I was raised on chili. My mom regularly made a batch using red kidneys and ground beef. My grandma had an oddly wonderful take that featured white beans and green tomatoes. My aunts and uncles all knocked out kettles of the stuff and my dad? He made a version at the house for the wife and kids, but he saved the evil for his buddies at the volunteer fire department where he concocted a fierce, witches brew that would singe the brass stays off your Wranglers. I grew up on chili.

One of my favorite styles is carne molida or taco meat as it’s commonly known. Yes, it goes great on crispy taco shells with shredded Colby Jack cheese, iceberg lettuce and sour cream but it also eats good with a spoon. And maybe a fistful of Fritos. Or build a big pile of tototopos, top them with refried beans, carne molida and cheese then give the whole affair a spin under the broiler for a couple minutes. Basically, anyway you can get this food in you will be acceptable. It is delicious.

If you order crispy tacos in a restaurant in Austin, the menu probably won’t say it, but you’re going to get carne molida as the primary filling. It’s one of the cornerstones of Tex Mex cuisine and is one of the first dishes any budding Tex Mex cook learns when they host their first taco night in their college apartment.

Most American’s carne molida virginity has been taken by that randy, leathery honcho: the Old El Paso taco kit. Who knows how many millions of people have been introduced to Tex Mex via this supermarket mainstay. And it’s fine-if you’re 11 years old and eating tacos in a rumpus room in Missouri. But here in Austin we can afford to be picky about our chili in spite of the fact that the grand daddy, Texas Red, is scarce as cheap old rent houses on the East Side.

Want to establish your Tex Mex bona fides? The following recipe is one of the easiest formulas you can follow to create a genuine Austin-style, Tex Mex dish. Put some Freddie Fender on the hi fi, crack open a can of Pearl beer and hit the kitchen running wide open.

Recipe: Carne Molida


2 lbs Beef, ground, I use 73/27

3 T. Chile Powder, Guajillo, found at Fiesta, La Michoacana or El Milagro*

1 T. Cumin

1 T. Cayenne, ground

2 t. Garlic powder

salt to taste

1 12 oz Can Tomatoes, whole peeled, pureed


* Brown meat in heavy bottom pan

* Add dry spices

* Cook for ten minutes, mixing thoroughly

* Add pureed tomatoes, simmer for 15 minutes or til chili thickens


You now have a wonderful filling for crispy tacos.

A topping for nachos or Frito Pies.

A protein for a big, fat taco salad or a bowl chili you can eat with a side of crackers.

Is the above recipe not to your liking?

Then tackle the classic bowl of Texas Red via http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/2009/11/18/How-To-Make-Authentic-Texas-Red-Chili

*In a pinch we’ll use Gebhardt Chili Powder if we can’t get the pure stuff. William Gebhardt’s back story is sublime. He ran a cafe attached to the legendary Phoenix Saloon in San Antonio. The Saloon featured : “… a deer pen, an alligator pit and ring for fighting badgers”

What great sport it would’ve made if one could’ve sipped on a cold Pearl beer, ate a bowl of San Antonio Chili and watched 2 badgers grapple with one another on a balmy 1890s San Antonio evening.

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