I'm a big fan of knowing the proper way to cook stuff, where recipes come from and how they were originally made. Due to this a recipe that I've been fascinated by ever since hearing of it is Texas Red. Everyone's heard of chili con carne, that Tex Mex dish that has conquered the world. We've all stuck minced beef in with tomatoes, chilies and kidney beans and served it over rice - right? Well it might be right around the globe but it doesn't appear to be right in Texas, where Texas Red rules the roost. A quick Google of this name brings back a mass of results with people debating (or maybe stating) what is and isn't allowed in one. I first started looking in to the dish ages ago and my favourite site is this one - Texas Red - The Makings. Even though I'd read about it many a time, frequently revisiting to jog my memory as to the proper ingredients, it took me years till I got around to making one for the first time.
I've never been a fan of the mince, tomato and bean combination so was more than happy to omit all three (and the onions) and go for cubes of beef in a spiced gravy but whilst it may have been proper I was having trouble with the idea of such a sparse dish. Could beef, chilies, garlic, oregano and cumin really taste any good? Especially if I followed some of the hardcore and used black coffee as the liquid. One thing was for sure and that was with such a pared down list of ingredients the chilies really had to add something more than heat and it was the gift of some ancho and chipotle that were the catalyst that finally got me cooking it.
My first attempt was tasty, very tasty in fact, just with my two dried chilies and a fresh red chili or two. Tasting the Texas Red early in to the cooking process made me think my reservations were warranted as it was thin and quite bitter. The prolonged cooking sweetened the sauce though and the beef released much flavour so at the end I was left with a glossy red gravy that clung to tender lumps of beef, a richly spiced and hot beef stew more than the spag bol with heat and kidney beans I'd become accustomed to. There was no way I was returning to the exported recipe but I still wanted to go further so I put in an order for some more chilies, looking forward to the sweetness, colour and variety of flavours (tobacco, liquorice, chocolate...) that they promised to bring with their fire. Luckily for me my old boss makes frequent trips to Phoenix and he returned with New Mexico, De Arbol, Pequin and ground Pasilla to take the total number of chilies I could use to six (there's plenty of online Mexican places if you don't have someone who pops back and forth to Phoenix).
I Googled around some more, took bits from a few recipes and ended up with this recipe below, one I hope is in keeping with the Texas Red purists' views. The combination of shin and braising steak gives a lovely texture as after three hours the braising steak is falling apart, becoming the sauce almost, yet the shin is merely lovely and tender, still in cubes that the gravy and striations of braising steak can cling to. The depth of flavour is immense with the chllies all adding their nuances - chocolate, tobacco, liquorice, smoke - and some heat, a delicate hint of coffee from that strange addition and the ever present cumin taking you back to familiar territory.
Regarding things to eat with it if you read The Makings already then you know that rice is a no go and you want some soda crackers to both crumble in and scoop with. Saltines aren't available over here but some expat American forums suggest the Doriano crackers available in supermarkets are a near identical substitute. If the thought of a bean free meal is too much then you can always have them on the side and boiling up some pinto beans with an onion and a green chili makes a nice bland foil.
Don't worry about the seemingly huge amount of chili in this recipe, most are very mild and are there for flavour, the only ones with much heat are the De Arbol and Pequin and there's only a few of those. This recipe was served to a group of 6 and everyone was happy with the heat, bar me who sprinkled a few crumbled Pequin on top to give it some oomph. As with most stews this will benefit from a day of rest and a reheat, it's damn good straight out the pot too though
Texas Red, serves 6-8
1kg beef shin
1kg braising steak
3 dried Ancho chilies
4 dried New Mexico Chillies
1 TB ground Pasilla chili
2 dried De Arbol Chilies
2 dried Chipotle Chilies
4 dried Pequin chillies
1 TB oregano
2 ts cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 cups of coffee
2 TB flour
Chop the beef into small dice, 1cm to 2cm wide, and season well with salt.
Heat the ancho, new mexico, chipotle chilies in a dry pan until they become soft then split, remove the stalks, seeds and ribs. Chop the flesh roughly then add them to a bowl with the de arbol (remove the stalk, seeds and ribs) and the pasilla (the pequin are crumbled in later). Pour a cup of boiling water over and let them soak until soft and the water is cool, maybe 20 minutes. Blitz with a stick blender into a lovely red slurry.
Now you need to brown the meat. This took me 4 or 5 frying pans full, dumping the meat into a big saucepan once done. For the last batch I added in the flour and cooked it for a couple of minutes then deglazed the pan with a cup of water.
Add the cumin, oregano, chili slurry, pequin chilies and the coffee then pour in enough water to cover.
Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to a decent simmer and cook it for 2.5 to 3 hours until the meat is fork tender, if it dries out then just top up with more water.
Test for seasoning (mine took a lot of salt, I'm not used to 2kg of meat at a time) then serve with your crackers.