In the latter half of the 1800’s, pieces of beef or bison were pounded together with suet, dried chile peppers and salt and formed into bricks which were dried and stored for later use. On the trail, the bricks were simply boiled with water in heavy pots.
Chili con carne (literally “chili [peppers] with meat”) later found its way to San Antonio’s Military Plaza, where onions,garlic, cumin and oregano (and maybe tomatoes) were likely first added by a group of Hispanic women famously known as the “chili queens”.
Chili was broadly introduced at the “San Antonio Chili Stand” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The first chili parlors outside of Texas began to appear in the early 1900’s, with accompaniments such as beans, shredded cheese and crackers showing up in the 20’s and 30’s.
Using bone-in, grass-fed rib-eye steak, dried chiles, tomatoes and fresh pinto beans, this particular recipe recognizes some 150 years of chili evolution without straying too far from its humble roots..
For the Chili
1 1/2 lb grass-fed, bone-in ribeye steaks, either beef or bison
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb fresh pork belly (substitute uncured bacon), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 lb fresh pinto beans (optional)
2 cups fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed
2 dried ancho chiles
2 dried New Mexico chiles
2-3 dried chilipiquenes (optional, very hot)
3 cups filtered water
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 3-inch piece Mexican cinnamon
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Split, stem and seed the ancho and New Mexico chiles. Toast briefly on a comal or dry skillet, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor along with the chilipiquenes, if using. Process into a coarse powder and set aside.
Cut the meat from the bone and cut into 1-inch pieces, trimming off and mincing any heavy fat. Add the bone (leaving it in for the duration), minced fat and pork belly (or bacon) together in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat and cook until all the fat has rendered. Add onions and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add meat and garlic and cook until browned. Add ground chiles, tomatoes, water, cinnamon, oregano and beans, if using. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours, or about half that time if not using beans. Ladle into bowls and serve hot with diced onions, cilantro and shredded cheese if desired.