The Farmers’ Almanac was right; in January we had a brutal stretch of cold weather down at my farm in Osage County, Kansas. Between bouts of fighting frozen waterlines and breaking pond-ice for the cattle, I managed to spend a little time in the kitchen cooking up one of my favorite wintertime treats: homemade chili. Folks are about as opinionated on just what amounts to real chili as they are about the only truck brand worth driving. I was a post-adolescent convert to chili – because I didn’t like the version that got served up at home. Today, chili ranks about as high as homemade macaroni and cheese, and that’s about as high as it gets, in my book.
My father loved stewed tomatoes, and my mother was fond of cooking with canned red kidney beans. So the chili I grew up with was created with beans, burger, onion, and massive chunks of steaming, veiny tomatoes. It always smelled great, and it likely tasted great, too, but the texture was tough for me to swallow. Tough enough that I avoided chili altogether until after graduate school – when I came upon a cookbook published by the Society for Range Management called Trail Boss’s Cowboy Cookbook. I found a recipe for Texas Red Chili on Page 72 that changed my culinary life.
The version of Texas Red that caught my eye was fairly simple to create. The ingredients were easy and available: round steak, onion, garlic and spices. I followed the recipe carefully the first time and used my best cast-iron pot. It was love at first bite. Since then, I’ve modified the recipe a bit, but it’s fundamentally the same. And it still lacks tomatoes and beans. My recipe goes like this:
Brown at least 1 pound of “real” meat in your best cast-iron pot. I used lean bison (buffalo) stew meat last time. If you choose round steak, venison or elk, cube and trim the meat before browning. Add up to 1⁄4 cup of your favorite cooking oil to facilitate the browning. I use olive oil. Chop 1 large or 2 small onions and add to the pot along with a garlic clove or 5, smashed and diced. Slice 3 to 5 average-sized jalapeños (remove seeds if you want it cooler) and add them to the pot. Next, add sufficient quantities of cumin, your favorite chili powder, ground cayenne pepper and salt to the mix. Add about 11⁄2 cups water – the resulting broth should have a smoky red color. Finally, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and about 1⁄8 cup unsweetened, pure chocolate – grated. Don’t skimp with the chocolate – spring for something good. You should bring this pot to a low boil, stir, then cover and simmer for at least 11⁄2 hours. I like to serve this chili over homemade corn bread with sour cream and chopped cilantro on top.
A great meal on a cold weekend.
Whether you’re bringing home your first calf, or planning a new set of raised garden beds, we’d love to know what you’re up to this season. We’d especially like to know how you plan to produce more of your own food this year. If you keep a country journal and would like to share it through a blog at www.Grit.com, just let me know (hwill@Grit.com).
See you in May.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.