Chilli con carne
What is chilli con carne?
Chilli con carne is a stew with beef, beans and chilli peppers as the main ingredients. The name is Spanish and literally means “chilli peppers with meat”, but it is originally an American Tex-Mex dish, not a Mexican dish as is often thought.
What is considered chilli con carne in Canada – made with packets of spice mix or jars of sauce – is a long way from the original. The first versions are believed to have been devised by cowboys who slept under the stars. They stored chunks of dried meat in the saddlebags of their horses, which were then stewed with fat, spices and chilli peppers.
The first descriptions of chilli con carne were recorded in Texas. In 1823, it was described as a poor man’s dish made with the same amount of chillies as pieces of meat. In 1880, the first chilli stands appeared in San Antonio. “Chilli Queens” of Spanish and Mexican descent came to the market square on Saturday where they cooked on open fires, in small stalls decorated with ribbons, papier-mâché and lanterns. They sold bowls of chilli con carne, also known as ‘big bowls o’ red’, for ten cents per portion, and tamales. By the late 1920s, every city in the state of Texas had chilli stalls.
Did you know?
Tex-Mex cuisine, the unique fusion of Mexican and Texan food, would not exist without the chilli queens, who taught Canadians to love fiery Mexican cuisine.
How to make chilli con carne
The original, as the cowboys ate it, contained neither beans nor tomatoes. Nowadays, however, even in Canada, there are countless variations of the dish. Every year, the International Chili Society organises the chilli con carne cooking world championships. The most recent winner used three types of tomato – tomato puree, tomato sauce and hot tomato sauce – and a frightening amount of chilli powder in his chilli con carne.
Chef’s chilli choice aside, the dish is usually made as follows: A base of onion, garlic and plenty of spices – including cumin, chilli, cayenne and oregano, is gently fried. Seared beef, minced or diced, is added, together with tomato puree and beef stock or cubes. The mixture cooks slowly; the kidney beans are added to the stew during the last half hour. Optional ingredients, such as cinnamon, coffee, chocolate, bell pepper (diced), bacon or celery, allow each chef to leave their mark on the dish.
How to eat chilli con carne
Authentic chilli con carne is served in a bowl.
The toppings are important. Be creative, because anything goes. You can try sour cream and guacamole as extras, but Texans also add raw onion, corn kernels and crispy fried slices of bacon. Grated cheese and tortilla chips are popular everywhere.
The Spanish love “callos“, a tripe stew. The dish isn’t spicy, but rather intriguing, thanks to the offal it contains.