Preparation / Directions:
On the Texas range, firewood meant mesquite. Not only did the trail cook use it for his own pit cooking, but the ranch cook used it to fire his wood stove. Until it was replaced with gas and electric, mesquite-flavored grilling dominated rural Texas cooking with its distinctive sweet savor. The meat rof this chili is seared over charcoal where mesquite chips have been set to flame (the taste of mesquite charcoal is indistinguishable from that of any other hardwood), which gives the resulting chili a haunting hint of smoke -- and without tasting a bit like barbecue, since there is no onion or tomato in it, none at all.
For the fire: mesquite wood chips and hardwood charcoal.
For the Rub: 2 or 3 cloves of garlic and chili powder.
The chuck roast should be as lean as possible and cut at least three inches thick. Two or three hours before you plan to make the chili, rub the meat all over with a mash of crushed garlic and salt then sprinkle it with chili powder to coat it lightly. Loosely cover it with plastic and set it aside.
Fire up enough hardwood charcoal to sear the meat in an outdoor grill, preferably one with a cover. At the same time, soak a few handfuls of the mesquite chips in the water. When the coals are covered with gray ash, spread them out evenly, and scatter the soaked mesquite chips over them. Then immediately set the meat on a grill over the smoke, about an inch from the coals. Cover the grill and adjust the dampers to maintain a slow, steady heat. Let meat sear for about 12 minutes (this is meant to flavor, not to cook the meat) and turn over to sear the other side for the same amount of time. Remove it from the heat, saving any juices on its surface, and transfer to the refrigerator. Let it cool thoroughly, about one hour.
After the meat has cooled, trim away any surface fat or cartilage. With a sharp knive, cube the meat into the smallest pieces you have patience for, saving all juices. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over moderate heat. Stir in the garlic and saute until it turns translucent. Stir in the meat and all reserved meat juices, adding just enough beef broth to cover, or about one cup. Pour in the lime juice and sprinkle in the rest of the seasonings, stirring and tasting as you go. Crumble in a few piquins or other fiery chiles to bring the heat up to taste. However, do not try to adjust the seasoning to perfection right now; it's easy to ruin a chili by correcting the flavors too soon -- the long cooking will smooth and sweeten it.
Lower the heat to as low as possible. If the pot is left to boil, the meat will toughen. Every half hour or so after the first hour, taste for seasoning, adjusting and thickening with the masa harina a teaspoonful at a time. The chili should be about ready to eat in three hours, although it will benefit from a night's aging in the refrigerator.
Serve it simmering in large, heavy bowls with an ample supply of soda crackers and a side of beans, but not much else except, maybe, hot, black coffee or quart-sized glasses of iced tea or a few frosty bottles of your favorite beer. And, after a good long while, push things aside, lean back in your chair, and start arguing.