Chili not an exact science

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I grew up with my father making chili at our house. He always used ground meat, and he always used kidney beans in his concoction. Imagine my surprise when I got older and found out there is a section of the country that serves their beans on the side. Imagine my disbelief when I found out there are those who serve theirs over pasta or rice. I couldn’t believe that people took what I thought was perfection and messed around with it.

Now that I’m a little older and have been fortunate to travel to some places that make some pretty amazing chili, I have changed my recipe up some too. I still prefer beans in my chili but I’m a new fan of black beans instead of red kidney beans. Also, I have let go of the ground meat in my chili and converted over to using a chuck roast. I tried adding Italian sausage with the casing removed, and I used venison. Nothing gave me the flavor I wanted except for beef. Next I took my own advice about not using water in my soups and applied it to my chili, so you’ll see that I use beef broth when I cook my beans and then I save it to add to my chili.

One of the most important ingredients in good chili is often underplayed, chili powder. I’ve learned that it does make a difference. If what you have has been in your cabinet for longer than a year, it needs to go. Courtesy of a certain food show I tried making my own, once, and only once. I had to order in the dried chilies I needed and by the time I got through, my eyes burned, my sinuses were clear and there was a fine dusting of powder all over my kitchen. I don’t have a favorite brand; I try different ones all the time. Not long ago when I was in Dallas to see my daughter I stopped in a little store and bought two different ones to try. The most important thing is that they are fresh.

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Chili is like a soup, stew or casserole, you have a lot of leeway in what you add or subtract to make it taste the way you want without really doing any harm to the dish overall. So use this recipe as a roadmap to the perfect dish for your family.


1 pound black beans (I like the Camellia brand, because they are small)

Beef broth

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3 pound chuck roast

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks of celery, cut into 3 long pieces and then chopped

2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced finely

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1 canned chipotle chile, chopped

1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and look over the beans (dried beans often have little pieces of debris in them). Place them in pot and cover by one inch with canned beef broth. Bring to a boil and then partially cover and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours, just until beans are tender. Drain the beans and set aside and save at least 2 cups of the liquid. Cut the roast into 1 inch chunks and dry well. Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large stockpot and when it is hot brown your meat. Don’t add it all at once or it will not brown as well. As it is done remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside. Then add your onion, celery and bell pepper to the oil and cook until it is tender and just beginning to caramelize, and then add in the minced garlic. Add the meat back into the pot; add the chili powder, oregano, cumin and coriander. Stir and cook for just a few minutes so that your garlic softens and the spices become fragrant.

Add the reserved beans, chipotle chili, salt and pepper to taste, the can of tomatoes with juice and enough of the reserved beef broth to cover by an inch, bring to a boil and then turn your heat down and let the mixture simmer for an hour to an hour and a half. As it simmers, stir it occasionally and add any of the reserved beef broth if you think it is too thick. When a friend of mine made this recipe she wanted a thicker chili so she added some tomato paste. At this point the meat should be tender; I remove the chunks, shred them and return them to the pot. Taste for seasoning. I sometimes add a little juice off of my jar of pickled jalapenos for just a touch of heat.

Serve with cornbread muffins or crackers. For garnish I set out diced pickled jalapenos, shredded cheese, sour cream and chopped green onions. Added benefit is this chili tastes even better the next day and freezes well. If you want to substitute ground meat for the roast you can.