Mexicans refuse to own up to chili. Same way the Japanese deny having anything to do with California sushi rolls. It was yet another mysterious dish that emerged from the melting pot of immigrant cultures in United States, and therefore can only be identified as American. Or Tex-Mex, if you’ll pardon the expression.

San Antonio, Texas, is presumed to be the place where the first red chili pepper was introduced to bits of meat in a hearty, exuberant stew. In the 1880s, a tribe of immigrant Mexican women appeared in San Antonio’s downtown Alamo Plaza to set up makeshift eateries decorated with ribbons and farolito lanterns where bowls o’ red, as chili is still called in Texas, could be had by anybody for less than a dime. These fiery-tempered, sable-haired, Spanish creatures wearing brightly-colored rebozos and smoking cigarettes were known as Chilli Queens. Ever attentive and always ready to please any class of customer who crowded around their red-and-white oilcothed, foldaway tables, the Chilli Queens became known around Alamo Plaza for almost half a century as friends, feeders and generally `good fellows’.  They were romanticized by marketplace troubadours who wrote songs about their spicy cooking, and adored by grateful customers, who came by every evening for a steaming bowl of delicious chilli and a few comforting moments of their jolly company.

In the 1930s however, the municipal bureaucrats of San Antonio sent the Chilli Queens packing, citing health and sanitary concerns as reasons for their forced departure. The city’s busy Alamo Plaza lost its principal cultural and culinary attraction, and though some Chilli Queens went on to open small restaurants around the city, the joy of passing a warm, Texas evening at the Alamo Plaza, listening to passing street musicians and enjoying a heartening bowl of chilli cooked in large pots over a mesquite fire was gone forever.

Versions of the dish traveled to other parts of the country, and chilli con carne became ubiquitous as another fusion immigrant food, like Americanized pizza and the sweet, Chinese stir-fry invented by that famous American General named Tso. But ask any Texan, and they will tell you that nothing captures the true heart and complex flavors of a good chili than the way the Texans make it. In fact, they take serious umbrage if you consider adding toasted cilantro seeds, chocolate or even beans. As Dallas newspaperman Wick Fowler has famously said: “If you know beans about chili, you ought to know that chili has no beans.”

In his book Passion & Palate: Recipes For  A Generous Table, Chef John Howie has presented a zesty chili recipe that indeed captures the true heart of an authentic Texas chili. Safely devoid of beans and other add-ons that can get Texans “madder than a wet hen” sometimes, you can safely cook Chef Howie’s recipe for your San Antonio friends without fears of twisting their patriotic pride all out of shape and compromising the integrity of the beloved food symbol of the Lone Star State.


Chef John Howie


Canola oil: ¼ cup
Onion: white, ¼” diced 4 cups
Beef: diced ¾” x 1” 2 ½ lbs
Tomato Sauce 1 ½ cups
Pineapple juice: 3/4 cup
Red Wine Vinegar: 1 ½ tsp.
Chlli Powder: mild ¼ cup
Ancho Chili Powder: 1 ½ tsp.
Chipotle Chili Powder: (measure carefully, very spicy) ¾ tsp.
Habanero Chili Powder: (measure carefully, very spicy) 1/8 tsp.
Salt: kosher 2 tsp.
Sugar: granulated 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.
Basil: ground ¾ tsp
Garlic: granulated ¾ tsp.
Paprika: sweet ¾ tsp.
Coriander: ground ¾ tsp.
Black pepper: ground ¾ tsp.
Cumin: ground ¾ tsp.
Bay Leaves: 3



  1. In a large stock pot or braising pan, place the oil begin to heat, add the beef and the onions and sear until the onions are tender.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients bring to a simmer, lower heat, and cook covered for 6 hours. Stir occasionally, or the mix can be placed in a crock pot and cooked at low temperature for 8 hours
  3. Transfer, cool, label and hold refrigerated until needed.


  1. Place the chili into a double boiler (or crock pot), heat until the chili is at 165°. Then hold at that temperature until needed.


  1. Place the appropriate amount of chili into the cup or bowl. Top with the shredded cheddar, then the tortilla strips, the salsa and the cilantro sprig. Serve.