Read Bobby Flay's Throwdown! Online
Authors: Bobby Flay
Texas chili is not the chili con carne, made of ground beef and red kidney beans, that most of us grew up on. Rather, the dish (considered by Texans to be the one “true” chili, of course) is all about the meat and the gravy. Chuck is the meat of choice and it is always cubed, never ground. Deep russet in color and with a silklike consistency, the gravy should be well balanced with heat that hits both the front and then the back of the mouth. This dish has a lot of rules, so you know that Cindy had her game on to win as many competitions as she did.
I cook southwestern food every day, but I rarely make chili, so I took to the test kitchen to practice my recipe. I had heard that the secret to competition chili is to pack as much intense flavor into each spoonful as possible, so my strategy was to create layer upon layer of flavor with a twelve-chile chili. I know what you must be thinking:
chiles? Isn’t that overkill? No way! The more the merrier! All the chiles work together in unison to give this dish incredible flavor. The gravy’s base is a combination of dried red chiles, fresh green chiles, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices, pureed until smooth. For the beef, I went for a flavorful bottom round cut, diced into small cubes, seared off until golden brown, then cooked in the gravy until tender.
Upon our arrival in Houston, Stephanie wondered aloud what the crowd would have to say when a bunch of New York city slickers stepped out of the car to challenge an award-winning Texas chili queen to a Throwdown. Yeah, it was a little gutsy. Seasoned champ Cindy accepted the challenge in stride, though Stephanie had been right—the crowd did question our abilities.
One taste of Cindy’s chili told me why she’d done as well as she had on the road. Her meat was perfectly tender and her sauce, made with just the right amount of spice, had an amazingly silky quality. As much as I liked Cindy’s chili, I really liked mine, too, and was eager to hear what a true chili champion would have to say about it. Cindy tasted it and said she loved the front and back heat—coming from her, that’s high praise!
We brought in former chili champions Joe and Shirley Stewart to do a blind tasting. My chili had great heat and a nicely balanced sweetness as well as tender beef. They called Cindy’s a classic Texas chili full of great flavor. This decision wasn’t proving to be an easy one. While Cindy and I differed on a couple of points, such as the size of the cubes of beef and fresh as opposed to ground chiles, we both agreed that each of our chilis was award-winning. And so did the judges—they couldn’t come to a clear conclusion and declared this Throwdown a tie! (This was the first and last time that ever happened on a Throwdown. After this match, we decided that there had to be a clear-cut winner at the end of every show, even if it took all night to pick one.) I was happy with the tie. It was a great afternoon spent enjoying good food, a spirited crowd, and the work of a talented and passionate champion. Any time I can tie with someone as great as Cindy, you know I’m taking it.
1 (32-ounce) can plum tomatoes with juices
2 ancho chiles, soaked, stemmed, and seeded
2 pasilla chiles, soaked, stemmed, and seeded
2 New Mexican red chiles, soaked, stemmed, and seeded
2 cascabel chiles, soaked, stemmed, and seeded
1 guajillo chile, soaked, stemmed, and seeded
2 cayenne chiles, soaked, stemmed, and seeded, or ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped
2 jalapeño chiles, chopped
1 poblano chile, chopped
1 serrano chile, chopped
1 habanero chile, chopped
¼ cup canola oil
2½ pounds bottom round, placed in the freezer for 30 minutes and cut into ½-inch dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium Spanish onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chile de árbol powder
2 cups homemade
or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons clover honey
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted
Toasted Cumin Crema (recipe follows)
Put the tomatoes and their juices and all of the soaked and fresh chiles in a food processor and process until very smooth. (If using cayenne powder, add with the chile de árbol in step 3.)
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until it begins to shimmer. Season the beef with salt and pepper, and sear in batches until golden brown on all sides. Remove the beef to a large platter with a slotted spoon.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onions and cook until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cumin and chile de árbol powder, and cook for 30 seconds. Return the beef to the pan, and add the tomato mixture and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the beef is fork-tender, 1¼ to 1½ hours.
Stir in the honey, maple syrup, and bittersweet chocolate, and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top each one with a dollop of Toasted Cumin Crema.
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds, toasted, cooled, and ground in a coffee or spice grinder
1½ cups Mexican crema, crème fraîche, or sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the cumin and crema together in a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
SERVES 4 TO 6
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 pounds beef chuck, cut into ⅜-inch cubes
1 (14½-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth
1 (8-ounce) can no-sodium tomato sauce
1 teaspoon or 1 cube chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon or 1 cube beef bouillon
2½ teaspoons onion powder
2½ teaspoons garlic powder
6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon jalapeño powder
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 serrano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded (see
¼ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon brown sugar
In a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until smoking hot. Add the beef chuck cubes and 1 teaspoon seasoned salt, and cook until the beef is browned on all sides.
Add the beef broth and tomato sauce, and bring to a slight boil. Add the chicken bouillon, beef bouillon, 2 teaspoons of the onion powder, 1 teaspoon of the garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of the chili powder, the jalapeño powder, and the white pepper. Return to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
Add the serrano chiles, 1 teaspoon of the garlic powder, 5 tablespoons of the chili powder, ¼ teaspoon of the cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons of the cumin, and the brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. If the mixture seems dry, add some water. Taste, and add additional seasoned salt if desired. Remove the serrano peppers.
Add the remaining ½ teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoons chili powder, ⅛ teaspoon cayenne, and 1½ teaspoons cumin. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.