I never liked chili much growing up. It always seemed (and smelled) to me like the lid fell off the chili powder so somebody just said, “Eh,” and kept cooking. But I’ve finally realized that, like all classics, there are just an awful lot of bad ones out there. They’re either bland or over-seasoned, the beans are either overcooked or undercooked, and the whole thing is seemingly just a vehicle for the cheese and sour cream that inevitably accompany it to the table.
But have you ever had a really good chili? The kind where the spices are balanced and layered with the peppers in such a way that you know you have a bowl of chili in front of you, but you’re not overwhelmed by the heat? And, without sacrificing any of this marvelous flavor, one that is also quite healthful? Might as well hunt unicorn in Never-Never land.
But I think I have one of them here, folks, and I’m shouting it from the rooftops. Leave it to the angels at Cook’s Illustrated to have their finger on the pulse of this problem — and the method for solving it is pretty genius, if you ask me.
The secret to this one is pureeing a portion of the vegetables with a portion of the beans in a food processor and then adding it to the rest of the soup. This causes the beans to release their starches and thicken the chili naturally as it cooks — which means we get to dip into a big bowl of hearty and healthy. And it also means that you can totally make that batch of cornbread and salted honey butter to serve on the side. Trust me, it’s the right thing to do.
Green Chile Chicken Chili
Adapted, barely, from Cook’s Illustrated
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, or other neutral cooking oil
3 poblano peppers, rough chopped
3 anaheim peppers, rough chopped
3 jalapenos, diced
1 large yellow onion, rough chopped
6 medium (or about 4 large) cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
2 cans cannellini beans (14.5 oz), drained and rinsed
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 3 limes)
4-6 scallions, sliced thin
Place a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the grapeseed oil and heat until the oil shimmers. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place half of the thighs in the pan. Sear on both sides until slightly golden, then remove them from the pan to a plate and reserve. Repeat with remaining chicken thighs.
While the chicken is searing, place the peppers, onion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (it should have the consistency of really chunky salsa). When all the chicken is removed from the pan, add the vegetable mixture (don’t wash the bowl of the food processor — we’re coming back for it in a minute!) along with the cumin, coriander and about a teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low, then cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Remove the pot from the heat.
Transfer 1 cup of the cooked vegetable mixture to the food processor, along with 1 cup of beans and 1 cup of chicken stock. Process on high speed until completely smooth.
Return the pot to the burner over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable/bean mixture and the remaining stock and bring to a boil. Add the chicken back to the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pot and add the remaining beans. Remove the chicken and slice into bite sized pieces. Simmer uncovered an additional 10 minutes, until the beans are cooked through and the chili has thickened slightly. Stir in the lime juice and scallions. Taste for seasoning and season with salt, pepper and/or additional lime juice as needed.
Garnish with additional scallions and sour cream, if desired.