Chili paste means a lot of different things in different places in the world but they all share one thing in common, they are made with chili peppers. In many cultures, chili paste is used for cooking or seasoning a dish, or as a condiment to be served alongside some cooked food. There are dozens of types of chili pastes around the world but in the United States, chili paste is a Texas creation. Chili paste is literally just called chili paste, and it is use to make… you guessed it, chili!
Chili Paste Trivia
- While some people may think that chili is a Mexican dish, it is extremely rare to find this dish in Mexico.
- The most widely accepted origin story for chili is the one of the Chili Queens in Texas which made spicy stew using chili peppers and it has evolved to what we know as our modern-day chili.
- The Texas prison system reportedly made such good chili that inmates who were released often wrote the prison to ask for the recipe of their chili, stating that it was the thing that they missed the most from prison.
- Chili started to spread in popularity across the United States when Texas set up a San Antonio chili stand in the 1893 expo in Chicago.
- Chili is the official state food of Texas, this was adopted by the state legislature in 1977.
- Jesse James the outlaw refused to rob banks in McKinney, Texas. The reason? This was where his favorite chili joint was located.
Chili Paste Buying Guide
Due to its perishable nature, it is very hard to find chili paste (for chili con carne) on supermarket shelves. In order to reduce confusion, we’ll show you all the different types of chili paste that are common on supermarket shelves so you’ll know what NOT to get if you’re looking for chili paste to use for chili con carne.
- La Jiao Jiang – This is the traditional Chinese-style chili paste that is used to add heat in many Chinese dishes. This can also be used as a condiment to dip fried food in. This uses hot peppers and garlic as its main ingredient and is simmered in oil to infuse the oil with the chili and garlic taste.
- Harissa – This is a chili paste from Africa which has gained popularity in the past few years. This is a very complex chili paste containing lemon juice, garlic, coriander, fennel, pepper, allspice, nutmeg, red chili peppers, and tomato paste. Not exactly stuff that you would find in chili con carne, but is great on grilled foods.
- Gochujang – This is a Korean chili paste that’s made with glutinous rice powder, red chili peppers, and fermented soybeans. The flavor profile of this chili paste is nowhere near chili con carne, but it is great for use in stews and grilled meat if you’re in the mood for an Asian touch to your food.
- Sambal – We’ve dedicated a whole article to sambal so if you’re interested in learning more about this versatile chili paste, check out its entry here on the real food promptuary. It’s great on a lot of things, but for chili con carne, it’s not.
- Sriracha – While a very popular condiment, it’s too sweet to be used as a base for chili con carne.
Chili Paste Production & Farming in Texas
Even though chili is very popular Texas, the sale of chili paste is quite uncommon due to the popularity of ready-mix chili fixins and powders. Another reason why it’s uncommon to find chili paste is that the state has an endless number of places to enjoy a good bowl of chili without all of the hassles of cooking your own. This does not mean that it’s impossible to find chili paste, though. All you need to do is to drop by your local farmers’ market and look for stalls that specialize in chili or in spices and there’s a good chance that you can get some chili paste to use on your own chili. At the very least, you can get the spices you require to make your own chili paste.
Another place where you can get great chili paste is to visit a chili fest. In Texas, there are three or four big chili fests every year with a couple of smaller ones in smaller towns around the state throughout the year.
This is actually the secret why it’s very hard to replicate chili-stand chili at home. Most, if not all, of the great chili places in Texas use chili paste and not pre-made commercial chili powders.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
If you find any commercially produced chili paste for use in chili con carne, do let us know so we can check and update our records if they use any additives and chemicals that we should be concerned about.
Enjoying Chili Paste
Chili paste, is rather specific in its use. It is used to… well… make chili con carne. It can also be used to marinate meats for grilling as well.
Chili paste can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks before losing its flavor. If you’re making a large batch, you can freeze them for up to six months. Just freeze them in ice-cube form so you can pop out a couple and drop them in your chili to boost the flavor, no need to defrost the entire thing.
Make your own Chili Paste:
If you can’t find any chili paste near you, you can always make your own. It’s quite simple to make with almost all of the ingredients available in any store or farmers’ market.
Whole sweet fried dried chilies, 3 pieces (costeno, New Mexico, or choricero chilies)
Small hot dried chilies, 2 pieces (arbol or cascabel chilies)
Whole rich, fruity dried chilies (ancho, mulato, pasilla, or negro chilies)
Whole chipotle dried chilies, canned in adobo sauce
Adobo sauce from chilies, 30ml
Chicken Stock, 1 quart.
De-seed and de-stem all of the chilies.
Dry toast the chilies on a hot pan for a few seconds or until fragrant.
Combine all ingredients on a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes (or until chilies are tender)
Allow to cool for a few minutes, transfer to blender and blend until well incorporated and smooth.
To use chili paste, replace chili powder with paste at a ratio of four to one. (for every tablespoon of chili powder used, use four tablespoons of paste)