in. thx for sharing the wealth. i lean to jump blues, texas blues or music from guadeloupe/martinique on for vibes.

  8. like you, a proper chili is something we have to make at home. but i like it better that way. it smells up the house so nicely.

    a good smoked brisket is what i miss. Rome has nothing resembling it and i can’t make it at home. it’s the first thing i go for when i visit austin–usually from ruby’s.

    great post. thanks for making my mouth water!

  9. Novelismo

    Thank you … might be a few too many vegetal ingredients? for my friend Chris Walters, but overall … you write well, Lisa!

Leave a Reply to Novelismo Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.