No question that a recipe in May for chile con carne is slightly out of season. It’s definitely more common in cold weather but maybe there are a few in climates less summery who can still match their weather with a body warming fare of the hot and hearty type. The recipe crops up today only because it has been a long time since a big pot of the Texas favorite has bubbled on my stove, filling the house with a fragrance of beefy tomato and cumin.
The New York Times Cookbook, a 1961 classic by Craig Claiborne has for long years had space on my bookshelves, and by this point is looking a little worn, stained and bedraggled from all the times it has lain open on kitchen counters too close to sauce and savory. Page 110 is especially spotted with repeated splashes of tomato sauce and other ingredients of Mr Claiborne’s excellent chili con carne.
The name derives from the Spanish for “chili pepper with meat.” A traditional chili recipe includes chili peppers, garlic, onions, tomato and cumin cooked with chopped or ground beef. Many recipes also include beans. In the days of cattle drives and cowboys roaming the Texas range, chili was made from dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers and salt. This mix was pounded together and left to dry in bricks which could later be boiled in pots on the trail. During the 1880s in San Antonio, Texas, Mexican women known as “Chili Queens” set up cook stands of charcoal or wood fires and sold bowls of chili in public gathering places. Because it was a tourist destination, San Antonio chili spread throughout the American south and west. In 1977 the Texas Legislature designated chili con carne as the official dish of the state.
In keeping with Texas tradition, the recipe in The New York Times Cookbook is uncomplicated and minimal. Apart from a little shopping and a hot stove all you need is three hours of slow simmering.
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound chopped beef
3 cups water
1⅓ cups canned tomatoes
1 green pepper, minced
½ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin seed, crushed
1 small bay leaf
2 tablespoons chili powder
¹⁄₈ teaspoon basil
1½ teaspoons salt
1 can kidney or pinto beans (optional)
grated cheese for garnish
chopped onion for garnish
PUTTING IT TOGETHER:
Heat the butter or oil in a skillet, add the onion and garlic and sauté until golden brown. Add the meat and brown. I have made this chili many times and come to prefer a mix of chopped and ground beef. Using both does not alter the cooking process.
After the meat has browned transfer the mixture of onion, garlic and beef to a large soup pot and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is as thick as desired, or about three hours. If you want it with beans, add those shortly before serving. There should be enough chili for four servings.
Another personal preference is a small bowl of grated yellow (or mixed) cheese garnish and another of chopped onions. Saltine crackers are also good with chili. If the weather just now is too warm for this spicy Texas pot, put aside the recipe for a day of cooler weather. Chances are good you’ll like this old Texas trail staple.