Welcome to week 28 of Fifty States of New Recipe Tuesday. This week we welcome Texas, who joined the union on December 29, 1845. Texas has a very interesting story on its path to statehood. It was originally a Spanish colony and was inhabited by mostly people from Mexico. When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, it established new rules for settling colonies and encouraged foreign settlers to move into the area known as Tejas. It was during this time that a man named Moses Austin made a deal to establish a colony with 300 US settlers. Although he died shortly thereafter, his son Stephen Austin inherited the land trust and settled the land near the Brazos and Colorado in 1824.
These new settlers did not consider themselves Mexican nationals, and brought with them slaves, despite it being against the law in Mexico. Fearing they were losing control of the region, Mexico banned US immigration into Tejas in 1830. They increased their military presence and placed restrictions on slavery, which caused the settlers to become angry and demand more independence.
By the mid 1830s, the conflict between Texas (who wanted their own statehood) and Mexico had reached a breaking point, and in 1835, the Texas Revolution began. It was a brutal fight and included the fight at the Alamo. The eventual outcome was the formation of an independent country; The Republic of Texas. In September of 1836, a formal government was formed and Sam Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas. His vice president was Mirabeau B. Lamar and Stephen Austin was named secretary of state. In 1839, Texas adopted their official flag, the Lone Star, which is still in use today as the official state flag of Texas.
The new country was not without its struggles, and in 1846 it was annexed into the US by then US President Polk. At that time, a border was established between the US and Mexico, but the two countries did not agree on its placement. War was declared in May 1846. The Mexican American war, called the ‘splendid little war”, resulted in huge gains for the US. On February 2, 1848, the war was brought to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The treaty established boundaries between the United States and Mexico, with Mexico officially recognizing Texas as a part of the United States. Additionally, the treaty included the acquisition of Mexico’s northern territory—which included California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, as well as parts of Wyoming and Colorado—for $15 million. The United States added more that 25% of its present day size, and Mexico lost over half its land as a result of the treaty.
So that is how we ended up with Texas and a whole bunch of other states too! I will not repeat this story for California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada! Perhaps just a cross reference to this history lesson will do.
So, let’s see what food we whipped up this week. I thought about going all Tex-Mex or something, but was convinced by my friend John (who happens to live in Texas) that I needed to make Texas Red, aka chili. And since it is the state food of Texas, I guess I really didn’t need to argue about it. A little more history…chili originated in San Antonio in the mid nineteenth century as a peasant food. It was made from ingredients that were local to the region, including garlic, oregano, meat, chile peppers and cumin. It spread out of Texas by the huge cattle drives of the late 1800s. It was filling and nutritious, yet inexpensive to make in quantity.
But here’s the thing. Texas chili is like chicken soup. There are literally thousands of recipes for Texas Red, and each one of them is “award winning”, “authentic” and “the best”. So how do you pick just one? I started with my understanding of the “true” ingredients and worked from there, basing some of it on my own personal taste and also my lack of 2-4 days to make it. True Texas Red starts with stew meat, preferably chuck roast. There is no ground beef in Texas Red! There are also no beans. I was told that Gebharts chili powder was also an ‘authentic’ blend, but I am a Northeast girl, so I had to improvise and find a deep dark blend at my local Whole Foods. The rest is pretty straight forward. I didn’t go all fancy with coffee or chocolate, as I felt that was heading more towards a boutique style rather than something true to the state. Mine uses simple ingredients, deep browning of the meat and slow cooking to meld the flavors.
The result is a tasty bowl of chili. It was pretty mild for my taste and I would probably punch it up with some cayenne and ancho chile powder. The meat was incredibly soft and tender. I will admit that I like my chili with beans. This recipe, in my humble Northeast girl opinion, was not my favorite, but toss in some beans and spices and I would make it again. I give this recipe (as is) an A-. I give my history lesson a solid A.
I hope you enjoyed learning a little about Texas and the west. Next week…Iowa! I’m already humming 76 trombones.
Recipe for Texas Red Chili (adapted from several sources)
1 ½ teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
2 ½ pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1½ inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large onion, diced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt.
1 chipotles en adobo, minced, with sauce
¼ cup chili powder
1 ½ tablespoons cumin powder
½ tablespoon dried oregano
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced or crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1/8 cup masa harina (mexican corn flour)
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ cup water
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Sear the Beef: Salt the beef cubes with 1 tsp of salt. Sear the beef cubes in 2-3 batches. Heat 1 tsp vegetable oil in a large (8 quart) dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking, then add the beef. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until well browned. I usually just treat them as having two “sides” – 3 minutes, flip, 3 minutes on the other side. Between each batch, add a teaspoon of oil, and let heat for about 1 minute before adding the next batch of beef. Put browned cubes in a big bowl while you work on the other batches. When they’re done, you’ll have a nice, browned fond on the bottom of the pot. If the fond looks like it is starting to burn, reduce the heat to medium, and put the beef cubes directly over the part of the pan that’s in danger of burning.
- Saute the Onions: Reduce heat to medium. You want 1 ½ tablespoons of fat in the pan. Add more vegetable oil, or pour out fat to get to 1 ½ tbsp. Put the onions in the pot, add ½ tsp salt, then sauté the onions until softened and just starting to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Scrape the pot after a minute or two, to loosen up the browned fond and mix it into the onions.
- Toast the Spices: Make a hole in the center of the onions, then add the chipotle puree, ¼ cup of chili powder, cumin and oregano to the pot. Stir for 1 minute, or until you really start to smell the spices – you want to toast them a bit. Make another hole in the center of the onions, and add the garlic and diced jalapeno. Stir for another minute, or until you smell the garlic.
- Cook the Chili: Make sure your oven rack is in the bottom third of the oven, then heat oven to 325°F. Add the tomatoes and water to the chili pot, and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck spices. Add the reserved beef cubes and any juices they released. Turn the heat on the stove to high, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, and move it into the oven.Bake for 3 hours. Check after each hour and add a little water if your chili starts to get dry.
- Final Seasoning: Mix the masa harina, ½ tsp chili powder and water in a small bowl until combined. It should be the consistency a thick cream; add more water if it needs it. Remove the chili from the oven, and stir in the masa harina mix. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, or put back in the oven for 10 minutes to thicken. Stir in the lime juice, and season to taste.
- Rest and Reheat: (Optional, but helps the flavor a lot.) Leave the chili on the counter, uncovered, until it cools to room temperature, a couple of hours. Cover and move to the refrigerator. Refrigerate overnight, or up to four days. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to serve, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.