I went on a chili tirade the other day. After tasting a bowl that was more baked beans than chili, I reasoned that ‘real’ chili recipes must come from the American Southwest. Other regions don’t seem to understand that part of the beauty of chili is its simplicity.
My dad is the family chili maker. No one else dares make a pot because his is practically perfect. Digging through my maternal grandmother’s recipe box I realized that, at some point, she had asked for dad’s chili recipe. Now, my grandmother was known for brevity in her recipes – ingredients like butter and sugar were often bracketed with the single direction ‘cream’ next to them. I can’t imagine she expected the “recipe” she received.
That’s right, my dad’s chili recipe has no amounts, no directions. He, like so many skilled individuals, typically cooks by sense rather than instruction. When pressed, he’ll say something like “Oh, a pound or two of ground beef. About three cans of beans.” But it’s all ‘to taste,’ really. I knew I was getting somewhere with cooking when dad gave me a spoonful and asked if I thought it needed anything. The spices have changed, as I’ve added to his pantry over the years, but the recipe is still the same.
I wouldn’t even try to make my dad’s chili – no one will ever be able to make it like dad. So, instead, I’ve come up with my own recipe. It’s loosely inspired by Cincinnati chili (which has always intrigued me, despite never having been to Cincinnati) but is also inspired by my job, my tastes, and (with ground bison) my city.
The Patriots come to the Mile High City this weekend. The city is awash in orange and blue. Despite not being a serious football fan, I will be watching the game and cheering on the home team…probably with a bowl of chili.
This recipe is a bit richer than my dad’s version, with lean bison and cocoa powder. The wine adds body and a fruity, acidic hint. It’s chili that’s ready for a celebration – ready for a win.
Oh, and I take back that tirade. While not particularly complicated, my chili is far from traditional. But it is pretty delicious. Cheers!
Mile High Skyline Chili
1 tbsp. neutral cooking oil
2 yellow onions, divided and chopped
4 cloves garlic, divided and chopped
1 lb. ground bison*
1/4 c. chili powder
1 tbsp. natural cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 tbsp. honey
1 can tomato paste
375 ml. (about 1 1/2 cups) full bodied red wine
2 cans black, pinto, or kidney beans (I used a “Tri-Bean” blend of black, pinto, and kidney)
Pico de Gallo
*Note: Beef can be substituted for a milder flavor.
Directions: In a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid, heat oil over medium until oil is shimmering. Saute 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves garlic just until they begin to turn translucent. Add bison and cook just until meat begins to brown. Add chili powder, cocoa, and honey, stirring until thoroughly combined (about 1 minute). Stir in tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes. Stir in wine, beans, half of the remaining onion, and the remaining garlic. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove lid. Simmer for an additional 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat as needed to prevent chili from burning.
Remove from heat. Cool and refrigerate if desired. To heat, return to stove over medium low, stirring frequently.
Serve with remaining 1/2 onion and any desired garnishes.