The Best Little Hot Stuff in Texas

Everything you wanted to know about chili...and some of the facts may even be true.

By Larry King

Many unreliable sources have attempted to take credit for the invention of chili. Russians and Texans are the worst offenders, natives of those exotic lands being braggarts by nature and strangers to the truth.

The Russians allege that a certain Ivan Popoff, stranded in Siberia an inconvenient distance from a supermarket, used his sled dogs, odd spices and a handful of snow to give chili a start. Texans claim that a hardy group of range cowboys, equally low on provisions and stalled by a panhandle sleet storm, sacrificed the odd goat and their random spices to the invention of chili. If you believe either of those yarns try to buy some spices from the next dog-sledder or cowpoke you find wandering around in a blizzard. He won't have a thing with him but frozen harness and a tall tale.

The most widely accepted propaganda is that sixteen families from the Canary Islands, ruled by Spain, settled in the I720s near what is now San Antonio, Texas and soon accomplished a rough "meat stew" spiced with oregano, garlic and cumin seed. In the fullness of time, they, supposedly added onions, tomatoes and maybe beans; then they kept tinkering with the stew until it somehow attained the magic properties of what we now know is nature's most sustaining food: chili.

Maury Maverick, Jr., San Antonio lawyer and all-round agitator, has tortured logic in attempting to prove that chili first was mentioned in the Old Testament--sort of--and that its invention most assuredly was assisted by the Jews. Maverick writes the prophet Isiah as saying "For the plowman doth scatter the cumin," then makes a remarkable leap of faith to Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 27--dealing with the tithing of grain--before doubling back to explain that the written codification of Judaic Law interprets "grain" as including "cumin." So, see, the Jews then told the Moors about cumin and the Moors told the Canary Isianders--who forthwith rushed a hatch to Ol' San Antone and sat about conjuring up chili.

The Mexicans also have tried to claim chili credit. Since there was no Texas in the 18th Century--they say--when those Canary Islanders got to mixing their herbs and spices and stumbled on the invention of chili, the event happened in Mexico! But Mexico, you see, then belonged to Spain--and Spain had no more to do with the invention of chili than did North Korea. You can't get a decent "bowl of red" in any of those countries.

The truth is, chili was invented long before Isiah prophesied a lick--and eons before there was a Russia, a Spain, a Mexico, a Texas, a cowboy, an Ivan Popoff, a goat, a sled dog, or Canary Islanders.

Chili, you see, began in Heaven. God made it as soon as He had enough light to see to mix it and heat enough to grow peppers. Anybody who has ever sampled my chili will immediately taste the blissful truth in that contention. Chili, done right, simply cannot be improved upon.

Prideful chili chefs do not expect to find blue-ribbon chili in restaurants. Passable chili is served in only seven restaurants in the world. Five of these are in Texas: El Rancho in Austin, Care Dominguez in Dallas, Ben's Little Mexico in Odessa, Joe T. Garda's in Fort Worth and Juanira's in Fort Worth. (The others are Juanita's in Manhattan--sister to the Fort Worth Juanita's--and the Texas chili Parlor in Washington, D.C., though the latter is disadvantaged in being surrounded by used car lots, wig shops, a bus terminal and a perpetual convention of street beggars). Still, a good chili cook who seeks culinary thrills in commercial restaurants makes about as much sense as Rembrandt joining a paint-by-numbers class.

The quality of a bowl of chili is best judged by how much it makes your head sweat. The ratio roughly should be one pint of sweat per serving. Properly-hot chili wards off rheumatism as well as making Hawaii and Miami Beach vacations superfluous. Eat enough hot chili and you will be comfortable in February in the Arctic. Sissies who complain of fiery chili deadening their taste buds fail to understand that, to the contrary, it awakens taste buds they otherwise might never know they had. To paraphrase Harry Truman, "If they can't stand the heat, let 'em eat quiche." My pet peeve is restaurants advertising "mild" chili. "Mild" chili is as useless as fat sprinters. You want mild, try cornflakes.

Good chili should be too thick to drink and and too thin to plow. Warning: it is also habit-forming.

When it comes to concocting chili many are called--though few are chosen. Alleged chili chefs are exposed as shoe cobblers and ribbon clerks the moment they profane their pots by including bell Peppers, chopped celery, tomatoes fresh, canned or stewed, hominy, cornmeal, or sweet basil. Nothing even slightly sweet should touch chili. Only crass pretenders use packaged chili mixes. Only faint-hearted finks stoop to store-bought chili powders when they have the option of grinding up their own chili peppers or cooking said peppers into such a potent paste it may make their gums bleed.

No beans whatever should be superimposed on chili. A foolish breed of Texan, and a few Okies think beans improve chili when, in fact, beans corrupt the character of pure chili. The chili chef adding pinto (or "red") beans to his pot is guilty, of a simple felony; any alleged cook substituting kidney, lima or any other bean known to the mind of man should automatically qualify for the death penalty. Chili con carne--chili with (ugh!) beans--is to true chili as punk rock racket is to true music.

Many otherwise skilled, educated and accomplished persons are somehow reduced to petrified ignoramuses when faced with making a simple pot of chili.

