A Primer on Chili

This is not a recipe for chili.  That’s not even my chili up there.  It’s someone else’s chili.  But I liked the bowl so I stole the picture.  It makes me want a chile pepper covered bowl just for putting chili in.  Hmm.  I think I just got the inspiration for my next project at Claytopia…

Anyway, I made chili last night during the weirdly ferocious January thunderstorm we had here in NW PA last night.  (Global warming anyone???)  I wasn’t really planning on doing chili for the blog, ever.  I don’t have an exact “my chili” recipe.  I use whatever I have on hand, usually.  Chili is comfort food.  It’s easy.  Everybody loves it.  It’s even better the next day.  And there’s a million and one ways to make it.  Which makes it perfect for a guide like this.

For years I made my chili one way and one way only:  with a McCormick Chili spice packet.  Which is totally fine, especially if you’re not real confident in the kitchen.   But here’s the great thing about chili – it’s hard to screw up.  With a couple of basic guidelines you can make your chili however you like, top it with whatever you like, and throw it on top of whatever you want.

Last night I made my chili without consulting anything, without having to hover over a recipe.  It is such a great feeling and I want to share that with you all so here goes.

For a small pot of chili (4ish servings) you need these elements as your base:

1 lb Meat.  This can be ground beef, “stew meat” (small cubes of chuck roast), ground turkey, ground pork, cut up sirloin, whatever.  Or, you don’t even have to use meat and just make it a vegetarian chili.  If you’re not using meat, double the beans.

Beans.  One can.  I use the “seasoned chili beans” but you can use any kind of beans you like.  Keep in mind that canned beans are pretty salty so you probably won’t need to add much, if any, salt to your finished chili.  If you don’t like beans you don’t have to use ’em.  But you do have to admit to yourself that you like your chili “Texas style”.  Take that as you will.

Tomato.  One (15ish oz) can minimum.  You can use diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, whatever you have on hand.  I like to use one can each diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Or if you’re reading this in August and you have a bajillion tomatoes in your garden this is a good place to use them.

Onion.  One medium, diced.  Or you can use one onion’s worth of the dried onions you get in the spice aisleI think that’s like 1/4 cup.  Those are great in a pinch.   

Garlic.  Either a couple cloves, minced, or 1 tsp Garlic PowderAnd of course you can always use more or less to taste.  That goes for pretty much everything here, actually.

Chili Powder/Dried Chiles.  A good rule of thumb is 3 Tbsp Chili Powder per 1lb meat.  I’ve seen recipes with more so there’s room to add if you like.  Or you could decrease this amount if the flavor is more intense than you prefer.  But it is the primary flavor in chili so you really can’t go without it entirely.  I mean, you could.  But it really wouldn’t be chili then.  You can also use whole dried chiles for a more authentic southwest chili.  I don’t because it’s more expensive but whatever floats your boat.

Other things you can add but are not necessary:

Additional spices.  Start with 1 tsp of each.  That’s enough to give you a little taste without accidentally overpowering your chili with something that might not be something you end up liking that much.  I routinely add oregano (2 tsp) which is surprisingly nice with Tex-Mex stuff.  Cumin too, just a teaspoon.  I also now always add…wait for it…cocoa powder (1 tsp).  It’s the “secret ingredient” in Mexican moles (mow-lays) which gives them such an incredible depth of flavor without tasting chocolatey.  I’ve also seen chili recipes that use coffee to add a greater dimension of flavor.  If you throw in some cinnamon you’ve got Cincinnatti chili.  I could also totally see pouring in 1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce.   This is where you get to play.  Have fun with it.

Diced green chiles.  Me likey.

Diced green bell pepper.  A very common addition.

Sliced jalapenos.  For those that like a lot of heat.

Corn flour.  Make a slurry with 2 parts corn flour to 1 part water and add it in at the end.  It will thicken up the chili if it’s on the thin side and also gives it a hearty, slightly corny taste.

Corn.  If you really like corn.


Heat a large skillet over Med-High heat.  Add meat and onions (and any other raw vegetables you might be adding), cooking until meat is browned and veggies are soft.  Add garlic and cook for another minute.  If you have a lot of grease, you can carefully drain that off now.

(At this point, if you wanted to, you could transfer everything to your slow cooker, add everything else, and leave it on high for a couple hours or on low for the whole day.)   Or finish it on the stove as described below.

Add spices and toast for another minute until fragrant.  Add tomatoes, beans, and anything else from a can.  Bring up to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and let simmer at least 20 minutes.

Top with anything you like.

Toppings can include:

Shredded Cheese (Cheddar and Monterrey Jack are particularly good)

Sliced green onions/diced red onion

Fresh Cilantro

Sour Cream (my fave right there, particularly with a spicy chili)

Sliced Jalapenos (HEAT!)

Fried Tortilla strips/chips

Crumbled Bacon

Hot Sauce

Potential uses beyond the bowl:

Chili Cheese Nachos.  Everything you love about chili and nachos on one plate.  Perfect for the big game.

Chili Cheese Dogs.  Messy but awesome.

Chili Cheese Stuffed Baked Potatoes.  Need I say more???

Cincinnatti Chili.  Cinnamon infused chili served over spaghetti with a sprinkling of cheddar on the top.

Creamy Chili Cheese Dip.  Spread a block of softened cream cheese evenly over the bottom of a glass baking dish.  Cover with about a cup of (preferably beanless) chili , sprinkle with  1/2 cup cheddar cheese and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro and serve with tortilla chips.  Nom.  I could (and have) eaten a half recipe of this by myself.

My favorite presentation:  Served atop buttered white rice with cornbread and honey butter.  Perrrrrrrrrfect.

Now go make some chili people!


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Filed under Main Dishes, Soups

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