Falling for a Bowl of Chili


Everyone has a favorite chili recipe. My beloved husband, who doesn’t spend much time in the kitchen (because I’m always there), makes a fine pot of chili. For Mark, the perfect dinner is a spicy bowl of meaty chili with a heap of tortilla chips on the side. But chili was never something that I loved. The brassy tomato-acidity and ground meat in your typical chili never sat well with my fragile stomach.

Leave it to the geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated to change my mind about chili – their recipe is everything that the typical ground beef & tomato chili isn’t…this is a slow-simmered, chile-infused, beer-laced wonder that leaves you mopping the dish with cornbread or a warm tortilla to wipe the last bits of spicy gravy from the bowl.


Making homemade chile paste is  the real secret to this recipe.

I adapted Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for crock-pot cooking. Now that I have a fancy new crock, I’m determined to justify the space it takes up on my counter. Although this was simmered in the crock, this is no Ron Popeil “Set it and Forget it” deal…it takes some time to make the chile paste, brine the beans, brown the meat and get everything simmering before transferring to the crock, but it’s worth the time investment. Once everything is loaded into the crock, then you can pull a Popeil and just walk away – or go sledding with friends as we did, the first time we made this chili.

Coming inside from an afternoon in frosty winter air with rosy cheeks and empty bellies to a warm bowl of chili may be the very best way to beat the winter blues.

Do you have a closely guarded chili secret that makes yours the best? Whisper your secrets in my ear in the comments below.

Crock-Pot Chili
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 2011
Serves 10 (when served over brown rice)

¾ lb dried pinto beans
6 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2 dried árbol chiles , stems removed, pods split, and seeds removed
3 T corn flour
1 T dried oregano
1 T ground cumin
1 T cocoa powder
3 cups chicken stock
2 onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 jalepenos, seeded and quartered
3 T grapeseed oil (or veg oil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted tomatoes with chipotles)
1 T light molasses
4.5 lbs blade steak, cut off the bone, trimmed of fat & cut into ¾” pieces
1 12oz bottle of gluten-free beer
salt

  1. Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water, and beans in large pot and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse well.
  2. Place ancho chiles in 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 2-3 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.
  3. Add árbol chiles, corn flour, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and ½ teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to small bowl. Place onions and jalepenos in now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped to the consistency of chunky salsa, about five 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili paste, tomatoes, and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2.5 cups broth and drained beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1/3 of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven. Add 1 T oil to the pan, and the next ⅓ of the meat and brown, then transfer to the pot. Add the last T of oil to the pan, brown the last ⅓ of the meat, then add to the pot. Pour in the bottle of beer, and return to a simmer.
  6. Once the chili is simmering, slowly pour the whole pot into your slow-cooker, and cook on high for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Cook uncovered for the last hour. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  7. Serve over brown rice, garnish with sliced green onions, a sprinkle of cheese, avocado and cilantro.

10 thoughts on “Falling for a Bowl of Chili

  1. I dunno, I have had chili you made before and that was pretty darn good… I’ll have to have Cook make this upon his return from the Canadian subtropics.

    • Or we’ll just have you over next time we make this one…whichever comes first. I like that this one is less tomato-y, and closer to a posole – I’m a sucker for anything with a lot of ancho chiles in it.

  2. Jenn, this sounds fantastic! I am a recent convert to using dried chilis (and making the paste) for a pot of chili and agree that it is the only way to go. I do like the tomatoey stuff too, but the depth of flavor those dried chilis bring is just incomparable. One of my favorite chili recipes from Food & Wine uses a similar technique, but has 3 types of meat, no beans, and has hominy. I’ve riffed on that one a few times (add beer, use dry not canned hominy, etc). Amazing. Will definitely be giving this one a try.

    http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chili-with-guajillo-and-ancho-chiles-and-hominy

    • Yep, I like serving chili with brown rice…makes a pot stretch a little further, and Mark likes chili spicier than I do, so the brown rice tones it down a little for me. I tried Redbridge this time – what a waste of “beer.” Sorghum Grist isn’t great, but has a little more flavor. Our local wine shop now has an amber GF beer, and I need to try that one next time.

  3. My recent favorite “easy” chili has been a pumpkin variation: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/467 – I just sautee all the veggies, brown the meat, and throw in the crock pot. I tend to skip the beans and add more tomatoes, but that’s just preference. I usually serve over some sort of pasta, though last time I used quinoa and loved it.

    I will have to try a version of yours – Meijer just started carrying an entire rack of dried chilis.

  4. It was great meeting you last night. Since having a blog I don’t know that I have many (if any) cooking secrets anymore. Anytime I catch on to something good I usually share it with everyone immediately. Lately now that I’ve been entering more cooking contests I will admit I’m keeping some tricks to myself which almost feels dirty in an odd way.🙂 As for chili, I love adding cocoa powder, bacon, dijon mustard, and cinnamon among other things. I used to tinker quite a bit with the spice blend, but now that I have it just how I like it, I simply keep the sauce/gravy of sorts the same and swap out what I throw in. I’m not a huge bean lover so last time I made it with beef, pumpkin & mushrooms. (http://pink-apron.com/2010/10/beef-pumpkin-and-mushroom-chili/) It was such a comforting mix and I love how the mushrooms really enhance the meatiness of the chili without adding a lot more meat.

    • Great meeting you last night, too! Haha – I know what you mean about wanting to hoard just a few teensy little kitchen tricks…though I fear that may be happening more lately because of my lack of frequency in posts! The secrets of chili making is endlessly fascinating to me – I love how everyone has their own chili mojo – next time I make this – I’m going to add some bacon and dijon for sure!

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