I was reading Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of the American Cuisine by food studies professor Andrew F. Smith when he mentioned that chili con carne is really an incorrect description of the Mexican food that was heavily Americanized. The original version was a chopped meat dish (carne) flavored with chilies that made it too spicy hot for the American cowboys that encountered it. Over the years, the name was flipped into chili con carne and it became the quintesential cook-off contest at every state fair.
Growing up, I made chili in the slow cooker using ground beef, a can of kidney beans, a can of chili beans, and a packet of chili seasoning. We would top it with grated cheese and chopped onions. It was an easy and inexpensive way of feeding the 7+ people that were hungry for dinner.
My favorite way of eating chili is “the gutbuster” (aka Frito Pie) that I fondly remember from my high school days. We didn’t have a cafeteria at my small Christian school but every Friday the PTA ladies would raise money by selling teenage fare to us. The gutbuster consists of Fritos topped with chili topped with cheese and onion. My Honey and I now eat a variation of the gutbuster. Instead of using Fritos, we use cornbread and top it with chili, cheese, and chopped onions.
I was surprised to discover that The Picture Cookbook has a recipe for Chili Con Carne but it does…in the section called “Special meat supper dishes–epicurean ways with old familiars.” While reading the recipe, I discovered the secret ingredient: condensed tomato soup. Well, you know I just had to give it a whirl, didn’t you?
Chili Con Carne3 tbs. butter or drippings 1 lb. ground beef 1 1/4 cups mined onion 2 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans (regular size can) 1 1/3 cups condensed tomato soup (one regular size can) 1 1/2 to 2 tbsp. chili powder (yes, that says tablespoons!) 1 tbs. flour 3 tbs. water 1 tsp. salt
- Cook the ground beef and onion in the butter or drippings until browned.
- Drain and rinse the kidney beans. Add the beans and the tomato soup to the ground beef and onion. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Combine the chili powder, flour, and water, and salt into a loose paste. Blend it into the rest of the chili mixture.
- Cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. Make sure to stir the chili frequently.
- Serve hot…with crackers or hot fried corn meal mush.
Makes 8 servings.
I forgot to check how much chili powder I had on hand before I went shopping and discovered that I only had 1 tablespoon left. Now, I’m a chicken-liver when it comes to chili powder. I prefer my Mexican food fairly mild. But I was also afraid that the chili would be too bland. Fortunately, I had some Emeril’s Southwest Essence on hand and added a tablespoon of that along with the chili powder.
I didn’t make it to the 45-minute cooking mark. After about 15 minutes, the chili started sticking to the bottom of the pan and I turned it off.
The next time I have to be a participant in a chili carry-in, I will use this recipe. I was afraid that the tomato soup would give the chili a weird mid-century-what-were-they-thinking flavor, but it didn’t. The chili was absolutely delicious. Even without the Fritos.
Two thumbs up on this one.