Thursday, May 27, 2010

LBJ's Pedernales River Chili

Recently, my pal Nancy McCormick was lamenting the loss of her Mother's chili recipe, which she recalled as belonging to former President Lyndon Johnson.  Between Nancy and her brother, the document was lost years ago.

As a proud owner of a copy of the 6th edition of The Congressional Club Cookbook (1961), complete with a forward from Jacqueline Kennedy, I suspected that if LBJ's chili recipe had been published, that it should be in that book.  Sure enough, I found Pedernales River Chili, attributed to LBJ.

Not surprisingly, it called for that great Texas ingredient, Ro-Tel, originally an enthusiastically spicy tomato and green chili mixture.  Whether leading or following our growing national obsession with spicy food, Ro-Tel is now available in more flavors, including habanero Ro-Tel.

I have adapted this recipe slightly, added some clarifying instructions, and a link to instructions for grinding your own meat. 

Pedernales River Chili  (adapted from The Congressional Club Cookbook)

4 pounds chili meat (course-ground)
1 large onion, course chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp cumin seed
6 tsp chili powder (more if needed)
2 cans Ro-Tel tomatoes
salt, to taste
2 c. hot water

Put the meat, onion, and garlic in a large saucepan or dutch oven.  Break up the meat, and cook until it is brown and the onion and garlic are soft.  Drain off some of the fat.  Add the oregano, cumin seed, chili powder, Ro-Tel, and hot water.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about an hour.


1.  To thicken, add 1T cornmeal about midway through the cooking.
2.  If 2 cans of Ro-Tel and 6 tsp chili powder blow your gasket, a taming addition to this and any other chili is 1/4 cup dried sweet corn (Cope's is my favorite), which tames the heat and adds a slightly sweet flavor.

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