Sunday 11 May 2008

Texan Red: A Homage: Part I

Boy, this post has been a long time coming! It's creator, HI would say that it, like its subject, is a thing not to be rushed but to be cultivated slowly, lovingly with care and thought. So without much farther ado... I give you Texan Red.

Part 1

So to start I should give my credentials (or lack thereof) with regard to adding another chili recipe/dissertation to the interweb.
I should also apologise for my frequent reveries, I will try to keep these in parenthesis.
I am a born Scot who continues to reside in Scotland. I have a love for spicy food but more of the chile than the spicy variety (as opposed to my wife’s lineage). I am a fan of Mexican food (as it is made in the UK), but have never been to Mexico (it is on the (long) list). We have been to Austin, Texas 3 times as a couple and a further 2 times on my own. As chili is historically a tex-mex recipe rather than an authentic Mexican recipe I see this as relevant.

In Glasgow we have an excellent deli of more than a decade standing called Lupe Pintos. They open their delis (here and in Edinburgh) after a long post-punk/finding themselves tour of Mexico and the southern US in the 80s. Apart from being an excellent source of tequila, US and Mexican beers and dried chiles they have also written an excellent travel-log come cookbook of their time in the Americas called 'Two cooks and a suitcase'
They do include an “authentic Oxalo chile recipe” but history would suggest the Mexicans are not necessary the best at making chili.

I started making chili about ten years ago, I think following my first visit to Austin. In part it was the realisation that it was not the dish I had disliked growing up, but also due my awareness that in this global world it would not be impossible to source the key ingredients in this corner of the world.

To explain terms, chile is the vegetable available in both fresh and dried varieties but unless you live in or near Mexico or have your own hothouse, dried is the way to go. Plus, dried are more consistent in flavour and particularly heat, so most chilli aficionados would use these anyway. Chili (with one l) is the dish, actually chili con carne (chiles with meat), but chili con carne conjures up images of chili in a can and the bolognas chili powder one-night stand of my past. (chili alone should mean sans carne, but I am short handing).

It should also be noted, as a man, I ascribe to the Robert Rodriquez way of thinking with regard to food –“choose a couple of dishes and make them well”. His Puerco Pibil on the extras on his Once Upon A Time In Mexico DVD is one of my two, chili being the other, (I just need to find a third to be happy). Well worth a view (I guess curious eater may sweet talk me into taking you through the Pibil in the not too distant future).

For fun I should mention Heston Blumenthal’s attempt.
As seen on his TV show and in his second book Further Adventures in Search of Perfection. I will just say as with all his food he revels in the complexities and while he may have made something lovely, the spirit of chili is lost.
Here is a particularly unhappy response.

And Paul Levy’s Guardian review of Heston’s chilli.

To end this pre-amble I should put in some references.

A Bowl of Red
by Frank X. Tolbert

The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos by Robb Walsh

Homesick Texan’s blog on Chili

Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

a bit of a bible and like the Lupe pintos cookbook you can see his reasons for avoiding focusing on chilli so as to refocus us on the wider Mexican palate. It still includes a “very, very, very good chili” recipe.

And I must reference Harold McGee’s McGee on Food & Cooking – not so much a cookbook as a textbook.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the biological and scientific background to foodstuffs and the cooking thereof. Of particular relevance to us is his coverage of chiles, beans and tequila.
A book that will last a lifetime.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

A few relevant passages on the importance of chili: