Mom’s chili was really something. I was thinking about the recipe after the South Padre Chili Cook-Off last weekend. That was the day before Mother’s Day and I was thinking of her. Gosh it was a lot of work but I might make some next year and see if anyone likes it. She’s gone rather oriental on us these days and likes to stir-fry organic stuff, but I recall that chili real well when we lived in San Antonio. Some of her ideas are described if you want to read on.
First thing, Mom went and got some real good chuck, round, or shoulder from the butcher and trimmed off all the fat. It was cut into cubes varying between a quarter-inch and one inch, kinda crazy, and the fat was reserved for frying the onions, garlic, and steak. For some reason she always floured the beef before cooking it, with just a pinch of salt. When done, any juice was thrown away and the goodies were set aside for just a few minutes.
At the same time she steamed or boiled at least a dozen ancho peppers, which are dried poblanos. These were drained, de-seeded, de-skinned, and mashed or blended. This is fairly tedious work and I remember helping her with that, getting purple ancho all over my hands but it didn’t burn like jalapenos.
She wouldn’t start the chili unless she had at least two cans of Lone Star beer. One was for her and the other was for the pot. This is similar to Don Henley’s recipe which involves Mexican beer, preferably a case on ice – well, you know those rock-n-roll guys. So you dumped the browned goodies and the ancho goop into the pot with a can-o-beer and started the heat real slow, no rapid boiling or nothing.
Every once in a while she’d add some more water or a dash of beer, just to cover the goodies. Cumin was the next ingredient, the secret. She found a gal down at the Mercado in San Antonio that had freshly roasted cumin seeds (ground into dust right in front of you!), and also picked up a few dried hot peppers with names we did not understand. Well, Mom always gave enough business so the gal threw in a few weird peppers for free. The ones dried by roasting & smoking were the best! Chipotle? Throw them in whole, is what she did.
On went the Dutch oven’s iron lid after imparting these strange boogers. After steam started coming out she turned the chili off: time to go on the back porch and listen to canned Willie and have her grill me about my seemingly useless life, at least as compared to her. I think she was allowing the chili to “set,” as Dutch ovens stay hot a long time. After admitting that I should quit smoking and be a nicer person (score, Mom!), she opened the lid on the pot and started fussing over it. All floating grease was eradicated. The whole peppers were discarded before they fell apart. Maybe a little more beer to thin it or some flour to thicken it, along with some spices she’d never tell me about. Brown sugar or cayenne? Freakin’ oregano or cilantro? Finally, she turned up the heat just a little bump for a minute and stirred it up good and ladled a big spoonful onto a coffee saucer and said “Try this.”
We both smiled.