From America's Test Kitchen Season 3: Texas Chili
Real Texas chili, made with dried chiles rather than chili powder, should have exceptional chile flavor but not overpowering heat, a smooth, rich sauce, and hearty chunks of meat. We wanted to develop the ultimate version. There are many types of dried chiles, and we chose a combination of ancho and New Mexican for a combination of earthy, fruity sweetness and crisp acidity. While chili powder works fine, we got the best flavor by toasting and grinding chiles ourselves. Chuck-eye is our favored cut of beef for stews and it seemed right for our chili. We cut the meat into 1-inch chunks, which gave the chili a hearty texture. Then, we browned the meat in fat rendered from bacon, which added a smoky depth to the dish. From among the many recommended liquids to use in chili con carne, we chose plain old water—everything else diluted or competed with the flavor of the chiles. Although many “authentic” recipes include neither tomatoes nor onions, we found both to be valuable additions. To thicken the chili, we mixed in some masa harina, which also imparted a subtle corn flavor.
To ensure the best chile flavor, I recommend toasting whole dried chiles and grinding them in a mini-chopper or spice-dedicated coffee grinder, all of which takes only ten (very well-spent) minutes. Select dried chiles that are moist and pliant, like dried fruit. Count on trimming one-half to a full pound of waste from your chuck roast, so start with a four-pound roast to end up with three to three-and-a-half pounds of beef cubes. For hotter chili, boost the heat with a pinch of cayenne, a dash of hot pepper sauce, or crumbled pequin chiles near the end of cooking. Serve the chili with any of the following side dishes: warm pinto or kidney beans, corn bread or chips, corn tortillas or tamales, rice, biscuits, or just plain crackers, and top with any of the following garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro leaves, minced white onion, diced avocado, shredded cheddar or jack cheese, or sour cream.