Crazy-Good Old-Fashioned Texas Chili

This fairly traditional Texas chili relies on dried ancho chiles for its deeply spiced (yet not fiery) flavor. Beans need not apply.

Serves 6-8.

Ingredients

12 medium dried ancho chiles

4 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled

1/2 onion, peeled and cut into thick slices

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 pounds well-marbled chuck, cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano

2 dried bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)

Chopped white onion and grated cheddar and/or jack cheese for garnish (optional)

Instructions

1. Make the chile purée: Remove the stems from the ancho chiles, slice or tear them open and shake out and discard the seeds. Use your fingers (you may want to wear gloves) to remove the stubborn seeds.  Heat a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (the same one you'll use to cook the chili) over high heat until it's hot. Add the chiles and toast them, turning once or twice, about 45 seconds total.  Transfer the chiles to a medium bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them soak for 30 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon (as you want save the liquid) to transfer the chiles to the jar of a blender. Add about half a cup of the soaking liquid and purée till smooth and thick. Add a little more of the liquid if necessary. Set the purée and the remaining soaking liquid aside.

2. While the chiles are soaking, heat the Dutch oven again over high heat, and when it's hot, add the garlic cloves and onion slices and toast them till they're charred in spots, about 5 or 6 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves, and roughly chop them and the onions. Set aside. 

3. In a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes. Grind in a mortar or spice grinder to a fine powder. Set aside.

4. Heat the olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat till shimmering. Add the diced beef and brown, stirring now and then, until all the pink has disappeared, about 10 minutes or so. Pour and scrape the ancho chile purée into the pot and stir to combine, then add about 1 1/2 cups of the chile soaking liquid, plus the onions and garlic, ground cumin, salt, oregano, bay leaves and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer, then cook, partially covered over low heat, for about 2 1/2 hours (till the meat is meltingly tender and the chili is insanely delicious), skimming off the fat now and then and adding a little more chile soaking liquid or water if necessary. Adjust seasoning and serve, passing bowls of chopped onion and grated cheese as garnish, if desired.