A Bowl of Red

By • April 25, 2011 134 Comments

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Author Notes: We entered our first chili cookoff years ago, and in our travels along the way we've not only tasted some amazing bowls of red, but met some amazing characters. Ormly Gumfudgin immediately comes to mind. Ormly was such a chili purist that he once physically attacked a Houston chef who put baked beans in his chili. The Texas Rangers came, and, according to reports, yelled at the chef.

I love everything about chili - its welcoming aroma, rich flavor, and soul-embracing warmth - but most of all, I love chili because it's meant to be shared with as many friends as possible!

Food52 Review: Like barbecue or chocolate chip cookies, chili has inspired many a debate. Connoisseurs know that there are as many versions as there are cooks who make it, but not all chili is created equal. Wssmom's Bowl of Red gives other contenders a run for their money. It's rich and smooth, with a creeping heat from homemade chili paste -- by far the most labor intensive part of the recipe, and it's really not that much work. The addition of a little bittersweet chocolate evokes the suppleness of a good mole, and the delicate beef cubes virtually melt in your mouth. We love that you don't brown the onions or garlic, but just throw them in with the seared meat and the broth to mellow and soften. We highly recommend a spritz of lime juice and a dollop of sour cream to finish it off. - A&MThe Editors

Serves 6 hungry chiliheads

Chile Paste

  • 2 ounces dried chile pepper pods, mostly New Mexico with a couple Guajillos tossed in
  1. Wearing rubber gloves, stem and seed the chile pods and cover with near-boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes, then pour off the water and puree the softened pods in a food processor until they form a paste. Pass through a sieve to remove skins and errant seeds. Set aside.


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • 3 pounds chuck (after trimming), neatly diced into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes (partially freeze the meat for easier dicing)
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • lots of freshly-ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups homemade beef or chicken broth
  • 1 gigantic sweet onion (about one pound), diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8-10 tablespoons premium commerical chili powder, such as Whole Foods or Gebhardt's
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, toasted briefly
  • healthy pinch oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2-ounce square bittersweet chocolate
  • Chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • plenty of shredded cheddar, sour cream and lime wedges for serving
  1. First, pour yourself a shot of tequila and toast legendary chilihead Carroll Shelby, who founded the International Chili Society. Then, heat the bacon fat in a really big skillet, and working in batches, saute the beef and pork until no longer pink. Drain off the fat.
  2. Place the meat, along with several grinds of pepper, the onions and garlic, in your favorite chili pot and add 1 1/2 cups of the beef or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover. Keep the lid on, and your hands off, for 90 minutes. In the meantime, read H. Allen Smith's brilliant article "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do." (Here's a link: http://www.chilicookoff.com/history/history_started.asp)
  3. After 90 minutes, stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, tomato sauce, chocolate and half the chile paste. Cover and cook for another half-hour or so. Chase away your guests, who will no doubt be hovering around, demanding to know when it's going to be ready.
  4. At this point, check for consistency. If it's too thin, scoop out the meat and reduce the sauce by bringing to a boil, and when you're happy with it, return the meat to the pot. Stir in the brown sugar. (If it's too thick, add some more of the broth.) Smack any guest who gets too close with a wooden spoon.
  5. Cook, uncovered, for 10 more minutes, and check for seasoning. You can add more salt, chili powder and cumin if you like, or more chile paste if you want to amp it up, or more brown sugar if you like it sweet and hot.
  6. When it looks as good as it smells, summon the troops and serve with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of sour cream. (But have some cheese on hand anyway for the die-hard cheddar lovers!)

More Great Recipes: Stews|Beef & Veal|Entrees|Tomatoes

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