The Chili Variations — Sipping Chili

Chili Ristras

This is not Texas Chili, Green Chili, Red Chili, Red Chili-Chicken, Green Chili Pozole, Chili Bean Soup, or White Chili.  Look for those things elsewhere on this site.  If you’re looking for 5-Way Chili a la the American Midwest, California chili recipes that use more black pepper than actual chili peppers, and the odd, bastardized yankee versions of a soup called “chili” which have no relationship to actual chili — you’ve come to the wrong place.

(Recipe for SIPPING CHILI is at the bottom of this page.)

Under normal circumstances, chili — as a basic, stand-alone meal — is made of various meats (pork, beef, venison, turkey, chicken, bison, occasionally lamb — and even duck!) plus ground, flaked, chopped, or paste versions of chili peppers.  Usually New Mexico Reds, but also chipotle, Hatch green, poblano, jalapeño (red or green,) cayenne, Habanero — and combinations that include any of the dozens of Southwest US peppers.

We have the great Pendery’s company of Ft. Worth to thank for creating dried and powdered chili powder — a common ingredient in Texas cooking of all kinds.  If you visit their store or their online shop, you’ll find not only many different chili blends, varying from extremely sharp or acidic, to sweeter or hotter or milder or more “rounded” flavors.  You can also find the chili blends used by many of the winners of some of the more famous chili-cookoffs in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.   Chili blends use not only a special blend of chili powders, but also spices/herbs/etc. like cumino, cilantro, Mexican oregano, cardamom, thyme, epezote, onion, garlic, black pepper, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, mace, ginger, chives, scallions, and just about anything else you can think of.  Great chili recipes call for ingredients as wild and unexpected as CocaCola, chestnuts, and anchovies.  (None of which would be acceptable to me, but hey — use your best judgement.

Aside from those 2 basic ingredients, meat and chili peppers, almost everything else about chili is up for grabs.  Ideally — REALLY — chili made of meat and chili powder — whether onions and tomatoes (or anything else) has been added or not — should cook long enough for almost everything in the pot to dissolve into the thick broth (providing more thickening as it happens.)  In the end, what you serve should be a realllllly thick — almost puree’d looking (and yes, a stick blender is permissible) — bowl of deep, dark, red-brown.  Chunks of veggies and even chunks of meat — only distract from the real thing.

There are people who will point their loaded shotgun at you if you even mention beans (red beans, pinto beans, snakebite beans and small white beans or pink beans are the usual suspect in Southwest US chilis, but trust the yankees to try to slip in kidney beans or black-eyed peas….)  Always default to pintos if you’re unsure.

There are people who feel just as strongly about putting vegetables of any kind other than peppers in a pot of chili — including tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  But those guys are few and far between.  They tend to die-off as a species.  If you’re into adding weird and crazy additions to your chili, feel free to add summer squash, maroon carrots, shiitake mushrooms, any other peppers you’re fond of, scallions, sunflower seeds, dumplings, wingnuts, rubberbands — use your imagination.  But be sure to make it chili FIRST — then dress it up however you like.

Some people insist on using smoked and dried bits of home-made jerky in their chili.  This will work — and has a very distinctive flavor after the meat has reconstituted.  It takes a long time to cook — and is probably best suited as part of the chili-with-beans versions of the dish.

Some people also like to BBQ a beef brisket and/or pork tenderloin until it is butter-knife tender and then slice and shred it into a fine-bit melange that works as a thickener for the chili soup part of the recipe.  This makes a really tasty and unusual chili — one that my grandmother made all my life.  The long, 2-stage cooking process makes it less common — but a really good chili.  If you’ve got a couple of days and are really patient — this is a good way to go.

There are people who make a chili loaded with pig or beef fat.  This was pretty common a century ago when using a whole animal was important, and when the volume of fat had a lot to do with keeping food fresh — any of the pot that wasn’t eaten right away.  Today — if you use a 20-25% fat piece of meat, you’ll have a more old-fashioned chili; if you trim the fat to 10-12% — the dish will be leaner and more in keeping with modern tastes.

