This comforting chili is packed with layer after layer of flavor. Smoky roasted peppers and garlic mingle with rich tomatillos, silky beans and tender chicken for a complex but familiar flavor. Poblano peppers, known best for chiles rellenos, lead the way with soft, savory heat.
This recipe is not just chili. This is THE Chili.
This is The Chili people will ask after year-round, and long after that.
The reason this chili is soooooo-so-so-so-so-so good is because it has so many layers of flavor. We’re not just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping they turn into something good. We’re using techniques to make sure we get extra flavor packed in at every step.
This is a fairly complex recipe in terms of flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult! It just means it takes some time and patience. It’s not fancy, it’s made with love.
And it’s unbelievably good.
Chili, as you likely know, is a Mexican dish. But, in terms of technique, it can technically be considered a ragout. Makes sense since both are known as slow-simmering, legendary, magnum opuses in countless households. Ritualized and handed down. These dishes aren’t just dinner; they’re events in and of themselves.
Truly painful to watch. TEARS.
Both chili and ragout originated as a way to turn tough cuts of meat and other abundant ingredients into something people would actually want to eat, or more accurately, something people beg for. It’s evolved quite a bit over time and space, and there’s so much variation. I personally use four separate recipes for different moods, occasions and time constraints.
Good chili comes down to a feeling for me.
When I take a bite—no matter where I actually am—I want to feel like I’m sitting by a fire, under a blanket, surrounded by my favorite people. I want it to be warming and smoky. Thick and rich. Complex and comforting. I want tangy pieces of vegetables, savory-smooth bites of beans and soft, tender bits of meat.
We’ve smelled this labor of love cooking for hours, mouths watering, and we’ve earned it. With our patience if nothing else.
So what makes this chili embody that feeling?
- Tomatillos and chili peppers are both rich in pectin (the thing that makes jams jiggle), so they make for a thick, gravy-like sauce. That’s one of the things that makes this chili so rich and comforting.
- We take advantage of the maillard browning reaction that happens when you sear things, both on the chicken itself and in the bottom of the pan. The chicken also cooks in the simmering pot, so the inside stays tender and falls apart further after we chop it.
- ROASTED PEPPERS. As I’ve said in my tutorial on roasting peppers, roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin, enhances sweetness, both the flavor and the texture get richer, and while the flavor intensifies, the piquancy softens. Oh, and this goes double for green peppers, which aren’t ripe.
- Roasted GARLIC. Ditto. Ditto.
- White and light red kidney beans are like turning silk pillows in a bite of chili. You’re still warm and cozy, but you need smooth, cool respite.
- India Pale Ale adds a pleasantly hoppy punch that balances out the savory-sweet flavors and heat we’ve built. It’s bitter in a fruity way, like grapefruit. Trust me, you want it there.
Get ready. I’m about to walk into a fire much hotter than roasted poblanos.
As with most beloved things, people have some opinions on chili.
Some keywords here: authenticity, purist, genuine, classic, never, always, must… you get the idea.
Depending on who you ask, chili with tomatoes isn’t chili. Chili should NEVER have beans. Chili isn’t made with ground beef. I’m honestly not sure where they stand on chicken chili or chili verde (which is what this is, for the record).
Personally, I don’t care as long as it tastes good.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate authenticity for what it is. It’s fun to try foods as they originated, and to compare them to what they’ve evolved into, or how it’s translated into a different region/culture/family/etc. I admire people who resist the temptation to complicate things or change to please a broader audience. I’ll travel for that experience (or at the very least, turn on the Food Network).
That said, I think it sucks when people turn their nose up at other versions of food just because it’s not the original. If we stuck to the original on everything, every time, food would get real boring, real fast. If an iteration strays too far, we’ll just name it accordingly.
This chili is not authentic. It has beans. White ones. The base is made of roasted tomatillos. I didn’t travel to Mexico and get a recipe from somebody’s great-grandmother (and if I did I would credit it to her!). This was just me deciding one day I was going to try making green chicken chili instead of red, picking ingredients I thought would be good, and coaxing them into giving me all the qualities I want in my bowl.
Feel free to decide this isn’t chili if that’s your thing. But you should probably try it anyway. Let me know if you have suggestions for what to call my not chili. I won’t use them, but you’re welcome to.
If you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot looking for something for dinner tonight—so hungry you could eat a moose—this is not the recipe for today. Seriously! Bookmark it for a day when you have plenty of time, and move on to something simpler for tonight. How about some nice chicken paillard instead?
One more time for the people in the back! Don’t rush this one. Set aside an afternoon.
It’s so worth it. I promise.
1. So you don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend making this.
2. So you don’t spend half an hour in the grocery store looking for pre-roasted peppers and garlic. For the record, you can buy roasted red peppers, but they are usually in brine or oil, which changes the texture and taste, and that doesn’t really work in this recipe.
Remember, patience is a virtue.
What’s your favorite chili ever? Is it a family recipe? From a chili-fest? Comment and let me know! I’m open to chili of all kinds (I think…).
As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you’re struggling with in the kitchen? I’d love to help you out if I can, but I won’t know until you ask.
If this recipe seems like it has too many moving parts to pull off, I get it. But if it sounds good to you, I’d really love to see you try it! I may be able to help you out with that.
The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here.
Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it.