Make Ahead

Research Chili

January 31, 2012
Author Notes

The fact of the matter is, I have never made chili before. Before this, I was only vaguely aware of the rules surrounding the dish—beans vs. no beans, what cut of meat to use, what variety of chili pepper….and so on. I arrived at this recipe the same way any self-respecting nerd would have: I read everything I could get my hands on. I read J. Kenji López-Alt’s “How To Make The Best Chili Ever,” where I learned that there are a plethora of chili peppers, but not all are created equally when it comes to chili brewing. I read Smittenkitchen’s handful of recipes on the subject, and learned that adding a little cocoa powder helps deepen the flavor. Finally, I asked my Aunt Martha (of Cranberry Cake fame). She told me to sauté the aromatics in rendered bacon fat and suggested I throw some lamb into the mix. She also recommended the goat-cheddar topping, which suits the chili marvelously. Here are some things I learned on my own: using canned beans does not make you a bad person. Also, chili splatters when heated. Maybe this doesn’t surprise you? If you are cooking with no pants on, it is possible you will get burned, and then feel like an idiot. You’ve been warned. —Cristina Sciarra

Test Kitchen Notes

I couldn't stop eating this chili! The ingredient list is a long one, but all those extra notes of spice and flavor combine into a complex chili with just the right balance of heat, sweet, and savory. Definitely don't skip the goat cheddar -- it really made a difference.

  • Makes 1 large pot full
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil, divided
  • 7 pieces of applewood smoked bacon, thinly sliced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 4 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons Rye whiskey
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground lamb leg
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 clove
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 serrano chili, halved, seeded and sliced
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black coffee
  • 1 ¼ cups dark stout beer
  • 1 square dark chocolate, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • sea salt, black pepper
  • scallions, sliced
  • goat-cheddar cheese, grated
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Rub the garlic cloves with a little olive oil and roast for 20 minutes, or until soft.
  2. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon, in batches if you have to, so as not to crowd. Cook for about 5 minutes, until crispy, and then set the bacon aside. (You want about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; remove any excess.)
  3. Add the onion. After a few minutes, add the carrot and then the celery until they start to soften. (This should take about 15 minutes.) Add the brown sugar, and then the Rye, and stir to combine.
  4. Add the meat. After a minute or two, add the cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne, mint, nutmeg, parsley, dried thyme, basil, clove, mustard and the garlic, and stir into the meat. Stir in the serrano chili. Cook until the meat is no longer red.
  5. Add the tomato paste, the cider vinegar, the coffee, the stout and the chocolate; stir to combine. Add the bay leaves. Raise the heat, to reduce the beer a little. After a few minutes, add the crushed tomatoes, the kidney beans, the fresh thyme and the chicken stock. Add back the bacon.
  6. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for about an hour. (Check it after 30 minutes–if it looks a little dry, you can add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock or water.) Check the seasonings, and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
  7. Serve the chili topped with the scallions and the goat-cheddar cheese.

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Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at