Chili. The quintessential ‘Murcan Manly Meal, complete with romanticized and problematic stereotypes, heavy commercialization, cultural appropriation, violence, confusion, grandiose claims, and revisionist history…but also strong, remarkably nutritious, deeply individual, flexible enough to be as accessible or as complex as a cook feels comfortable with, and purdy darned tasty.
It’d be just damned WRONG of me to say there’s one way to do chili, so what you’re getting here is a basic rundown of How Do You Chili, then two of my favorites.
START WITH THE BASE: ABOUT 4 QUARTS
Stock. Chicken, beef, or vegetable. Totally best if homemade, but if you’re going for canned or from boullion, for the love of Chuck(roast) get low-sodium, or you’ll wind up with a tribute to Lot’s wife instead of John Wayne. Fill your slow-cooker or big pot halfway with this stuff - about 4 quarts. If you want to add beans from dried, fill it 2/3 of the way and put the rinsed beans in to soak overnight the night before without turning it on.
NOW ADD PROTEIN: ABOUT 3-5 LBS TOTAL
- Beans, canned or dried, as you prefer (see above about soaking them): 2 cans if canned, 1lb if dried. Kidney, navy, great white northern, red, pink, pinto, or black. (Most agree that Texan style chili is categorized by the use of chopped beef and no beans, but most of the rest of America uses kidney beans, while black beans are particularly Tex-Mex)
- Sauteed saiten, soy crumbles, vegan chorizo, textured vegetable protein, or pressed, crumbled, and fried tofu.
- Ground and browned or roasted and shredded chicken, duck, or turkey
- Ground and browned or smoked and pulled pork
- Ground and browned or finely chopped beef (best if approx. 10% fat if ground, good cuts for chopping are chuck roast, london broil, short ribs, blade steak, trimmed brisket, or eye round roast). You can chop it up by hand, but unless you’re insane, use a motherfucking food processor.
- Bison, Venison, Elk, Moose, or Boar, treated like beef.
Whatever you use, if it makes juices, put the juices in the pot. They have flavor, and flavor is a thing that is yes.
OPTIONAL VEGGIES: UP TO THREE CUPS
These things will start fights in places that serve large quantities of Budweiser and have a house whiskey. Use them or don’t at your own risk and discretion, but be aware, people have VERY strong opinions about whether they belong in a Real Chili. However, if you start adding peas and carrots and potatoes and cabbage and turnips and shit like that, you’re making a chili-inspired stew, not a fucking chili.
- Tomatoes; fresh, stewed, roasted, grilled, sun-dried, or canned
- Corn; fresh, canned, grilled, or roasted
- Bell peppers
NOW SHIT GETS REAL
Because we’re going to make the chili seasoning blend. This is where you get to be a serious cook, roll up your sleeves, and fucking shine on you crazy diamond. This is also the part that takes your pot full of STUFF and makes it CHILI. You can definitely go with Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations here, but you’re mixing from categories, not just as you motherfucking like it.
- Chili Paste - About a half cup, added at the same time as ¼ cup cider or balsamic vinegar. To get this fine-ass velvety awesome shit, take dried chilis you reconstituted in hot water for 10 minutes or fresh chilis or some mix of the two and puree them. To vary the flavor, toast, smoke, grill, or roast the chilis, or use hot coffee, hot tea, or hot stock instead of water. Different chilis have RADICALLY different flavors, not to mention heat levels, so get to know them before you assume that you’ll be on the same planet with a handful of smoked poblanos vs grilled habeneros.
- Fruitiness - Between two tablespoons and a cup of tomato paste if you’re going traditional. Advanced Placement can come in here all sneaky with peaches, cherries, raisins, blackberries, nectarines, apricots, apples, and cranberries, and once again you can always shake it up by using fresh vs reconstituted dried vs grilled, smoked or roasted.
- Booze - About two shots (3-4oz) of whiskey, bourbon, vodka, or tequila, or about a cup of hard cider or beer. This is actually boozeforscience! and is about the way that the alcohols help release oils from the chilis and spices to make them soluble in the stock so you can taste them more.
- Sweetener – Between a small and a really big handful (2tbs-1/3 cup if you want me to get precise) of brown sugar, dark honey (mmm buckwheat honey…), sorghum, molasses, jiggery, turbanado sugar, pioncillo, coconut sugar, or date puree.
- Umami Boosters – A secret weapon! About 2 teaspoons of Marmite, Vegemite, anchovy paste, dried ground baby anchovies, or red miso, 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, tamari, or soy sauce, or ½ cup roasted or grilled mushroom puree. PICK ONE, NOT SEVERAL.
- Onions and Garlic – No real negotiating here. Chop up a big-ass yellow onion and half a head of garlic and sautee them in some form of butter or oil, preferably the fat from browning your meat or bacon grease, then toss them in.
- Spices – Use fresh ground if at all possible. If you are feeling super badass, toast those fuckers in a frying pan before you grind them. Use about ¼ cup total. The ones in bold are not optional. The rest are. Cumin, coriander, black pepper, bay leaf, oregano (Mexican oregano better than Italian), cloves, cinnamon, long pepper, star anise, black cardamom, nutmeg, thyme, coffee powder, unsweetened cocoa, onion powder, dried orange peel, paprika, celery seed, safflower, annatto.
- Salt – To taste; kosher, black, red, or smoked
All this shit in the pot? Good. Let it simmer for about 6 hours or slow-cooker on high for 8. Acceptable toppings include sour cream, scallions, green onions, bacon, cheese (especially cheddar), Fritos, and fresh chopped chilis or tomatoes. Makes MUCH for MANY.
TWO OF MY FAVORITES:
Beef stock, venison, great northern beans, roasted corn, dried arbol, dried pasilla, ONE red habanero, bourbon, buckwheat honey. 2 grilled pureed peaches, 1 small can tomato paste, red miso, mandatory spices plus cloves, star anise, coffee, safflower, paprika, and cardamom.
Beef stock, beef short ribs, kidney beans, chipotle, poblano, ancho, guajillo chilis, whiskey, sorghum, eliminate the cider vinegar, 2/3 cup pureed fresh black or bing cherries, 1/3 cup roasted tomato paste, mandatory spices plus cloves, star anise, coffee, cocoa, celery seed, and paprika.