Chili. If I say that to you, an Idea of what chili is to you will pop into your head.
Do you see tomatoes or not? How about beans? Ground beef or diced sirloin? Mushrooms? Pork or chicken green chili?
Some folks come to blows over these sorts of issues. “Real chili doesn’t have tomatoes in it.” “Beans?! Are you kidding me?!” “What do you mean, you serve it over spaghetti…?!
I am here to tell you that it’s all okay. No need for fighting. Let’s all be like chili and simmer down. I hereby give you permission to make your chili however you like it.
In 2008, I even wrote a Thing called “Intuitive Chili” that I still stand by today if you’d like to give it a read.
Homemade Chile Paste Brings Added Depth to Chili
One thing I really do think is important to a really deeply flavored chili is fresh chile paste. or chili paste, call it what you will. I mostly think of chile paste as an ingredient in Thai cooking, but there is no reason that you can’t make chile paste using Mexican (or at least Mexican/Tex-Mex-inspired flavors). Here’s how I make mine (note the Awesome Intro and Outro music written by Ian Ridenhour. He’ll write some for you, too, if you want).
Once you have your chile paste, you’re ready to make your chili. Make yours however you want, honest. I’ll show you how I made mine, though. I like a bit of a mole-ish, mysterious edge to my chili, so I throw in some dark cocoa powder. This time I used the Darkest Ever cocoa powder (think Oreo dark), Black Onyx from Savory Spice Shop. Another item I used for the first time ever (I do that sort of thing a lot) is another spice blend from Savory, Black Dust Coffee & Spice Rub. It contains coffee and lots of Mexican-y spices, including cumin, cocoa, mustard (not so much Mexican, but it’s in there), coriander and chipotle. Absolutely perfect in chili, for my tastes anyway.
- 2 Tablespoons lard or bacon fat, (or just oil)
- 1 1/2 medium sweet onions, , medium dice
- 2-4 cloves garlic, , minced
- ground cumin, , to taste
- 2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
- 2 Tablespoons Black Dust Coffee&Spice Rub, (or sub in a tablespoon of espresso powder)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, (season to taste as you go)
- 2 pounds ground beef, (I had 1 pound each of grass-fed beef and bison. Use what you have)
- 1/2-1 cup of homemade chile paste, (see video)
- 2 cups diced fresh peppers: a mixture of sweet and hot peppers, , anything from bell to Anaheim to Poblano to habanero, depending on what you like, how hot you like things and what's on hand (mince the hotter guys)
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, , undrained (you can use diced if you'd rather)
- Mexican oregano, , to taste
- 1 15 oz can black beans, , rinsed well and drained
- 1 15 oz can pinto beans, , rinsed well and drained
- 3 cups (24 oz) stock, water or dark lager or a mixture (I used 2 bottles of Negro Modelo)
- toasted masa harina or fine corn meal, (just toast it in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant) for thickening
- a few shakes of vinegar or squeezes of lime juice if you think it needs brightening up
- In a large Dutch oven or braiser (it needs to be able to hold 5 quarts or so), melt the lard or bacon fat over medium heat. Or add the oil.
- Cook the onions for 3-4 minutes, until they start to soften.
- Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. The onions can start to take on a little color (or not--your choice).
- If you like cumin (I love it), add a couple of teaspoons to the pot along with the cocoa powder and Coffee Spice or espresso powder.
- Cook and stir for a couple of minutes, just to get the spices a bit toasty.
- Add the ground beef/meat of choice and break up well with a wooden spoon.
- Add about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and several generous grindings of black pepper. You probably will need to add more later.
- Cook, stirring the meat about and breaking it up with a wooden spoon (or something), until no pink remains. Try to get some of it to brown a bit, but it is no disaster if it doesn't.
- Add the chile paste, the diced (and minced) fresh chiles and the tomatoes (juice and all).
- Put the lid on your pot and simmer over lowish heat for about thirty minutes, stirring every few minutes.
- Add the drained beans and stir them in well.
- Cook for another thirty or so minutes.
- The mixture will be very thick.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings as you like.
- At this point, I cool it down, refrigerate it overnight and finish it up the next day. You can do this, or you can keep going.
- Either the next day (or right now), add the 3 cups of stock/water/beer to the chile and stir well to combine.
- Slowly bring up to a simmer and let simmer gently for an hour or so until most of the alcohol (if using) has cooked away.
- Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of toasted masa harina or cornmeal. Simmer for a few minutes more to thicken.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you think the flavors are a bit murky, perk them up with a bit of vinegar or some lime juice.
How to Serve (and How to Serve the Leftovers Creatively)
The first night, we enjoyed bowls of chili garnished with shredded pepper jack and sour cream. I had sourdough bread, so we used that, although cornbread would’ve been a great pairing. You could also crumble up some crackers and toss those in. So good! Sliced avocado or some guacamole would also provide a nice, cooling contrast.
The next night, I diced up some red potato into tiny dice (think slightly-larger-than-orzo) and crisped them up in a hot oven tossed with a bit of lard, salt and pepper. I stuffed burritos with the potatoes and some reheated chili and then baked them at 375F for 15 minutes to crisp up the tortillas. Served with guacamole, cheese and sour cream. (You could also let rice play the part of the potatoes. I was just trying to use up some red potatoes that were starting to get surly with me).
The next night, I made quesadillas with the same components. I spread a thin layer of chili onto a tortilla, scattered on some leftover potato and some pepper jack shreds, slapped on another tortilla and toasted them in a cast iron skillet until golden brown on both sides.
Other things that I haven’t done yet, but I might. And so might you:
- Make nachos
- Serve over baked potatoes or even butternut squash or pumpkin
- Layer with either cooked lasagna noodles or tortillas along with some queso fresco for a Mexican-inspired lasagna
- Frito pie
- slit the side of a chicken breast/s, stuff with some chili, pour some salsa over and bake until the chicken is cooked through
- Reheat with an equal amount of cream cheese and use as a dip for a football party/tailgating
- Stir cooked shells (or your favorite pasta shape) together with reheated chili and some diced or shredded cheese (pepper jack or cheddar). Top with a mixture of crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheese and bake until the cheese is all bubbly and starting to brown.
- Bake inside a wee sugar pumpkin, scooping out some cooked pumpkin along with the chili for everyone.
And now I’m tapped out. You have more ideas? Please share them in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day.