Tips for Better Chilli Con Carne

We’re finally getting into cold weather and the change in temperature is delightful!  It makes the house seem cozier, the brisk morning air is stimulating and we can dive into plates and bowls of heavy winter food.  Despite the much more limited availability of local ingredients in the winter, these are the months that are most suited to my natural cooking style and many of my food cravings.

Cravings like chilli.

Before the recipe, here’s a few tips (from my perspective) on making better chilli:

  • Really trust your taste buds.  Recipes are good starting points but taste it and see what you think.
  • Consider different combinations of meat (ie. lamb and beef, pork and venison, turkey and chicken)
  • Consider different cuts of meat – it doesn’t have to be all ground!  Coarsely chopped chuck and pulled meat are great additions to chilli.
  • Assuming my recipe is non-vegetarian, almost all of my flavor is added to my meat as I sear it.  This will char some of the spices and add even more flavor.  Use more seasoning than you’re comfortable with – the meat should taste way too strong if you were to sample it before cooking.
  • Use dry or fresh beans (not canned) as you can control the texture far more than those in a can.  if you use canned beans, add them at the very end.
  • Cook your beans separately from the chilli and add them at the end.  This will ensure that they have some bite and don’t become pure mush.
  • If you are going to use different types of beans, consider my ultimate trick for cooking the best dried beans in town.
  • Consider cooking the beans in stock (or a 50-50 mixture of stock and water).  It will add to the expense – but also the flavor.  Salt them as they cook.
  • Reserve any extra cooking fluid from your beans and consider using some (or all) of it in your chilli.  It is FULL of bean flavor and washing it down the drain just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It’s ok if it’s a gross colour – it will darken (but not blacken) your sauce.
  • Oven roasting the sauce (preferably in a covered pot or dutch oven) allows the entire sauce to receive even heat (as opposed to the bottom of the pan).  This ‘roasting’ process will add a robust layer of flavor (I’ve heard it compared to sun-dried tomatoes – but it’s not as intense).
  • Consider adding a flavor/texture layer in the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking.  As an example; finely chop an onion and/or some celery and lightly cook it (just enough to make it ‘not raw’) with butter and/or olive oil or toss onion and/or celery into your beans as they cool and wait to be added into your sauce.  This will add more flavor and increase the different textures in your dish.

We’ll share a recipe for chilli con carne with ground pork and pulled venison tomorrow.

What tips would you add to the list above?

  1. Recently our secret to chili is starting with leftover bolognese. We add a few beans, some cumin, ground chiles, a pinch of cocoa and coffee and let it cook in the slow cooker awhile. It’s become my husband’s favorite way to “make” chili.