One of my favorite meals growing up was my mom’s chunky chicken chili. A few months ago, I asked her if she had the recipe (or if she remembered where it was from), but no dice. In all likelihood, it was a throw-together meal that she made on repeat because it made me smile. And I think that’s just how chili should be—as fuss-free and crowd-pleasing as possible. Like my Big Little Bean Chili, this recipe hinges on sweet-tangy yellow onions and sorta-spicy poblanos. Some of them get diced super finely while the rest take a chunkier route, just like the chicken thighs. Canned tomatoes, water, and a knob of butter make up the sauce, which is spiced with chili powder. A no-no to some, but I love its convenience (no dried chili soaking! multiple spices in one blend!). And if you fry any chili powder in butter and chicken fat, you won’t believe how punchy and full its flavor becomes. Serve with sour cream or Greek yogurt, grated cheddar or Monterey-Jack, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, and/or wedges of avocado. —Emma Laperruque
Dice 1 onion as finely as possible. Chop the other in larger, ½-inch or so chunks. Dice 2 poblanos as finely as possible. Chop the remaining 3 in larger, ½-inch or so chunks. We’ll come back to these soon.
Chop chicken into 1-inch chunks. (Boneless, skinless chicken thighs can be sort of wonky and misshapen, so don’t worry about perfect cubes—just try to get them as even as possible.)
Add 2 tablespoons butter to a large, wide pot and set over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and the pan is very hot, add the chicken. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and let cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, until the bottoms are beginning to brown.
Give the chicken a toss with a wooden spoon, then add the chili powder. Stir to coat and cook for about 30 seconds, just to toast the chili powder.
Lower the heat to medium and add the finely diced onion and poblanos to the pan. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding small splashes of water as needed to prevent any scorching, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
Add the rest of the vegetables to the pan and season with another 1 teaspoon salt. Cook in the same way (stirring and watering as needed), for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
Add 1 ¼ cups water to the pan, then the can of tomatoes and their juices, crushing each tomato in your fist before you drop it in. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the consistency is as thick as you like it.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.