Chili: My Top Five


I am a chili lover.

Having “discovered” the slow cooker for perfectly cooked beans (thanks Joan), I spied a recipe for Rancho Gordo Chili Con Carne on the Rancho Gordo blog. It was Friday, so the next day, Market Day at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, I stopped by the Rancho Gordo stand and got the necessary Good Mother Stallard Beans and Mexican Oregano. I was able to find the Negra Modelo beer at Whole Food.

I slow cooked the beans and then assembled the chili in a conventional pot. Yum.


Over the years, I settled on my top four chili recipes, dating back to the 80’s and 90’s, but I’m always on the lookout for a new one. The Rancho Gordo just made the list for its simplicity and pure, rich chili taste. Now I have a Top Five. Here they are, listed alphabetically. I can’t rank them because though they are all built around chili powder, they are very different from one another. The recipes for each follow the discussion.

Chili from Chasen’s, “Where the stars dine” In Beverly Hills. Alas, I never dined there and it closed in 1995, but I have the Chasen’s memior and cookbook, a slim hardcover volume published in 1996. Their Chili includes beef and pork, tomatoes, onions, green bell pepper and pinto beans.

Gina Pfeiffer’s Chili from the NY Times Magazine, by Molly O’Neill Nov 15, 1998. It includes beef and pork, onions, green bell pepper. No tomatoes, no beans, but it does have a kicker of jalapenos and prepared salsa. This is a bright, rather than rich chili, and real good.

Rancho Gordo Chili Con Carne from the Rancho Gordo blog 2007

The Rancho Gordo Chili Con Carne made the cut for my favorites list. I would call it “pure, but with beans.”


Sally Redmond’s Cincinnati Chili, from a neighbor in Newton, Massachusetts 1985

Sally Redmond’s Cincinnati Chili was reported on at length in this space, and is a whole ‘nother kind of made of ground beef, beef broth, the requisite spices and — get this — cinnamon and chocolate. No vegetables or beans, but it’s topped with beans, onions, cheese and spaghetti to finish the dish.

Chili con Carne Texas—Style, NY Times Magazine July 1985
Beef, spices and broth. No vegetables or tomato, beans on the side. This is, by far, my favorite “real chili.” I always make the Mexican Beans (pinto beans, onion, jalapeño, tomato), as well, to serve on the side. That way, each eater can make their chili as bean-y as they like.

One of these days, I’ll have to put together a recipe for my mother’s Chili, a mild concoction of ground beef, sliced onions, green bell pepper, beans and heavy on the canned tomatoes, not cooked long enough for the onions to dissolve. This was a favorite at the Methodist Church Tent at fairs in Ohio. Watch this space.


Chili in Texas

How could a treatise on Chili be complete without commentary on eating Chili in Texas? When we visited San Antonio last summer, we took a side trip to Austin to have a bowl.

“The drive up I-35 to Austin is EZ and bor-ring. It’s pretty flat, pretty straight and there’s not much space between the San Antonio sprawl and the Austin sprawl, just a bit of rolling hill country off to the left. When we got to downtown Austin we found the State Capitol fairly easily and took its picture, but before we could find a place to park and get inside, we found the Texas Chili Parlor, can’t pass that up! And it’s a good thing; their chili is notorious and delicious. C had the Fritos Pie, a big bowl of Fritos with X (that’s single X, only a little spicy) chili over the Fritos (heck, we make that at home). I had a large bowl of the XX. Just right for me with spice and hot, and C felt the same about her low test. This is straight Texas chili, no beans or other adulterations. Comes with a heaping basket of cellophane wrapped two-cracker packs of saltines.”

Chili: My Top Five Recipes

1. Chili from Chasen’s, “Where the stars dine” In Beverly Hills.
You can find their recipe on the Chasen Chili website.

2. Gina Pfeiffer’s Chili, NY Times Magazine — Nov 15, 1998, by Molly O’Neill

Molly O’Neill says,

“Women with reputations for the ‘’best” chowder or chili, brownies or apple pie, are accorded a certain status in America. They are like latter-day wizards, assumed to have a secret ingredient or a special touch. It is their recipes that become the standard-bearers, as well as the lodestars for entire communities. And like anybody famous, they are treated with equal measures of gratitude, envy and awe.””Gina Pfeiffer, who works for the fire department in Upper Arlington, Ohio, has for the past 18 years been revered within her family — and her town — for her chili. Pfeiffer attributes this to her Texas roots. ”Where I come from, you didn’t serve ground meat to humans,” she explains. The flavor and texture of chuck roast in her chili seem to have driven the citizens of Upper Arlington wild.”

