KAY, SO THE TRUTH IS I used to be a pretty big lamestain. (Used to be?) I spent the summer before my senior year of high school at Boston College, where I apparently attempted to lure young women to my dorm room with a great big Texas Chain Saw Massacre poster. Could anything be lamer than that? In my defense, yes: The dude in this picture, whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry, bro), was obsessed with graphing calculators, luxury timepieces, and Jethro Tull. Seriously, he had a whole one of those binder things full of Tull albums. Bootlegs, even. No joke.
Still, on the spectrum of coolness, driving to Cult Con to meet Gunnar Hansen is closer to Tull and Texas Instruments than it is to, say, kicking sand in the face of that guy in the picture. But the first step is admitting you have a problem.
I didn’t just have a Texas Chain Saw Massacre problem. I had a Texas problem. I wanted badly to visit that august Republic, and I finally did, the summer after my senior year of high school. I was nearly mauled by a gaze of raccoons in Tyler State Park. One enchanted evening I hung out with Gene and Dean Ween in Deep Ellum. For a while I had an ex in Texas. Years later I visited Odessa and Amarillo and points in between, and my heavily romanticized and deeply ignorant passion for Texas hasn’t abated. I’d like to pay tribute to it with a pot of Texas Red.
I never got any Texas Red in Texas. I’m not sure where I first heard about it—sorry, heard tell of it—but I think it was on this outstanding blog, Homesick Texan. What is Texas Red? Near’s I can tell, it’s “true” chili, with no beans or tomatoes and definitely no ground beef. In any case, it’s Homesick Texan’s recipe I used. It’s more properly called a procedure than a recipe, because it involves a lot of off-the-cuff judgment. First, you’ll need six pounds of cubed chuck, browned in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet. I am never at a loss for bacon grease.
Next, and I’m quoting now: “[T]ake your dried anchos, slice them open and remove the seeds and stems. Lay them flat on a hot, ungreased iron skillet and cook them for a few minutes until they start to bubble. (Warning: make sure you have an open window because there will be smoke and it can burn your eyes!) Throw the cooked anchos into a blender and just add enough water to cover them. Let it rest for a few minutes and then pulse until you have an ancho-chile slurry.” Can burn your eyes? This set off a tear-gas cloud that had me hacking and wheezing in the parking lot. Proceed with extreme caution.
Onward: “After the meat is lightly browned, throw the onions into the Dutch oven and cook in bacon grease until translucent. Throw in the garlic, cook for a minute or so, and then add your beef. Pour two cups of coffee over the meat and add a bit more water.” Make sure it’s Dunkin. (I’m not getting kickbacks, I’m just a connoisseur. And I run on Dunkin.) “Pour into the pot your ancho chile slurry, add 1/3 cup of chile powder, 2 tablespoons of Mexican oregano, two cayenne peppers or a tablespoon of cayenne pepper powder, some salt, stir it up and cook on high until it boils. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid, stir and taste. This is where the improvisational part of the show begins. Add spices as you see fit until it has a kick of which you approve. I like to add at this point some grated unsweetened Mexican chocolate (about 2 tsps), and more chile and cayenne powder.”
“Cook, stirring occasionally for an hour. The meat should be getting very tender and your liquid should be getting thicker. Taste it. Add spices as needed. Keep stirring and cooking for another half hour. Now, open your bottle of beer (you deserve it after all this chili-pot babysitting) and pour about 1/3 cup into a glass and mix in a tablespoon of the masa harina. Stir this slowly into your chili pot. Taste it. Add more spices as needed. Cook for about 15 more minutes and then turn off the heat and let it rest.”
You’ll have to pay attention and taste-test frequently, because it’s not going to go down like that blog post indicates. It will take forever. It will test your patience, in fact. But when it’s done, and crowned with a dollop of sour cream, and decorated like a Martha Stewart craft project with autumn leaves, you will thank the Devil and Sam Houston that something this spicy and delicious can be prepared in the comfort and privacy of your own home.