Chili is one of the first foods that I started making completely on my own. I originally got the recipe from one of those copycat recipe websites (it’s allegedly a knockoff of Wendy’s chili), but I’ve made a number of changes – reducing the meat, switching up the chiles (and roasting them), and toasting the spices and making them into a slurry. I think it can still be improved on – I would like to try some of the wacky ideas in this Food Lab chili recipe (which includes coffee, chocolate, bourbon, Marmite, soy sauce, anchovies, and self-ground beef short ribs), but I’m pretty happy with my version.
First, some clarification. A chile is a hot pepper, such as an Anaheim, Jalapeno, Habanero, Chipotle, etc. Chile powder is a powder made from ground dried chiles (and nothing else). Chili is a meaty, tomato-y, sometimes bean-y stew that includes chiles. Chili powder includes not only dried ground chiles, but also paprika, cumin, cayenne, and some other stuff. Chile is also country in South America.
Got it? The main point to remember is that chili powder is not the same as chile powder. If you’ve got that, you’re good.
Anyway, I like to use fresh Anaheims and jalapenos in this recipe, and I like to roast them. This works just the same as in the rajas (roasted pepper) tacos from a while back – broil the hell out of your chiles, then seal them in a plastic bag for 15 minutes for the skins to steam off.
For the dry spices, I prefer to lightly toast them in a dry skillet and then mix them with boiling water to make a slurry. I’ve found that this can reduce the grittiness that a lot of people complain about with chili powder. Kenji Lopez-Alt (author of that badass Food Lab article above) goes another step by forgoing powder altogether – he toasts whole spices and whole chilies, grinds the spices, reconstitutes the chiles in water, and then makes a paste out of the whole thing. This probably works great, and I think I’ll try it next time – but for now, the powder + slurry method is fine.
This is a really flexible dish. You can cook it for 30 minutes and it will be plenty flavorful, or you can slowly simmer it all day, letting the beans get nice and soft and allowing all the flavors to mingle. It’s also a great candidate for day-ahead cooking (or freezing).
Finally, you can make a pretty reputable chicken chili, or even meatless chili, using this framework. You can also reduce the beef by quite a bit – as it is, this serves about 6 people, meaning that everyone gets about a 2.5 ounce serving of ground beef. But you can go as low as 8 ounces of beef in the whole dish and still he a nice, meaty flavor. This is a good thing to consider if you’re trying to reduce your meat consumption, or if you want to buy fancy organic meat but you balk at the price (like I do).
- 2 large Anaheim chiles
- 2 Jalapeno chiles
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 8 – 16 ounces lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 14-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 14-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 14-ounce cans (or 1 28-ounce can) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- saltine crackers or tortilla chips
- cheddar cheese
- more diced onion
- hot sauce (I like Frank’s Red Hot)
Roast the chiles. Preheat the broiler to high and set a rack to the highest position. Place the Anaheims and Jalapenos on a baking sheet lined with foil and broil, turning occasionally, until blackened all over (the jalapenos might be done sooner). Transfer to a clean plastic bag, twist or tie to seal, and set aside for 15 minutes.
When 15 minutes are up, open the bag and let everything cool off a bit. Then carefully remove the blackened skin from the chiles, cut them open, and pull out the seeds. Mince everything together, setting aside one jalapeno (you can add this back in later if you want more heat).
Prepare the spices. In a small skillet, toast the chili powder, cumin, pepper, and salt over medium heat, stirring or shaking constantly, until fragrant – about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and add 1 cup boiling water, stirring well. Set aside for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the spices can hydrate.
Make your chili!. Set your largest pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and preheat until almost smoking. Add the vegetable oil and the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of it is browned (it’s ok if there are still traces of pink). Using a slotted spoon, remove as much of the beef as you can, leaving behind any fat.
Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minutes, then add the reserved cooked beef, spice slurry, roasted chiles, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and beans. Add about 1 more cup of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes and up to 5 or 6 hours. If you are going to be cooking it for a long time, you can transfer the whole thing to a 350 degree oven (this is a little bit lower-maintenance as you don’t have to worry so much about stirring), or to a Crock Pot on low. At some point, taste it for spiciness – if you want it to be hotter, add back that reserved minced jalapeno (if you don’t use it, that roasted pepper will keep in the fridge for a week or so – use it anywhere you would use a fresh pepper).
Serve with the saltines, cheese, and diced raw onion, passing hot sauce at the table.
VARIATION: CHICKEN CHILI
Substitute 3 bone-in, chicken breasts for the beef. Remove the skin and sprinkle them with the salt and 1 tablespoon of the chili powder. Instead of browning the beef, cook the chicken breasts over medium-high heat until deeply browned on both sides (you will probably have to do this in batches). Set them aside and continue the recipe as above. When you’re about 30 minutes from serving, remove the chicken from the bone (either pull the whole thing off the bone and cut into shreds, or shred it) and add back to the pot. You might need to add more chili powder to this version; taste as you go.
VARIATION: MEATLESS CHILI
Omit the beef. Increase the beans to 3 cans pintos and 2 cans kidneys.