Slow Cooker Texas-Style Chili

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Let’s just preface this post by saying that I have never been to Texas and most of the Texans I know are vegetarians. There wasn’t anyone around to judge the Texas-ness of this chili, except me of course and well, between growing up in New England and living in California my credentials aren’t great. But I’d still put this chili against a Texan bowl of red and stand by my dish.

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Here’s the thing about Texas chili: it has rules and that means if you play by the rules you can make a fair approximation of the original. Unlike watered down chili that use beans or tomatoes to make up for bulk and flavor, a true Texas chili has two things: meat and chiles. And to tell the truth, I was never much a fan of beans in chili so this seemed like a pretty good alternative to the chili con carne I grew up eating with ground meat and kidney beans (sorry Dad). Call it Texas-style instead of straight-up Texas chili and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting away with it.

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Besides, with the –style appendage I could take some liberties with this dish. There are no tomato pieces but I did add a tablespoon of tomato paste to up the meaty flavor. A generous amount of garlic added good flavor which was balanced nicely by the chiles – your breath won’t give away the number of garlic cloves that went into the dish. And because I just can’t leave well enough alone I added some vegetables in the form of red bell peppers. Bell peppers are a kind of chile, right? Based on plant families it’s true although I don’t know if my argument would hold up in a Texas chili cookoff. But I’m ok with that.

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Chili is a dish that is slowly cooked and while you could make this on the stovetop over the course of several hours, this recipe is built for a slow cooker. The only thing you miss out on while you’re at the office is the fantastic smell this makes while it’s cooking. After 15 minutes of prep and eight hours boiling away what you’re left with is a rich satisfying dinner. While it may not be authentic, it’s certainly worth a second helping. And that’s what we’re really after around here anyway.

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Last year we ate: Hummus

Slow Cooker Texas-Style Chili

Could you make this on the stove top? Absolutely but I’d add another cup or so or liquid to make up for what will evaporate during cooking – very little evaporates in a crock pot which is why I add so little liquid to it.. You could use water, stock, or beer to make that extra liquid although I’d choose beer. It will probably only need 2-3 hours on a stovetop and you should stir it every once in a while to make sure the bottom isn’t burning.

2.5 lb beef chuck, cut into 1-2 inch cubes, depending on your preference
2 bell peppers*, cut into 1-inch dice
5-6 dried chiles: Anaheim, New Mexico, Ancho, Pasilla, or your own favorite combination. Just be aware of the heat of the chiles you use so that you don’t overdo the final spiciness of the dish.
2 cups water
1 tsp chipotle paste**
5-6 cloves garlic
1 tbs chili powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons flour***

Bring the water to a boil in a pot or kettle. Prepare the chiles by cutting off the stem end and shaking out as many seeds as you can – you could leave the seeds in for more spice but that feels a little like Russian Roulette to me. I prefer to control the spiciness of a dish so that it won’t be a “surprise, this is inedibly spicy” kind of dinner. Put the deseeded chiles into a large heat-proof bowl. Then pour the boiling water over the chiles and let them sit and rehydrate for about 15 minutes.

Once they’re soft put the chiles, chipotle paste, garlic, chili powder, and kosher salt into a blender, food processor bowl, or a tall and narrow container big enough for a stick blender. Add 1/4 cup of the hot water and blend the mixture into a paste. If there isn’t enough water to make it a smooth mixture you could add more, 1-2 tablespoons at a time until you have a paste. Be careful to not add more liquid than you need though.

Once the puree is done, combine it with the beef and bell peppers in the bowl of a slow cooker. At this point you could add the flour and toss everything to coat but as you can see in the notes below, I didn’t use flour. Whatever you choose, turn the slow cooker onto low and cook for 6-8 hours. When I took the meat out at just over 7 hours it was lovely and falling apart.

You could serve this as soon as it’s done but the thing about chuck is that it has a lot of fat. I put this in the fridge overnight, scraped off the fat the next day (which is an amazing shocking orange color from the oil in the chiles) and then reheated it for dinner. It’s not necessary but I prefer it that way. When you’re ready to serve it, serve it hot and if you’re feeling fancy you could top it with cilantro, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, even a vinegary slaw which would brighten the flavor.

* I prefer to use red or yellow here since they have more natural sugar. Green bell peppers can be a little bitter because of their lower sugar content and after a long cooking time that bitterness can be more pronounced.

** When I get a jar of chipotles in adobe the first thing I do it blend up the chiles with the sauce using an immersion blender. You could also use a regular blender or a food processor or even finely chop the peppers and add them back to the sauce. Then when I use it I don’t have to worry about fishing the peppers out of the sauce.

*** Here’s the thing: I didn’t use flour when I made this and while I thought the gravy/sauce was awesome, Jeff thought it would use some thickening. If you prefer a more stew-like chili then I’m guessing the flour will be plenty to thicken it up for you. But if you plan to sop the juice up with rice or cornbread then you should be fine without it.

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