Chicken Chili II (Updated Version)

Recipes change over time.  As we spend more time in the kitchen and become better cooks, we learn new things; as we learn new things, we incorporate them into the dishes we already know how to make.  That’s ultimately how a dish becomes “ours” – when we’ve come to know it so well through years of making it that is truly our own.  In my mind, though, even when a dish has become “ours” it has never reached perfection – and even after nearly 20 years, I’m still learning new things.
This has the same ingredient list (with the addition of 3 TBSP of flour, a couple of other spices, and some celery) as my original recipe, but the ingredients are treated differently and cooked differently to maximize depth of flavor.  The primary difference is that this method involves browning the chicken breasts first along with a spice mixture whereas in the original the chicken is not browned and the spices are dumped in just prior to adding the broth and reducing liquid.
This is how I’m making my chili these days:

The Prep time in this dish is a bit long since there’s a lot of chopping involved; use a sharp knife to make things a bit easier.  As always, give yourself a good head start on the prep.  If you have, say, 15 extra minutes, roast your chiles (only the Hatch/Anaheim ones) ahead of time.  It will bring out their sweet smokey spicy flavor.

Time: 60 – 90 Minutes
Level: Easy
Cost: $6-8/plate
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 breasts)
  • 3 TBSP flour
  • 3 TBSP cumin powder (you read that right, it’s not a typo, I mean Tablespoons)
  • 1 TBSP paprika
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 TBSP vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish or yellow onion
  • 4 jalepeño peppers, stems and seeds removed, minced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced (about 3 stalks)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 TBSP (about half a bunch, not including stems) fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 4 Hatch Chile Peppers (Anaheim Chile Peppers will also work), roasted and peeled (optional), diced.  Note:  Alternatively, pre-diced, canned green chilies work fine as well – you’ll need 3, 3.5oz cans 
  • 1-2 tsp hot sauce (or to taste, optional – I use Dave’s Insanity Sauce because I like it spicy!)
  • 1  can/box (32oz) of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cans (14oz each) white beans (NOT cannellini!), drained.
  • Optional: For serving – tortilla strips, corn bread, sour cream, shredded Mexican Cheese

Optional Preparation Step (not required but it makes a big difference): 

chilesRoast your Hatch/Anaheim chiles over high heat on the grill, or under a broiler set on high – I do mine on the grill over Mesquite wood.  Wait for the skins to blister and are mostly blackened (yes, don’t be afraid to burn them, that skin is coming off anyhow), then flip and repeat on the opposite sides.  Once thoroughly roasted, place them in an airtight container (Tupperware, or simply a large bowl with a plate on top)- this will steam them in their own heat.  After about 20 minutes, remove the chiles from the container and transfer to a cutting board.  Peel the skins off and remove seeds and stems; if you blackened your chiles well, the skins should come off quite easily; if not, you can try peeling them under cold running water.  Consider using rubber gloves for the peeling process if you’re using Hatch Chiles- hot pepper hands are the worst!

 

Main Preparation Instructions

  1. Dice onion, jalepeños, green bell pepper and celery; combine in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Mince garlic and chop cilantro – combine and reserve in a small size bowl and set aside.
  3. Dice Hatch (or Anaheim) chiles and reserve in a separate bowl (or open cans thereof).
  4. Open two cans of white beans, drain.
  5. Get chicken broth ready.
  6. In a large tossing or mixing bowl, add chicken breasts (whole).  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.  Add flour, cumin, paprika, cayenne, a pinch of kosher salt and a few generous grinds of fresh black pepper.  Toss to coat again.

Cooking Instructions

In a large stock-pot (or very large skillet or saucepan), add vegetable and olive oil and heat over medium heat.  When oil is hot and shimmering, but not quite smoking,  Carefully add 2 -3 of the coated chicken breasts and brown, 3-4 minutes on each side, without overcrowding the pan – you will probably need to work in batches.  Once all the chicken breasts are nicely browned, remove them from the pan and transfer to a carving board (note I did not say cutting board).  The chicken does not need to be cooked through at this point.  You will now have a beautiful, spicy fond on the bottom of your pan.

Lower the heat and add onion, celery, green bell pepper and jalapeño peppers to the pot (make sure the pan isn’t too hot when you do this).  Sauté over medium heat, stirring to prevent burning.

Note:  If you don’t have a lot of experience gauging how hot the pan is, you can test it by dropping ONE tiny piece of the diced onion into the pan.  If it sizzles loudly, crackles, or jumps out of the pot spattering hot oil everywhere, it’s too hot.  The onion should only react slightly.  If it turns out it’s too hot, remove the pan from the heat for a minute or two until it cools down a bit.

As the vegetables sweat out their moisture, scrape up the fond in the bottom of the pan and incorporate into the mixture.

Once vegetables have sweat out most of their moisture and most of the fond is incorporated, carefully add the cilantro and garlic to the mixture.  Continue to sauté until very fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

 

Add Hatch/Anaheim Chiles and hot sauce, if using.  Stir well to combine and lower the heat to low, stirring occasionally to allow flavors to marry, 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, while flavors are marrying, dice chicken breasts into cubes on cutting board (this may be a bit messy due to liquid having been released, so use a cutting board to catch the juices).

Add chicken to pot, along with any juices accumulated on the cutting board.

Add chicken broth and beans and stir well to combine – there should be enough liquid to cover everything in the pot once it’s been stirred together.  If there isn’t, add a bit of water until everything is covered by at least 1/4 inch of liquid.

Cover, and bring to a rolling boil.

Remove cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer down, 1 hr and 20 minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved.  Stir occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  If a lot of fat begins to accumulate on the top, you may wish to skim some of it off.  (Now is a good time to crack open a beer).

Just prior to serving, turn the heat off and stir continuously for 10 minutes, or until your arms fall off.  This will make it so that the chili is cool enough to eat; it also will break down the chicken into nice ‘strings’ giving it the consistency of pulled chicken.  It also aids in the final thickening to give it that nice chili texture.

Serve with Tortilla strips, sour cream, cheese and cornbread.

 

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