Cook’s Notes:

November 1998 — Carol sez too hot, I say just right.
April 2002 — C still sez too hot, although I used only 2 jalapeños and 1 teaspoon cayenne. I still say just right.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cups diced onion
2 or 3 jalapeño peppers, minced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 celery stalks, diced
2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cups homemade or low-sodium beef stock
2 cups prepared salsa
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons Mexican oregano (see note)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
3/4 cup beer
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green pepper, onion, jalapeño, garlic and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. In the pan used to cook the vegetables, heat the remaining oil over high heat. Add 1/4 of the combined meat to the oil and brown it on all sides for about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and brown the remaining three batches of meat. (Use a little more oil if needed.)

3. Pour the stock into the pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the brown bits in the pan. Set aside. In a stockpot, combine the meat and the vegetables. Add the salsa, cumin, oregano, chili powder, coriander, cayenne pepper, reserved stock and beer to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Uncover and simmer 30 minutes to 1 hour to thicken the chili. The meat should be tender but not falling apart. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice.

3. Rancho Gordo Chili Con Carne 2007
You can find this recipe on the Rancho Gordo blog.

Steve Sando says:

“Among chili aficionados, your answer to the question of ‘beans or no beans’ can earn you disdain or respect. I love beans in my chili but I also dislike that thick, stodgy mess made from mostly beans that is called “chili con carne” on the labels of cans and in certain regions of our fair country. The star should be the chiles, either from pods or ground to a powder.”


4. Sally Redmond’s Cincinnati Chili, from a neighbor in Newton, Massachusetts 1985

You can see the recipe here.

I also wrote about the “real” Cincinnati Chili as made at Skyline Chili in Ohio Eats I. To tell you the truth, I like Sally’s recipe better, as made by me.

5. Chili con Carne Texas-Style, NY Times Magazine July 1985

A TEX-MEX FEAST, By Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey
Published: July 28, 1985
Here’s what the authors had to say:

“To be blunt about it, certain recipes are far more memorable than others.
I thought of this recently while thumbing through a collection of Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes gathered over a 25-year period. It included a main course of chili con carne that has always had a special appeal for me. It is a ”pure” recipe, Texas-style, which is to say it does not contain ground meat, tomatoes, onions or beans, four ingredients that most people consider essential. It is true that most recipes for the dish do contain them, but I was taught long ago by a first-rate cook from San Antonio that a genuine Texas chili is made with beef that has been cut into very fine cubes, a good grade of chili powder, a few other spices and a lot of garlic. Plus long, slow cooking.”

Cook’s note:
This is, by far, my favorite “real chili.” I always make the Mexican Beans, as well, to serve on the side.

5 # lean chuck
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 C flour
1/2 C chili powder
2 t ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
2 t dried oregano
2 to 3 T finely minced garlic
5 C chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mexican Beans (see recipe)

1. Carefully trim off and discard all fat from the meat. Cut the meat into small cubes.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy, deep kettle and add the beef cubes. Cook in batches so the cubes don’t touch until the meat loses it’s raw look.

3. Sift together the flour and chili powder and sprinkle this over the meat. Stir so that the pieces of beef are evenly coated.

4. Sprinkle with the coriander, cumin and oregano. Add the garlic and stir to blend. Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Let cook over low heat three to four hours or until the meat is exceptionally tender. Stir often from the bottom to prevent sticking and scorching. If necessary, add more broth. The dish should not be soupy.

Serve with Mexican Beans. Yield: Eight servings. Freezes well.

Mexican Beans, NY Times Magazine July 1985

2 1/2 C pinto beans (about 1#)
12 C cold water
1 T salt
1 1/2 C finely chopped onion
2 T safflower, corn or peanut oil
1/4 C finely chopped fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 1/2 C finely diced, cored, unpeeled tomatoes
3/4 C finely chopped fresh coriander


1. Rinse and pick over the beans. Drain. Put the beans in a kettle and add the cold water. Do not add salt. Bring the beans to a boil, partly cover and let simmer one hour. Ladle out juice, if too soupy. Add 1 T salt and half of the onions. Continue cooking, uncovered about 30 minutes longer.

2. Heat the oil in a saute pan and add the remaining onions and the jalapeno peppers. Cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted. Add the tomatoes and coriander. Cook, stirring, about 4 minutes.

3. Ladle out about one cup of the beans, plus a little of the cooking liquid, and pour them into the container of a food processor or electric blender. Blend thoroughly (or mash by hand). Return the mixture to the beans.

4. Add the tomato mixture to the beans and continue cooking over low heat about five minutes.

yield: eight servings.

These beans do not freeze well, but you can keep them for a few days in the refrigerator. They’re also good as a salad, served at room temperature.


Have a hearty bowl now. Yum!

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