Texas Hold-Em Chili

Photo by David Munns

At the Chile Trail we love nothing more than something hot and sassy. And trust us, you don’t get any hotter or sassier than Kay Plunkett-Hogge’s cookbook Heat. The title says it all because this baby is one page turning love letter to that hunk-a-hunk of burning love, the chile pepper.

Plunkett-Hogge is British but born and raised in Thailand where they know a thing or two about chile. She’s lived in London, Los Angeles, Bangkok and New York and travelled the world so she’s tickled her taste buds with more than her fair share of chile. Sure she loves the heat (don’t we all) but she also loves the way chile plays well in the culinary sandbox with other ingredients to create a dish that sings. Heat has it all from subtle to scorching and nothing escapes the KPH radar including some mighty fine desserts.

Photo by JP Masclet

Choosing a recipe from Heat to share with you lovely Chile Trailians, was as difficult as choosing a favorite chile and you know how tough that is. But in the end we settled on Texas Hold’em Chili because it’s hot and sassy and you know how we love that combo. We’ll let KPH tell you the story behind this one…

 Texas Hold’Em Chili

The Kellys were Texans through and through, who just happened to live next door to us … in Bangkok. They introduced me to America’s south-west and to Mexico when I was just 12, jump-starting my love for the food of the New World. A good 35 years later, it’s an affair that shows no sign of abating. So this chili is inspired by those early Texan experiences and by Texas Hold ’Em, the so-called Cadillac of poker, wherein each player is dealt two cards, followed by five shared community cards. Where the player makes their hand from seven cards, we make this chili from seven chiles. Note that there are no beans or tomatoes here. It’s Texan. Deal with it. Note too that you need a cut of meat with some fat and connective tissue that will stand up to the slow cooking, such as chuck or shin.


1.5kg (3 ½ lb) stewing beef, cut into 3cm (1 ½ in) dice

3 tbsp vegetable oil

3 guajillo chiles

2 pasilla chiles

2 cascabel chiles

4 chiles de árbol

2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and 2 tbsp of their sauce

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped 1 jalepeño, seeded and chopped

1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped

2 tsp each of ground cumin, chilli powder and dried Mexican oregano (or regular oregano will do)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

200ml (7fl oz) beer

800ml (1 ½ pints) beef stock

2 tbsp cocoa powder or grated dark chocolate

1–3 tbsp cornmeal or masa

salt and freshly ground black pepper

chopped coriander, sliced avocado and sliced jalepeño, to serve (optional)

Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and brown the meat thoroughly in batches until it’s a deep brown on all sides. You will need to add a second tablespoon of vegetable oil about halfway through. Then set aside in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid.

De-stem and seed the guajillo, pasilla, cascabel and chile de árbol chiles. Toast them in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from the pan and soak them for 20–30 minutes in enough warm water to cover. Then drain and put in a blender with the chipotles, adobo sauce and 4 tablespoons of their soaking water. Blitz into a paste and set aside.

Add the final tablespoon of vegetable oil to the non-stick pan, turn down the heat, and add the onion. Cook until just soft, then add the garlic, jalepeño and serrano chiles. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, until they are soft and really fragrant, then add the cumin, chilli powder, oregano and cinnamon. Stir together thoroughly, then add the beer. Bring up to a simmer, stirring gently to lift any residues from the frying pan, then pour everything into the casserole over the meat. Now add the stock, cocoa and chile paste, and season with salt and pepper. Bring the chili to a very low simmer, then cover and leave to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Then partially remove the lid and cook for a further 30–45 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Now turn up the heat a little and add the cornmeal or masa, a tablespoon at a time, stirring well after each addition, and cook it in until the whole chili has a silky, rich texture. Note that cornmeal will give a texture to your sauce, while the masa will simply thicken it. I prefer the cornmeal, but it’s a matter of personal taste.

Serve garnished with chopped coriander, sliced avocado and slices of jalepeño, if you like.

Photo by David Munns



Chile Portrait: Guajillo

You could splash out on a gym membership. Or you could buy a mortar and pestle and bash the living daylights out of a couple of Guajillo chiles for our Mojo Rojo. The difference? The mortar and pestle is a lot cheaper and you end up with a tasty condiment that you can slather on everything (almost). But the biceps, well they’ll be pretty much the same.


Guajillos (pronounced gwah-HEE-yoh) have tough skins. If you’re soaking them (which I recommend) do it for a bit longer than you would say, a New Mexico red. They’re about 4-6 inches long and reddish-brown in color. They’re super popular in Mexico – one of the most commonly grown – and used for soups, stews, adobos, salsas – you name it. But back home, they’re not as well known which is a shame, since the Guajillo is a real culinary workhorse.

A Guajillo has some heat but not tongue-numbingly so. On the Scoville index it sits below the jalapeno. Take out the seeds to reduce the heat or – as I’ve done with the Mojo Rojo – leave them in. Because the skin it tough, it’s hard to end up with a smooth paste but that’s not a bad thing. The Guajillo packs a lot of flavor – beyond mere heat –that you can pick up when your salsa or sauce or rub is chunkier. Mark Miller in his book, The Great Chile Book, describes a Guajillo as having a, “…green tea and stemmy flavor with berry tones.” Sounds good to me.

As always with dried, whole chiles look for ones that are still pliable. You may think that a dried chile should be stiff but that’s not true at all. It should give a bit when you bend it and never smell musty. Give it a sniff and enjoy those lovely warm, fruity aromas.


And a word of advice. If you are using a mortar and pestle, try to alternate between your left and right hands. Otherwise you could end up with the Popeye bicep look. Just a thought…

Mojo Rojo

Makes about ½- ¾ cup (recipe can be doubled)

Yes, you can make this in the small bowl of a food processor or a blender (wimp). But then you’ll miss out on the pure physical pleasure of pounding a Guajillo chile into oblivion. Your choice.

2 Guajillo chiles
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tsp sweet pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar

Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the whole chiles and toast gently on all sides. The idea is to bring out the flavor of the chiles but do not scorch or burn them. If you do, start over. You can toss the cumin seeds in to – it will bring out the flavor beautifully. Place the toasted chiles in a bowl and cover with hot but not boiling water. Let soak in the water for about 15-20 minutes until pliable.


Meanwhile, place the garlic, sea salt and toasted cumin seeds in the base of a mortar (or use a food processor or blender). Beat with the pestle until a rough paste is formed. Drain the chiles, remove the stem and roughly chop. Add to the mortar and pound until the chile is broken down into small bits. You are not going for a smooth paste – you’ll end up with seeds and chile pieces. Mix in the sweet pimenton, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt if needed.


Mojo Rojo is great with:
• Green beans or other blanched green vegetables
• Boiled new potatoes
• Butternut squash or sweet potatoes
• Steak, chicken or pork tenderloin
• Spread on bread or as a thick dip for raw veg