On a cold winter day, there isn’t much better than a bowl of thick, flavorful chili. There are various regional versions of chili, and arguments over whether or not beans or tomatoes belong in it. Many people have a special ingredient that they think makes their chili, “The Best.”
The bottom line is that there is no single way to make it. I learned to make chili by watching my Mom. Her version was a fairly common one. Brown a pound of ground beef and diced onion. Add two cans of diced tomatoes and a can of red kidney beans. Season with chili powder, salt, and black pepper. It was good and definitely was easy to make.
Over the years, I have learned how layers of flavor can really add complexity to a dish as simple as chili can be. Having lived in different areas of the country and talked with many people about what they think makes chili, I have figured out a basic recipe that I use to provide multiple textures, flavors, and as much heat as is appropriate for the people who are going to eat it.
I like the texture that ground meat brings to chili, but instead of ground beef, I like to use a mildly spicy chorizo. To that, I use an equal amount of beef, diced into 1/4″ cubes. I find that this mix provides a combination of textures that is better than just ground meat. For a pot of chili, I typically use one pound of beef and one pound of chorizo.
To the meat, I add four cups of diced yellow onion, six cloves of minced garlic, and eight serrano peppers. The serrano peppers are the ingredient that determines how spicy the chili ends up being. If I remove the seeds and ribs from the peppers, they are milder.
While the meat, onions, garlic, and serranos are sauteeing, I add 2 tablespoons of pimenton, 1 tablespoon of chipotle powder, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, and salt and black pepper to taste. This is also the time when I roast poblano and red bell peppers in the oven (6-8 of each, depending on size).
Once the peppers are done roasting, I put them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap to help the skins loosen. I then peel and deseed the peppers before dropping them into the blender. The peppers are pureed and then added to the pot with the meat and other vegetables. Once I have stirred the pepper puree into the rest of the ingredients, I leave the pot over low heat for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors meld together.
For serving, I like to slice up a scallion or two and sprinkle them over the top of a bowl. Some people like to add shredded cheese or a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche. Those dairy ingredients can temper some of the heat if necessary.