Though I hate to ratfink on a fellow Texan, television commentator Bill Moyers thinks it permissible to include canned tomatoes and packaged chili mix in his pot. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.

Writer Thomas McGuane, though properly warning against the exact chili sins of Mr. Moyers, is so foolish as to recommend venison meat and chopped ball peppers. (Pa-tooie! Cedrick, brang me that mouthwash right quick!)

The Yankee writer Dan Wakefield would use common supermarket hamburger in his chili, God save the mark, and complicate his crime by adding nutmeg! Nutmeg, Wakefield says smugly, is his "secret ingredient." In the interest of chili integrity, may that secret be forever well-kept and laws passed to prevent its proliferation.

I think---and hope---that Willie Morris, writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi, is joking when he recommends adding to the chili pot "catfish heads, other delectable ice-box leftovers and a pour of Karo syrup." To his credit, Morris cautions that "One should not eat anything that refuses to melt. Please."

Artists are not alone guilty of befouling the chili pot. Congressman Jim Wright of Texas--and House Majority Leader--carries on about his chili almost as much as he rants against "voodoo economics" and other Republican schemes. When it comes to his specific ingredients, however, Wright is as coy and vague as most in his alleged profession. I therefore cannot say exactly what gives Congressman Wright's chili its distinctive qualities, though I suspect it is horse linament, orange juice and chocolate sauce. Wright's chili tastes like one of those fruity drinks they sell in California fern barns, with a sprinkling of cigar ash in it.

Lyndon B. Johnson used to proclaim his chili the best in the whole Free World. To keep matters in perspective, it should perhaps be recalled that he also many times proclaimed certain victory in Vietnam. Mr. Johnson took shameful shortcuts in using chili powder as opposed to chili pods and--horror of horrors--adding stewed canned tomatoes. I could never take LBJ seriously after hearing him say, "Y'all wanta be sure and skim the grease off the top before you eat your chili, now." Grease is almost as vital to good chili as is a fiery quality and proper meat. And the only meat suitable for chili is beef round steak cut into semi-sizable chunks. Grinding beef robs it of its natural juices and puts me in the mind of spaghetti.

Chili has more uses than Band Aids or putty, also cook a mean chili dip, chili pequin sauce, chili con carne, chili casserole and chili souffle. I doubt, however, whether you amateurs can yet handle such complexities so I will at this point sign off with wishes of good eatin' and await the many proposals of marriage surely to follow.

Read at your own risk...Cook at your own peril:
King's Better'n Sex Chili

Women have left their husbands over my chili. Servicemen have deserted their posts for it. Dictators were recently overthrown in Haiti and the Philippines because they wouldn't share it with the masses. Though I rarely share my recipe with those I don't know well enough to kiss, the editors have persuaded me to here reveal it in the interest of humanity and for two thousand dollars, It would be cheap at twice the price. Here, then, are the secrets of

King's Better'n Sex Chili:

2 lbs. beef round steak
1/4 cup bacon drippings
6 dry red chili pods
1 t-spoon ground cumin
1 t-spoon oregano
2 chopped onions
3 tbl-spoons flour
6 ounces tomato paste
Juice of 1 lime
6 minced cloves garlic
2-3 cups of hot water
Pinch of salt
Beef stock
Louisiana Red Devil pepper sauce (liberally applied)
1/4 lb. chopped Longhorn cheese
Dash of black pepper
One chopped jalapeno pepper
6 sprinkles Worcestershire sauce

Now here is where the genius of the cook comes in. Do exactly as I instruct below and you can romance the person of your choice and may from some grateful source inherit serious money. Also, you will get your sinuses cleared:

Sear meat in bacon drippings until it is a healthy brown. Clean chili pods in cold water, removing the seeds. Cover the chilis with fresh water and bring to a boil; after 20-25 minutes, peel the chilis. Keep the water; remove chilis, scrape pulp away from the skins. Then mash the pulp into a potent paste.

Add sauteed meat and mix together in water used to boil the chili pods. Cover with beef stock. Then add such additional water as needed to bring total water to 2-3 cups. Dump in lime juice, ground cumin, chopped onions, garlic, salt and black pepper to taste, chopped jalapeno pepper, tomato paste, oregano, flour, and initial dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Louisiana Red Devil pepper sauce. (Tabasco sauce will do in a pinch.)

Swoggle everything all around in the pot until your soul tells you the mix has attained perfect harmony.

Let simmer two to two and one-half hours, depending on patience, hunger pangs and desired thickness. Every half hour add a quick dash of Worcestershire sauce and generous sprinklings of Louisiana Red Devil or Tabasco. (You will have the proper amount of hot stuff when the pot's vapors sting your eyes and your stirring hand begins to feel semi-basted.) Also, each half hour, chunk into the simmering pot handfuls of finely chopped Longhorn cheese for texture improvement and a bonus of surprisingly exotic flavors. That added touch will make your chili taste like the rainbow looks.

King's Better'n Sex Chili recipe serves eight, unless King is one of them. Then it serves only two.

In the unlikely event any of this wonderful chili is left over, permit it to mature in the refrigerator overnight. Then heat and pour it across your eggs at breakfast. You may, indeed, wish to let the chili mature for several days before employing it for breakfast. Like certain authors, the older it gets the better it becomes.