From the 1860s to the 1930s, the Chili Queens were the main attraction in plazas across San Antonio. Over mesquite fires, the Chili Queens cooked up Mexican American delicacies with flare and finesse that was as entertaining as the musicians and other performers who used the plazas as their stage. Though the Chili Queens are credited with popularizing Mexican American cuisine and are the foremothers of what we know today as Tex-Mex, there is one dish they made that became legendary: chili con carne. There is so much love for chili con carne that the Texas state Legislature proclaimed it as the state dish in 1977.
Chili, with or without meat, may seem like a simple pot of beans, vegetables and spices, but there are so many variations that cooking chili has become an art form. There are chili competitions, regional styles of chili (like the Cincinnati Chili), and even an International Chili Society, a community of self-proclaimed “chiliheads” responsible for discovering and curating some of the world’s best chili through the World Championship Chili Cook-off. How many dishes out there have such an international cult following?
This year is the 300th anniversary of the City of San Antonio, and to celebrate, I went on a hunt to see if I could find the original San Antonio Chili Queens recipe. Though I couldn’t get my hands on the very first rendition of the Chili Queens recipe, I was able to track down this modernized recipe adapted by the International Chili Society. So whether you’re entering a local chili cook-off or preparing a crockpot for dinner tonight, this is an easy recipe to whip up, and it’s one that has been enjoyed for more than a century.
- 2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup suet
- 1/4 cup pork fat
- 3 medium-sized onions, chopped
- 6 cloves minced garlic
- 1 quart water
- 4 ancho chiles
- 1 serrano chile
- 6 dried red chiles
- 1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
- Salt to taste
- 1 Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in with suet and pork fat in heavy chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often.
- 2 Add onions and garlic and cook until they are tender and limp.
- 3 Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles.
- 4 Remove stems and seeds from chile and chop very finely. Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to mixture.
- 5 Simmer another 2 hours. Remove suet casing and skim off some fat. Never cook frijoles with chilies and meat.
- 6 Serve as separate dish.