How to make the one and only chile con carne, according to Robb Walsh

With this chilly weather, everyone’s thinking about warming foods.

This gray afternoon, I went digging for my own go-to chili recipe — with sweet potatoes, black beans and a weird mix of spices — but I can’t find it, so I thought I’d dig into our archives to find the next best thing: Robb Walsh’s go-to chili.

Robb Walsh’s El Real restaurant in Houston serves this Chili con Carne made with a from-scratch chili powder. Both recipes are available in Walsh’s new book, “The Chili Cookbook.” Photo by Eva Kolenko

This is the Houston food writer’s recipe for chili con carne the way the make it at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe in Houston. He originally published this his 2015 book, “The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, with Cook-off Worthy Recipes from Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian” (Ten Speed Press, $18.99), which remains a definitive guide to Texas’ official state dish (for now).

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“The Chili Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

El Real’s Chili con Carne

Be sure and use a  freshly made homemade chili powder for a full-flavored chili. Don’t skip the step of dry toasting the cumin seeds — it really improves the flavor.

— Robb Walsh

2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
8 oz. bacon, chopped
3 lb. beef chuck, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 onions, chopped
1/4 cup homemade chili powder (see recipe below)
2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 3/4 cups beef broth
1 (28-oz.) can pureed tomatoes
2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded

Toast the cumin seeds in a large skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a smaller frying pan or a metal or wooden tool with a flat surface, crush the seeds coarsely. Set aside.

Cook the bacon in the skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve. Over high heat, brown the beef in the bacon drippings left in the skillet and set the meat aside. Over medium heat, sauté the onions in the remaining drippings until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the toasted cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, black pepper, thyme, salt and garlic to the cooked onions and sauté for 1 minute. Crumble in the bacon, add the beef broth, 1 cup of water, the tomatoes, ancho chilies and the beef.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover partially and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours, adding water as needed to maintain the desired consistency.

Alternatively, transfer to a slow cooker set on low and cook for at least 6 hours and up to 8 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Remove the anchos, puree in a blender, and return to the pot. Serve in a bowl with chopped onions and shredded cheese, with saltines, over tamales, rice or potatoes, in a Frito Pie or combined with beans. Serves 6.

Homemade Chili Powder

Toasting chiles and cumin seeds in your own kitchen and grinding them in a spice grinder makes the best chili powder of all. This recipe calls for ancho chiles, but you can use any combination of dried chiles.

5 whole dried ancho chiles (about 2 ounces)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried mexican oregano, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Remove stems and seeds from anchos and spread the peppers out flat. Reserve seeds. Place chiles flat on a comal or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Being careful not to burn them, lightly toast until they’re brittle, then remove and cool. Toast the cumin in hot comal, stirring and shaking until fragrant. Add some of the chile seeds, if desired. (They will make the chili powder hotter.)

Cut chiles into small strips with scissors. In a clean coffee grinder, grind strips in several batches until powdered. Grind cumin and chile seeds. Combine powdered chile, ground seeds, cumin, oregano, and garlic powder in a mixing bowl. Grind coarse powder in batches in coffee grinder until fine, about 2 minutes. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

— From “The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, with Cook-off Worthy Recipes from Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian” by Robb Walsh (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)

 


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