Chili is a very personal dish. Have you ever noticed that? I don't think there is another dish, except maybe pizza, that evokes such strong opinions. Everyone and their brother has the "right" way to make chili- with beans, without beans. With tomatoes, or without. Ground beef or cubed chuck. Suet or bacon fat. People get pretty passionate about it too- especially Texans, which I know from experience since I am a Texan. We are definitely the most opinionated of them all in the chili debate, and I'm not ashamed to say it.
My favorite memories of Texas chili are from when I was riding horses in junior high and high school. At the end of each autumn, we'd have a show amongst all of the riders at the barn, and all of the girls- myself included- from our instructor's advanced class would show up just after dawn to get our horses ready. I can't remember who brought the chili; but I do remember that not only would we eat it for breakfast, but loved every bite of the thick, beefy, beanless concoction that was spicy enough to make my nose run. It was especially delicious spooned over small bags of Fritos- whose wrappers were thin enough to allow some of the hot chili to warm up our frozen solid hands.
Since my parents are from Pennsylvania, I grew up on what the Texans call "Yankee chili," otherwise known as "flavorful beef stew with beans." I have no idea where my strong dislike of chili with beans came from, perhaps the strong Texas influence from my environment was the source that outweighed the influence from home. I can clearly remember sitting at the dinner table throughout my teenage years picking out each and every kidney bean and tomato chunk I could find and creating a small pile of the undesirables on my plate, while my parents fervently attempted to convince me that it was, in fact, chili.
...I didn't buy it.
Texas chili purists are adamant that true chili is only beef, water, suet, spices and chiles. While I feel strongly about keeping beans, celery and other stew ingredients out of my chili, I do like a little more depth of taste than what just beef and chiles provide. Call me reformed, call it a compromise- I just don't always have access to all of the dried chiles that are favorable for the dish. Many of the True Texas chili recipes called for something like 10 different types of dried chiles for the dish. I, like most people, am always trying to find the perfect balance between wonderful flavors and the amount of work I'm willing to put into making a dish. Chili seems like one of those dishes that you can find a recipe that is still very tasty and doesn't require an insane amount of hands on time or mail ordered chiles from Mexico.
This recipe fits the bill, in my opinion. I will concede that it does involve canned tomatoes and chiles, merely because my grocery store didn't have any of the dried ones. And that's ok! This isn't meant to be a re-creation of the first chili ever made- that's not what we're going for here. We're going for a flavorful and easy, yet hearty beef chili with a chile pepper base that sticks to your ribs and makes your nose run.
And if you want to put beans in your chili, go for it, just please make sure I'm not looking!
Slow-Cooker Texas Chili
Adapted from the Food Network
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed (about 2 scant teaspoons garlic powder)
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles, drained
1 10-ounce can Rotel
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
5 chipotle chiles, dried or canned
1 1/2 cup low-sodium beef stock or your favorite amber beer
4 tablespoons corn meal, divided
Prepare a large slow-cooker by spraying with non-stick spray. In a large skillet, work in batches and brown beef on 1 or 2 sides, making sure not to cook all the way through. Each batch should sear in the skillet for about 2 minutes total. Once beef is finished place in slow cooker.
Once the beef is finished, sauté the onion in the vegetable oil until just soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the chiles and Rotel, scraping any browned bits off the skilled with a wooden spoon. Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the corn meal, combine well. Pour over beef in the slow cooker and stir.
Cook on low for 6 hours. At the 6 hour mark, lift the lid and stir well. If you used dried chipotle chiles, take them out of the slow cooker at this time and remove the stem and seeds, returning the flesh to the cooker.
Turn the slow cooker to warm and stir in the corn meal. This will help thicken the chili. Prepare your side dishes, toppings or anything you’d like to serve with the chili at this point. Once any rice, cornbread, etc is finished, the chili should be thickened. If it’s still too thin for your taste, stir in the last tablespoon of cornmeal and let sit for 10 more minutes.
Serving ideas: Cornbread, rice, Fritos chipsTopping ideas: Scallions, diced onions, or cheese