Dave’s Chuckwagon

Chili Con Carne

Time was my family owned some farmland. When we drove up from the city to visit the property many times along the way I saw a group of people by the side of the road in a small vacant country lot cooking in a huge pot over an open fire. It was an arresting and memorable sight for this city kid to see such an old timey kind of activity as cooking over a wood fire out in the open.

That sight got me to thinking and fantasizing about doing something like that on our farm. Cooking out in the open, everybody sitting around on logs and enjoying some hot savory vittles. Telling stories, singing, some live music. Voilà, “Dave’s Chuck Wagon.”

After all this time we’re content to leave that idea as a fantasy. The farm is no longer a farm, but smack dab in the middle of a busy commercial interstate intersection.
But, here is a recipe for Chili Con Carne that would fit right in under the stars sitting on an old log by the fire, spooning up some spicy chow from an enameled metal bowl. Skillet corn bread to accompany, of course.

Gen-u-ine Texas Chili Con Carne

The following recipe is modified for the average home. The original, as prepared by me under Mr. Geddie’s supervision was served at a block party in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn in the early 1970’s. The version we made that fateful day was called Polecat Chili. If you are a purist you can use the quintessential polecat, or even a possum. Squirrel will do; just. But I would stop there, and not suggest alligator or any kind of lizard. And, please, this is not some gay affair (though there is nothing wrong with that) that you stack on a plate over toast points and grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms, with a garniture of sherry infused figs over mescaline in a curry fume under a spun sugar dome.

JUST TOSS IT IN A BOWL, OK? And, most definitely we are not recommending any illegal game, such as some of the wonderfully delicious wild birds. [The story goes about the new game warden in the territory who stops an old timer who’s toodling along with a dead whooping crane strapped to the front fender of his jalopy. “You know, mister, it’s a federal offense to kill one of those birds. It’s an endangered species. I’m new in these parts, and so I’ll let you go with only a warning. But, by the way, how does whooping crane taste, anyway?” “Not bad. But I prefer Spotted Owl, and the missus is partial to Bald Eagle.”]

Net, net . . . This is the basis for a really good chili.

Per Mr. Geddie: I don’t have a specific recipe for Chili Con Carne. If you will remember, it is a work in progress. However, here is how I usually make it:

1 ½ pounds of good meat, usually sirloin, ground “chili grind” size which is larger than hamburger size.  If the place doesn’t know what chili grind is then have it ground only once.

A big Onion (or two if you like lots of onion)(chopped not so fine)
A couple of cloves of Garlic (pressed)
A big dose of chili powder (6 oz. or so)
Some Cominos (ground Cumin)
Some good oil, like Canola or Grape seed oil. Lard. Hell ya.
A little salt
Some Cayenne Pepper

Using a large pot, heat some oil (not a lot – just enough to keep the meat from sticking) and cook the meat, onions and garlic together until the meat is browned. Then stir in chili powder until the meat has a dark color (anywhere from 3 to 5 oz. probably). Add a dose of cominos as well (probably a tablespoon or two). Mix it all up with the meat continuing to cook over a medium flame for a minute or so. Then add water until the mixture has a thick soupy texture (don’t use too much water or it will have a thin soupy texture). Start tasting it right away.  If you have not put in enough chili powder then put in some more, remembering that it is easier to add to this mixture than to take away from it. Plain chili powder isn’t usually all that spicy hot. It generally has a little cayenne pepper in it but not a lot. You can spice it up to taste by adding a little cayenne. As you can see, the quantities are dictated a lot by the strength of flavor you want to have. For example, I like a lot of onions and cominos, but others might prefer less of either or both.

Cook the mixture over a low (low!) flame for 4 – 6 hours.  Freezing it for a few days is supposed to enhance the flavor.

I inquired about the use of Masa Harina (corn flour used for tamales). It does have a distinctive flavor: Masa Harina works like Cornstarch.  If you need to get it thicker (that is, if you accidentally added too much water) then use it.  Or, if you decide not to use beans, then use it. Wick Fowler used to put in some masa harina with his five alarm chili mix for that purpose.

Serving Suggestions: Over Fritos with chopped Onions and grated Cheddar. Or, my favorite, over steamed white Rice with chopped Onions and grated Cheddar. [I interject again to suggest the addition of chopped egg. The idea for that accompaniment I got from the old Caucus Club Restaurant in Downtown Detroit. Right across the street from the erstwhile London Chop House, where I was introduced to the ritual pleasures of the whole steamed artichoke with vinaigrette dressing. Which is also a great dressing for Tête de Veau Vinaigrette as served covered in a pure white napkin at the once Café Des Sport in New York City. But that’s another story.]