Chili Recipe

I’ve been asked for my Chili Recipe (chili con carne for those in the UK), so here it is. This recipe serves about 4 hungry people (or 3 hungry musicians when I made this for my mother’s singers). Because this recipe uses ground pork and poultry instead of ground beef (mince to the Brits) I like to add some chewy pasta to give lots of bite. Brits usually like their chili with rice so feel free to leave the pasta out if you like. For those who want their chili with beef I suggest frying up the ground beef separately and draining the fat to keep the grease level down. The beauty of this dish is that it can be made a couple of days ahead of time and it just gets better. Make a huge batch and freeze it for months for those days you want something hearty. This isn’t some new-age fancy fusion recipe, this is bold, spicy, rich stuff to warm the cockles of your heart. As my grandfather used to say it “sticks to your ribs”.

The chili will be as good as the ingredients you put in but there’s no need to be extravagant. Good canned tomatoes and quality chili powder will make a better chili but you use whatever you can find. There’s a hundred varieties of chili powder of varying heat levels or flavors. I like to use some smoked powders but you can’t always get those. Mild chili powder, paprika (paprika is just a mild chili powder which is sometimes smoked, nothing more), dulce pimenton (sweet spanish paprika), etc will make a very tasty dish without much trace of heat. To add chili flavor without the heat you can drop in a couple whole mild chilis and then pull them out before serving. If you like heat then use some chopped fresh chili and some hot chili powders. I’m partial to using some smoked chili as I like the flavor.

Here’s some fresh/dried/powdered chili combinations for varying spice levels. Some you can only find in specialty stores but many of them are available at a good supermarket. I usually start with these amounts and add more later if the dish needs it:
1 whole mild chili
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp paprika, smoked if you can find it, or alternately ancho chili powder

1 medium sized chopped mild chili, or if you can find them, a whole smoked chipotle
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp hot chili powder (store bought or something more interesting like chipotle chili powder or cuyanne pepper)

hot (and I mean it):
1 large chopped hot chili or a couple of habaneros or scotch bonnets.
1 tbsp cuyanne pepper
1 tbsp chipotle chili powder (use hot supermarket chili as a substitute for either)

I don’t use bottled hot sauces when I make my chili as they are usually too vinegary and many add flavors I don’t like. Using fresh, dried, or powdered chili is cheaper and gives a better result than bottled sauces.

This recipe is very flexible meat-wise and you can customize it for your taste and available ingredients. In the states I usually use a mix of 1 pound (500 grams) ground chicken/turkey and 1 pound italian sausage which you can find in most grocery stores. In the UK you can’t find authentic Italian sausage many places and most popular british-style sausages are too mealy for this recipe, so I make it using either 2 pounds (1 kilo) of ground turkey or half turkey and half pork and spice it up. I prefer to make the sausage an hour or two ahead of time if possible.

pork/turkey sausage:
1 pound ground turkey/1 pound ground pork, or 2 pounds ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground savory
1 tsp cumin powder
splash of red wine

get in there with your hands and mix well, then refrigerate for 1 hour if possible.

oil for the pan
1 pinch cumin seed
1 red or vidalia onion, chopped medium
3 cloves garlic, chopped chunky
sausage meat from above, or 1 pound ground turkey, 1 pound italian sausage, squeezed out of casings and crumbled
2 regular cans chopped tomatoes
chili mix from above
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil (or add some fresh chopped basil at the every end)
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder (or 2 tsp instant coffee)
ground pepper to taste
1 can kidney beans, rinsed (optional)
1 can refried beans (optional)
1/2 box chunky pasta like shells or fussili cooked al dente. (optional)
small handful of chopped fresh cilantro (aka coriander leaf)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
grated cheese for the top (optional)

heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid until it is hot but not smoking, add the cumin seed and toast for 30 seconds or so until they start to brown a bit (don’t burn them), then add the onion and saute until they start to soften. Add the garlic and saute until onions are soft and start to carmelize. If you have the space and a large frying pan brown the meat at high heat and then add into the pan with the onions as you’ll get better flavor from the meat, but if you don’t have the space or inclination just brown it along with the onions. Once the meat is browned add the tomatoes chili, cumin, oregano and basil, thyme, pepper, and coco. Simmer for at least 20 minutes as the longer you cook it the better it gets. Taste and add more chili or cumin as necessary. Speaking of cumin, this spice is as important to a good chili as chili powder. Don’t skimp! Don’t add any salt yet as salt can toughen the beans, and you may get some salt from the pasta, instead wait to add salt to taste at the very very end. Refried beans make the chili thick and rich but will also deaden the flavors, so if you plan to add them make the chili more spicy and more pungent than you’d have if you were leaving it out.
I prefer to add the kidney beans at least 10-15 minutes before the chili is done if I add them at all as it softens them. Adding them just before it’s done keeps them chewy. Add the refried beans and mix well. Before serving taste and add more chili or cumin to taste. Definitely add salt at this point. Some canned tomatoes are a bit sour so if it’s too tart add a small spoon of brown sugar or honey and try it again. Once you’re satisfied remove from the heat. If mixing in pasta make sure it’s very chewy, there’s no point in adding soggy pasta. Add the fresh herbs and serve.

Note: when tasting anything spicy remember that the heat is concentrated in the oils that collect at the top of the chili. If you skim the top when tasting you’ll get more spice than the rest of the dish, so always stir and try to get a sample from under the top.

– Without the pasta this chili can be used as a burrito or enchilada filling. A great pot-luck dish is to fill a baking dish with enchiladas, pour some mole sauce on the top, cover with cheese and then bake 15-20 minutes.

– you can use any chopped leftover meats instead of fresh ground meats. Marinated pork tenderloin is especially good.

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