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Texas Goulash – A Chili Experiment

Normally I am all for making classic dishes as traditional and authentic as possible. But occasionally I deviate. I have been wanting to make chili again for a while. While looking around on the internet for inspiration I came across an interesting article [beware of the auto play video] on the New York Times website that includes a bit of Texas chili history that so far I was unaware of.

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I knew that Texas chili is something rather different than the carne con chile traditonally served in Mexico. What I did not know was that apparently German immigrants had an influence on chili too via the goulash recipes they brought with them to America from Europe.

Goulash originates in Hungary but it has become a very popular dish in Austria and Germany already long time ago, without excessive alterations in the classic variety. The word goulash derives from Hungarian gulyas which literally means cowboy. But in Hungary gulyas has got much more liquid than the dish we know as goulash, it resembles more a soup or a stew. The ingredients are essentially the same, though. Our “meat with sauce” dish exists in Hungary as well, but it is called pörkölt there.

I love proper goulash just as much as I love chili, so I tought it might be an interesting experiment to create a hybrid of these two dishes. So what I am going to do is not to take two random cuisines and find a way how they can be merged but rather an attempt to trace back the origins of Texas chili by cooking a dish that might have been a forerunner of the real thing back in the days.

Now what to pick from chili and what from goulash?

Chili has the amazing characteristic of creating factions of cooks who in heated debates will defend their own “true” style vigorously against any other styles that – of course – are abominations. Beans or no beans, whole dried or powerded chiles, to soak or not to soak, ground or diced meat, tomatoes or no tomatoes, coriander or no coriander, beer or no beer. And so on. But a common denominator of many Texas chili recipes is the use of cumin and oregano, so I will use these for seasoning apart from chiles.

Hungarian goulash is defined by two main concepts:

  • Liberal use of paprika powder. This comes in a mild and in a hot variety. Depending on your preference you can use one type only or a blend of both.
  • Liberal use of onions. Classic goulash has a meat to onion ratio of 1:1

I will replace paprika powder with powdered chiles, though not quite as liberally because of the higher heat. And I will use a lot of onions as well because in goulash they act as a base for the sauce. Though I will use a bit less than in a 1:1 ratio because I don’t want the dish to become too soup-like. I will also use garlic because it is very common in both chili and goulash.

I will not use whole chilies for two reasons: Firstly they would push the character of the dish too much towards the Texan side, and secondly they are very difficult to find in good variety here in Bavaria. I will use a blend of different chile varieties as is common in Texas chilis.

texas_goulash1Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 kg brisket meat
  • 600 g onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • Powdered chile (I used chipotle, ancho and guajillo)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

I don’t really want to give exact amounts for the powdered chile because this very much depends on your personal taste. Ancho is fairly mild with a deep aroma that is even a bit sweet, chipotle is smoked jalapeno, a bit hotter. Guajillo is the hottest of the three and has a tangy zing. For the unexperienced it is advisable to use only a bit at the beginning and have a taste 30 minutes into the cooking. If you think it is too mild, you can always add more, but if you overseasoned at the beginning, it is difficult to make it milder.

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I used about two teaspoons of each which turned out quite fine, but real chili fiends might find this too wimpy.

Time needed:

  • Preparation: 30 minutes
  • Cooking 3 hours

Preparation:

texas_goulash2Preheat the oven to 120 degrees. Cut the meat into 2 cm cubes, remove any firm bits of fat but keep them. Dice the onions into pieces of 1 cm maximum, preferably smaller. Chop the carlic finely.

Heat some oil in an ovenproof braising vessel. Shortly brown the bits of fat and remove. Then, on medium to high heat, thoroughly brown the meat cubes in batches, if necessary add some more oil. Turn down the heat and roast the cumin seeds until they become fragrant but not burnt. Remove trying to leave as much oil in the pot as possible. Grind the cumin in a mortar. You may want to turn off the stove while doing this.

Reheat the oil on medium to high heat, add the diced onions and let them brown a bit and evaporate some of their water for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in spices, garlic and salt and continur to stir for another minute. Then turn off the heat, add the browned meat cubes and fatty bits. Give everything a final mix, cover and put into the oven for 3 hours.

You can serve the dish with sides of your choice, as if it were a chili or a goulash, or simply with bread. I don’t like wine with spicy food very much, so it’s beer for me as a drink.

Like any braised dish this tastes even better reheated the next day.

Result:

Many if not all Texan chili lovers would probably never accept this dish being called a chili – so I called it goulash to be safe from the spite of purists. But people without deeper knowledge of chili might actually take this dish for one. The seasoning definitely gives it a chili character, and I would say it is a bit closer to chili than it is to goulash.

Looking at the ingredients, the chiles are just about the only ingredient that is truly American. Cumin and oregano most certainly were introduced by the Spanish while the cooking method is essentially the same as in goulash just using different spices. Judging from the result, the influence of goulash on Texas chili is obvious for me.

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