Thursday, December 8, 2011

Texas Beef Brisket Chili with Butternut Squash

Jesse James
Outlaw and Chili Lover
Every year about this time, we get a blast of cold air that makes us yearn for a big bowl of chili.  I am certainly no Texan and despite the fact that Andrew’s family live there, they’re native New Yorkers.   But I’ll take a bowl of Texas chili over any other kind.  After all, the Texas legislature declared Chili the “State Food” in 1977 “in recognition of the fact that the only real 'bowl of red' is that prepared by Texans."  I wonder what took them so long? It’s reported that Jesse James (1847-1882), outlaw and desperado of the American West, once gave up a chance to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas because his favorite chili parlor was located there.  What distinguishes Texas Chili? Well any Texan worth their cowboy hat knows you don’t know beans about chili if you use beans in making the real thing. There’s even a song on the subject:

If You Know Beans About Chili,
You Know That Chili Has No Beans*
by Ken Finlay, singer, songwriter,
and owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse
(a music hall in San Marcos TX.), written in 1976.

You burn some mesquite
And when the coals get hot
You bunk up some meat
And you throw it on a pot.
While some chile pods and garlic
And comino and stuff
Then you add a little salt
Till there's just enough
You can throw in some onions
To make it smell good
You can even add tomatoes
If you feel like you should
But if you know beans about chili
You know that chili has no beans

If you know beans about chili
You know it didn't come from Mexico
Chili was God's gift to Texas
(Or maybe it came from down below)
And chili doesn't go with macaroni
And dammed Yankee's don't go with chili queens;
And if you know beans about chili
You know that chili has no beans
*Lyrics courtesy of

But there’s even more that separates Texas chili from other Chili con Carnes.  if you know what you are doing, you’d never make chili with ground beef. You need to big pieces of meat wrapped around by a rich tomato-y chili sauce.  From what I hear, this recipe is as close to genuine Texas chili as you can get with one big addition: Chunks of golden butternut squash added in the last 45 minutes.  It’s one of those dishes that you can’t wait to dig into but it’s even better if you can resist the temptation and make it a day ahead and let its flavors meld.
This recipe was the Cover shot on October 2008’s Bon Appetit. I’ve been using it ever since.  Despite its relatively long ingredient list, it’s not at all hard to make and the ingredients are pretty much staples of the spice rack and the supermarket.  Fire-roasted tomatoes are called for and they’re really something you should get to know if you don’t already.  They have a depth of flavor that’s missing from ordinary canned tomatoes. The Mexican beer can be substituted without anyone really noticing.  The garnishes add a lot to the look of the finished Chili and serving it with tortillas adds to the feeling that this really is the genuine article.  Here’s the recipe:

Texas Beef Brisket Chili with Butternut Squash.   
For the Chili:

6 large dried ancho chiles*
6 ounces bacon, diced
1 1/4 pounds onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
1 5-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, cut into 2 1/2- to 3-inch cubes
Coarse kosher salt
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles
(1 ¾  cups)
1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer
1 7-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
4 cups 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)

For the Garnishes:
Fresh cilantro leaves
Chopped red onion
Diced avocado
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Warm corn and/or flour tortillas

To make the chili:
Place chiles in medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Soak until chiles soften, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat until beginning to brown. Add onions. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle beef all over with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot; stir to coat. Set aside.

Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in blender. Add 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; blend to puree, adding more soaking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot. Add tomatoes with juices, beer, green chiles, and cilantro stems. Stir to coat evenly.

Bring chili to simmer. Cover and place in oven. Cook 2 hours. Uncover and cook until beef is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add squash; stir to coat. Roast uncovered until beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Season chili to taste with salt and pepper. Tilt pot and spoon off any fat from surface of sauce. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool 1 hour. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.


  1. Hi Monte, This sounds terrific and I'd like to make it soon! I've looked for the "printer friendly" version tool, but I did not see it anywhere, can you please provide it for me?
    Thanks in advance, Debbie H., Modesto, CA

  2. Hi Debbie, I will have to get my web genius to find out why that tool is missing. In the mean time, why not just cut and paste the recipe onto a word document and print it out that way. I really appreciate your bringing this to my attention and I do hope you enjoy this fabulous chile. Monte