There are a variety of folks who use chili more as a condiment, sauce, or topping — and it tops anything from french fries, hash browns, and baked potatoes, to spaghetti/pasta, rice, grits, tortillas rolled around meat and cheese (enchiladas,) cornbread, hush puppies, fritos, hot dogs/hamburgers, tortilla chips, thick crusty bread or garlic bread, or sliced tomatoes/onions/meat etc.   All of those things are fine — and chili sauce/enchilada sauce is a really nice addition to a meal — but most of those are just inert carriers for the main attraction. –mixed metaphorically speaking.

But CHILI is normally so thick you can stand a spoon up in it for at least a few seconds before it sinks — thick with shredded or ground meat, and a thick liquid made almost entirely of dried chili powder/bits and a mixture of water, beef stock, strong coffee, beer, vinegar, tabasco sauce, pepper sauce, lemon or lime juice, tomato sauce, and/or tequilla.  — Kind of like a really hi-protein Bloody Mary.

It’s also possible to thicken chili — the most common thickener ingredient is Masa Harina — a fine grain corn/ flour blend (used to make soft flour tortillas) — but wheat flour, potato flour, dehydrated mashed potato flakes/buds, stone-ground grits, dehydrated pinto bean flakes/bean flour, cans of refried beans or bean dip, tomato paste, tapioca flour etc will also work.

In general, though — add more chili powder and/or cook your chili until it has reduced sufficiently, and your chili will be better than adding ingredients to thicken it.

There are a lot of people who just eat their chili straight.  A big bowl of red, a spoon, and a napkin.  There are others who top their chili with a variety of luscious toppings.  First and tops on the list of toppings is cheese.  Monterey jack.  Pepper jack.  Queso Fresco or queso blanco.  Mozerella.  Parmesean.  Asiago.  Cheddar — mild or sharp.  And — God forbid — Velveta (gag) Processed American Cheese Product.    Just as often, people add kernels of sweet corn that have been roasted, minced onion, caramelized onions, green onions, sliced fresh jalapenos, pickled jalapenos, salsa, pico di giyo, ketchup, Tabasco, green or kalamata olives, tortilla crumbs, chopped tomato, guacamole, sliced avocado, big chunks of grilled steak — use your imagination.  It’s all good.

New Mexico Red Chili Peppers


Having said all that, here is a soupier chili soup that makes for a less-rich, less-calorier-heavy dish — but maintains a lot of the southwest flavors that make this comfort food comfortable.  You can top it with sour cream, a scoop of guacamole, corn tortillas cut into strips, fritos or tortilla chips, crackers, crumbled cornbread — or just about anything else.

MAKES 8 — 1 1/2 cup servings

8 c beef broth (more if needed)
4 T mild-ish New Mexico Red Chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
dash cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1/2 t mexican oregano, rubbed
1/2 t black pepper finely ground
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 t brown sugar
1/3 c finely chopped red onion
1/3 c finely chopped poblano pepper
1 c diced tomatoes (fresh, no seeds)
1/2 c Bloody Mary Mixer (I like Mr. & Mrs. T’s)
1 c cooked pinto beans (drained, if using canned beans)
1 c finely diced or grated potato
1/2 c whole kernel corn (frozen or canned, no liquid)
1/4 c instant grits
2 T corn oil
1 — 1oz shot tequila
1 — 1oz shot Southern Comfort 80Proof
4 oz dark beer (if that doesn’t use up a bottle, drink the rest, or use it to make some beer-bread)

  • Saute onions in corn oil
  • Add all other vegetables and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes — until some of the water has evaporated from them.
  • Splash in the liquor/beer and cook off the alcohol (you can add additional tequila or any other liquor to individual servings at the end if you choose, but it’s not really necessary….  😀 )
  • Add all remaining ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for at least 1 hour.

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