Texas Chili (Braised Beef in Chile Sauce)

Chili is always made with chiles in one form or another, which might seem confusing, but it doesn’t need to be. The Spanish spelling for the dried, spicy peppers that are the namesake of this dish in C-H-I-L-E, but the Americanized name for the dish is C-H-I-L-I.  Both spellings seem to be accepted and understood to describe either concept, but I think it’s best to spell the name for the dish in the English fashion and spell the pepper in the Spanish language.  It helps to avoid confusion and it just seems like the right thing to do (like avoiding pronouncing ‘quesadilla’ like Napoleon Dynamite).

Texas Chili (a.k.a. chili con carne) is really just braised beef chuck in a nicely-spiced chile sauce. It contains no beans, so it makes a perfect paleo meal.  My version is relatively mild provided you discard the seeds from the dried chiles as I describe in the instructions. Let the chili do its thing in the oven for four hours and it will become intensely rich and delicious thanks to all of the lovely fat that renders from the meat as it slowly simmers.  Serve it in big bowls with a spoonful of rich sour cream or chunks of avocado.

Texas Chili (Braised Beef in Chile Sauce)

Texas Chili:
*makes 8 – 10 servings and freezes very well*

4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced into lardons
3 # beef chuck (about 3 steaks or a roast), cut into 3” chunks
sea salt
4 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried ancho chiles
2 medium white onions, medium dice
3 large garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
1 large, juicy summer tomato, cut into quarters, or 1 C. canned whole peeled tomatoes
2 chipotle chiles in adobo
1 1/2 C. water (a bottle of beer works great, too)
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. cumin
5 whole cloves
For serving:
Cheddar Cheese, Sour Cream, or Avocado Chunks
Tortillas or Tortila Chips

Place a kettle of water on to boil.  Toast the chiles on a hot, dry pan over medium heat for about 30 seconds per side, pressing down on them with a spatula so that they begin to lightly blister.  Once toasted, turn off the heat and pour the boiling water over them to cover, placing a heavy plate on top of them so they remain submerged.  Allow to soften for about 30 minutes while you prep all of your other ingredients (chop bacon and onions, peel and smash garlic, measure spices, etc..)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cook the bacon slices over medium heat in a large dutch oven or other pan that will hold all of the beef comfortably.  When lightly crispy, remove the bacon from the pan and set aside, leaving the fat behind.  Season the beef chunks liberally with sea salt and brown in batches in the pork fat, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. You just want some nice color on the outside of the beef – do not cook it through.  As the beef browns, set it aside on a plate until all pieces are finished.  To the same pan, add the onions and smashed garlic cloves and cook for about 5 minutes until softened, sprinkling them generously with salt, too.  While the onions and garlic cook, prepare your chili sauce.

Remove the chiles from the water and pull off their stems.  Open the chiles up and rinse them out and discard all of their seeds. Place the dried flesh of all the chiles into a blender.  Add the tomato, chipotles, and water or beer and puree until very smooth, 1 – 2 minutes.  Set the chili sauce aside.

Return to the sauteing onions and add the bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves.  Stir to thoroughly combine and allow to toast in the pan for about one minute. Then pour in your chili sauce, stirring well to pick up any bits off the bottom of the pan.  Nestle the browned beef chunks down into the liquid, sprinkle in the cooked bacon, and bring to a simmer.  Once simmering, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven for 4 hours.

Check on the braise once an hour to be sure the liquid is at a moderate simmer.  Adjust the oven temperature by 25 degrees in either direction if necessary.  If you notice that the liquid is cooking off too quickly, add more water to keep the meat half way submerged.

Check on the braise - Texas Chili (Braised Beef in Chile Sauce)

After 4 hours, the meat should be so tender it falls apart with you pick it up with tongs.  Stir the meat and sauce together to combine thoroughly before serving, refrigerating, or freezing.

Like any braised dish, this dish will become indescribably delicious when made a day or two in advance and then rewarmed over medium-low heat until piping hot.

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