Popularized in San Antonio, chili is known throughout Texas as simply "a bowl of red." That means red meat, red chile peppers, and maybe a few other ingredients. Definitely no beans. Leave that to the cooks in New Mexico. And if you're a real purist, skip the tomatoes, too. Chile and beef should be what you taste. That said, the whole idea is to make it your own with your favorite add-ins. You like beer? Pour it in. You want it real hot? Load up on fiery chiles like cayenne or pequín. Want onions and cheese on top? By all means. Here's my favorite way to start up a bowl of basic Texas red. The recipe owes a tip of the hat to Texans Joe Cooper and Frank Tolbert, two early champions of the dish who both paved the way for generations of Texas chilis to come. I prefer to use whole ancho chile peppers, but here I opt for dried ancho powder to save time. Look for ancho powder in glass bottles in the spice aisle of your grocery store, or in a Mexican grocery store. You'll need a few bottles. You'll pay a few bucks for that convenience. But it's worth it. Option two is to visit a Mexican grocer and buy about ten whole ancho chile peppers, which are dirt cheap, then toast the pods in a dry skillet, remove the stems and seeds, and grind the pods to a powder in a spice grinder. Your choice: spend a little more time or a little more money.
Add garlic, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt, sugar, and, black pepper. Cover and simmer, stirring now and then, until meat is as tender as a baby's bottom, about 30 minutes. Sip the beer while the chili cooks, adding beer to the pot as necessary to keep the meat covered. Crack open new beers as necessary.
Mix masa harina or cornmeal with a couple tablespoons of beer. Stir into pot until chili thickens up a bit, then cover and simmer another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding beer as necessary. Taste the chili often, adding a little more of any seasoning you think is lacking.
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Or cool slightly then chill covered pot in refrigerator on an oven mitt or pot holder until cold. Transfer covered pot to cooler.
When You Get There: Reheat chili over medium-low heat until hot, about 20 minutes, adding more or less beer to thin or thicken. Thin or thick is your choice: I like my chili with a gravy the consistency of thick tomato sauce. Keep on low heat all-day to keep improving the flavor.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Neighborly Tips: To save chopping time, look for stew beef that's already cut or ask your butcher to cube the chuck for you.
If you're using store-bought beef broth, look for the kind sold in aseptic packaging rather than in cans. Aseptically packaged broths undergo a flash heating and cooling process that helps the broth retain more flavor.
Masa harina is like Mexican cornmeal, a coarse flour made from lime-soaked corn kernels that are cooked, ground, and then dried.
For a smoky taste, replace the cayenne pepper with chipotle powder.