Chili is a simple food with a long history in the Americas. Seems the Cholulan Indians had the chili pots on the fire just waiting for the conquistadors to furnish the meat, if only history had turned out differently. Being that chili has been around for so very long and is so widespread there seem to be infinite variations. It is even one of the foods that manly men can make and still be theoretically “masculine,” as long as they can stand the heat. Problem is most of the recipes rely on chili powder. I’m not saying there is a right way and a wrong way to make chili…But I am of the opinion that you can not make good chili with chili powder. Decent perhaps, but not truly good. To get that thick, thick sauce and that rich earthy flavor you need chili pulp.
Chili pulp is made from reconstituted dried chili pods, blended to a fine puree. It creates a thick sauce and a complex flavor that chili powder can not even come close to. Besides being that it is so easy to make there is no reason not to use it. For the chili pods I prefer dried Anchos or Mulatos, but dried New Mexico or California chiles work as well and of course I will use them if push comes to shove. You can find them where ever you there is a decent Mexican store or a store with a decent Mexican aisle (thank god for immigration).
Chili Con Carne is, strictly speaking, a chili sauce with meat. So what is with the beans? While true, beans are probably not necessarily “traditional” (though it seems conquistadors were an option) I prefer the addition of beans. Beyond being a substitute for some of the meat they also add extra dimensions of flavor and texture, not to mention fiber. Besides, beans, being a cheap source of protein, like tofu in the East, makes the dish more economical. Which is what the food of the masses should be.
First off, the chili pulp.
- 8-10 dried chili pods (Anchos, Mulatos, New Mexico or California)
- boiling water
- In a skillet over medium heat toast the chili pods until warm but not burnt. Let cool slightly.
- Under cold running water remove the stems and seeds and put the pods in a bowl.
- Just cover with boiling water and weight the pods down with a saucer. Let sit for 30 minutes.
- Put the chili pods and about 1 cup of the soaking liquid in a blender. Blend until smooth.
Now let’s make some chili.
- 2 lbs. of ground (or cubed) beef, venison, or mutton
- 3 T of lard or oil
- 3 onions, chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 c. of diced, stewed tomatoes, 1 or 2 cans of diced tomatoes
- 2 (15 1/2 oz) cans of beans (kidney, pinto, black, or whatever) rinsed
- 1-2 cups chili pulp (recipe above)
- 1 T. of ground oregano
- 1 t. ground cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 or 2 minced jalapenos or some ground cayenne, to whatever heat level you desire.
- stock, broth, or water
- Melt the lard in a heavy pot or dutch oven, brown the meat over high heat (in batches if necessary).
- Reduce heat to medium. Add the chopped onions and minced garlic, saute until translucent.
- Add the tomatoes, beans, chili pulp, and the spices.
- Add 2 cups of stock or water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, simmer uncovered for 1 hour for ground meat, 2 hours for cubed until the sauce is quite thick and the meat is tender. Add more stock if necessary during cooking to keep the sauce from getting too thick and burning.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust if desired. Serve with some cornbread or frybread.