Serious Eats: the Best Chili Ever

I never grew up with chili, but I understand that there are some Very Strong Opinions out there about what makes a “true” or “authentic” chili. Fortunately, what I primarily care about is whether I get a delicious meal out of my efforts. Authenticity comes a distant second, if it figures into my plan at all, because I know how much cross-pollination happens in cooking due to commerce, war, and other intermingling. For instance, tomatoes are a food cultivated in the New World, yet figure prominently in “traditional” Mediterranean and Northern Indian cooking…but I’m sure not going to tell a Greek that their horiatiki salata is bogus.

I had a few pounds of venison that needed a treatment different from my usual stifado, and this time around, I decided chili was going to be it. When I want to make a new dish with a high likelihood of ending up with a tasty result, the first place I check is the Serious Eats website. I was not disappointed; Kenji has published one of his usual exceedingly thorough writeups on the topic here.

If you opt not to read the writeup, then here are the basics a great chili needs per Kenji:

  • A rich, complex chili flavor that combines sweet, bitter, hot, fresh, and fruity elements in balance
  • A robust, meaty, beefy flavor
  • If using beans, beans that are tender, creamy, and intact
  • A thick, deep red sauce

Below is my adaptation of the recipe, which involves some changes to make it appropriate for my situation. I put the ingredients for the chili sauce base in their own group to reduce the intimidation factor of the ingredients list. I also made some small substitutions to avoid going on a treasure hunt for ingredients I don’t keep on hand, since I knew from experience what substitutions worked. Finally, I have an Instant Pot and I’m so past spending hours at the stovetop when I don’t have to, so what started out as a stovetop recipe is now a pressure cooker recipe.

For the original recipe, go here.

Print Recipe
Serious Eats: the Best Chili Ever -- adapted
Course Main Dish
Cuisine North American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 90 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine North American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 90 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Add beans, 2 L water, and 3 tbsp salt to pressure cooker and cook at Normal pressure for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toast dried chili peppers in a dry pan until fragrant, then set aside.
  3. Season venison with salt and pepper, then add cooking fat to your frying pan and brown venison well. Set aside, and reserve any fat.
  4. Deglaze frying pan with 1 cup broth, then add toasted chili peppers and cook until softened. Transfer pan contents to blender, then add the remaining ingredients from the "chili sauce base" ingredients group, and purée until smooth.
  5. Set Instant Pot to Sauté mode, then add about 4 tbsp cooking fat to liner. When fat is hot, add onion and cook until translucent, stirring well. Add garlic, Thai chili (or jalapeno) pepper, and oregano, and cook until fragrant.
  6. Add chili puree to Instant Pot liner, then add beans, beef, chicken stock, bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, and vinegar. Seal Instant Pot and set to Meat/Stew setting, then allow to run the full cycle and release pressure naturally, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
  7. Remove and discard bay leaves, then add vodka/bourbon, hot sauce, and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and/or vinegar.
  8. Serve as is or with toppings like minced green onion, shredded Cheddar, sour cream, minced jalapeño pepper, diced red onion, diced avocado...
Recipe Notes
  • Use homemade soup stock when available
  • Use flavourful cooking fat (e.g. bacon drippings) when possible
  • Start with whole spices when you can; toast them in a dry frying pan, then grind them
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