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THE GREAT CHILLI COOK-OFF

Few can resist the allure of a warming chilli con carne – and fewer still agree on what exactly should go into it. We asked three chilli supremos to make their defnitive version, then got the experts to taste them. Who was judged to have achieved Tex-Mextasy…?
PHOTOGRAPHS MYLES NEW

Since it was frst cooked back in the early 19th century, chilli con carne has been the root of much debate. Is it Mexican or American? What are the ‘proper’ ingredients – and what should never be added?

Well, it’s not properly Mexican, although its roots can be traced to south of the US border. “Chilli isn’t what I would call part of Mexican gastronomy,” says expert Isabel Hood. Historically, Mexican cooks have made no secret of deeming the dish a bit of a gringo thing. Frank X Tolbert writes in his chilli chronicle A Bowl of Red, “One contemporary Mexican dictionary has this scornful defnition: ‘A detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican.’”

But it’s not, strictly speaking, American either, as chilli morphed into being around the time the Republic of Texas (previously part of Mexico) was preparing to join the Union as the 28th state (which it did in 1845). Rather, it’s a dish of the frontier, a melting pot of two cultures… Tex-Mex, basically.

What’s cooking?

So, on to those ingredients. “The original chilli was simply bite-size or coarsely ground beef or other mature meats (never veal), cooked slowly and for a long time in boon companionship with the pulp of chilli peppers, crushed powder from the curly leaves of oregano, ground cumin seeds, and chopped garlic cloves,” writes Tolbert. That’s a pretty short list.

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About delicious. Magazine

Ottolenghi is back! Find his new recipes in our October issue, along with the best things to eat this autumn including Hugh F-W’s cheesy gratin, Atul Kochhar's home cooking and easy one-pot meals. There’s also a Mexican chilli cook-off, proper bao buns and a foolproof beef wellington. On the sweet side, get stuck into John Whaite's rich chocolate cake, a frangipane crumble and our ultimate biscuit collection – better put the kettle on…