I understand from my Facebook feed that something called “football season” has begun. My interest in the sport starts and stops with the prospect of making something yummy to be eaten during a Super Bowl party in January. To this end, I am aware that chili (robust, spicy, pairs well with beer, can be made in advance) is a popular food to accompany football viewing.
There are those who say beans have no place in chili. These people are wrong. Beans add contrasting texture, body, flavor, and color. And they go spectacularly well with cheese. You want to cover your chili with cheese, don’t you?
Chili is all about layering flavor. I like to start by sauteing the meat in a little oil– in this case, the meat is fresh ground chorizo, which besides adding an appealing spiciness, will render some of its own fat for flavor as well.
Other meats I often use are ground buffalo or bison (to give that iron-laden red meat taste) or sometimes ground turkey if I’m aiming for a lighter touch. If I’ve got all day, I might do the chili in the slow cooker with a cut like the shoulder, allowing the meat to get meltingly tender by the time the chili is ready. Just trim and briefly sear the meat before throwing it into the slow cooker. Prepare everything else on the stovetop as usual, but then pour it into the slow cooker to slowly warm, rather than letting it finish on the stovetop. Another favorite, if you have a BBQ handy, is a grilled beef cut such as a tri-tip– shred your leftover meat from a recent BBQ into the chili as a last step (after you’ve added the wet ingredients, and keep the heat low from that point on so you don’t cause the meat the toughen.)
Back to the chili itself. After I’ve rendered the meat, if appropriate, I add the aromatics (in this case, white onion, jalapeno, and a little later on, minced garlic.) Once they’re softened, I add some flour to make a roux, as this will help thicken the chili later. (I find a roux to be a nice, unobtrusive way to thicken a chili, in that it keeps the texture of the liquid silky.)
As soon as the roux has darkened a little (give it a minute or two of constant stirring), I pull the mixture off the heat and add my dry spices, letting them bloom briefly. Spice choice is important here, as obviously spices– the type and amount you choose– do the most to inform the character of your chili. I like to use a dark red New Mexico chile powder, some smoked paprika, ground mustard, ground black pepper, and ground cumin, at a minimum. If I have other ground chiles on hand, I’ll often experiment with different combinations. And I almost always include cocoa powder amongst the dry spices for my chili- it adds a nice depth of flavor.
Once your spices are bloomed, you can add your wet ingredients. Alcohol can be an interesting addition here– you could add a stout or a lager– just be sure to bring it to a boil briefly so you burn off the strongest tastes of alcohol. I haven’t done that in this recipe, but I’ve included beer in chili many times to great success. Put in the rest of your wet ingredients, then– your beans and tomatoes, and let the whole thing simmer for a while. Taste intermittently and salt if you need to.
Vegetarian? Or vegan, for that matter? Skip the meat in the first step. I’ve made a riff on this chili several times without the inclusion of meat, and more than one avowed meat eater has approached to say they didn’t miss it.
Garnish time– I’m partial to shredded cheese. Especially cheddar; probably a throwback to my childhood. Diced scallions, jalapeno, and avocado are also good.
So get out there and use these tips to develop your own signature chili. Or just follow the recipe for tonight’s chili iteration– Three Bean Chorizo Chili– below.
- 1.5 pounds fresh ground chorizo (Get it from a carniceria or a butcher counter, or make it yourself. If you have to get a pre-processed brand, aim for Silva, which is most like the real thing. Avoid the kind that comes in plastic casings, if possible.)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 3 jalapeno or serrano chiles, diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
- 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 5 pounds chopped fresh tomatoes (or two 28 ounce cans)
- 3 cups cooked kidney beans (or two cans)
- 3 cups cooked pinto beans (or two cans)
- 1.5 cups cooked black beans (or one can)
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- For garnish, shredded cheese, diced avocado, scallion, and/or fresh green chile
- Combine all your dry spices in a bowl-- cocoa, chile powder, cumin, ground mustard, black pepper, and smoked paprika.
- In a large stockpot, render your ground fresh chorizo in the olive oil. (If your chorizo is in natural casings, dice it up first.)
- Once rendered, add diced onion and chiles to the pot, stir until softened.
- Add garlic and flour. Stir for a minute to form the roux and cook it through a bit, and then pull from the heat.
- Stir in your spice mixture. Stir frequently so the spices won't stick or burn to the bottom of the pot.
- Add your wet ingredients (tomatoes and beans) and return the pot to the heat.
- Add salt, and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer at least half an hour. Taste and salt more as needed.
- To serve, plate in deep bowls and garnish with shredded cheese. Diced avocado, scallions, and/or more green chiles also make a nice garnish