Recipe first published Jan. 31, 2008. Updated May 2011.
Who doesn’t love chili? And what hunter doesn’t love venison chili? This is my version of this classic dish. Chili has endless variations: Beans or no beans? Ground meat or chunks? Or no meat at all? Tomato products or no tomato products? Add coffee? Chocolate? Cinnamon?
In fact, so far as I can tell, the only things that really must be in chili to make it chili are red peppers of some sort, cumin, and onions.
My version hinges on ground venison, but I’ve made it with all kinds of meats, even ground turkey. You can use any meat here. If you are a vegetarian, use lots of different dried mushrooms instead of meat.
What makes my chili unique is the huge amount of dried chiles I use. I will typically use 12-16 dried chiles of all sorts, reconstituted and then pureed with a cup of weak coffee to make the backbone of the dish. My advice is to use at least 4 kinds of chiles, and not all of them should be super hot. I like a mix of ancho, chipotle, guajillo, chile negro, chile mulato, cascabel, New Mexican and pasilla chiles. As you get to know these chiles — some are smoky, some hot, some sweet — you can adjust the mix to your taste.
This is my version of this classic dish. It does involve several items you don’t normally see in chili, like molasses and coffee, but I’ve been modifying this recipe over the years to the point where this is what I like. Serve this over rice or polenta, garnished with cilantro and maybe some Mexican queso seco, jack cheese or American cheddar.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 3 hours
- 1 pound pinto beans or kidney beans
- 4 each, dried ancho, guajillo, pasilla, cascabel, mirasol or mulato chiles
- 1/2 pound bacon
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 habanero, fresh, if they’re in season
- 2 pounds ground venison or ground beef
- 1 pound sausage, taken out of skin and broken up (venison or pork is fine)
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or one small can
- 1 cup of weak coffee
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- Beef or venison broth (have a quart ready)
- At least 2 tablespoons salt
- Cilantro and shredded cheese to garnish
- Soak beans in water overnight. If you have forgotten this, pour boiling water over them and soak for 4 hours, changing the water after 2 hours. Break up and seed the chiles and cover with boiling water. Let stand for an hour or so. Grind to a thick puree, adding about 1 cup of the soaking water and the coffee.
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
- Chop bacon and fry over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other large, lidded, oven-proof pot. Once the bacon is crispy, remove it and set aside.
- Add the meat and brown over high heat. You want the highest heat on your most powerful burner here, because the meat will want to steam and stew and not brown. Stir occasionally.
- Once all the meat is browned, add onion to the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Return half the bacon to the pot. Add garlic, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the beans, paprika, cumin, coriander and salt one at a time, stirring to combine each time.
- Add chile puree and tomato paste and stir to combine well. Add chopped tomatoes, molasses and enough beef broth to cover everything – you want it to be stew-like, not thin like a soup. I typically need at least a pint of broth, sometimes a quart.
- Stir to combine all this well, plunk the lid on and bake in the oven for at least 3 hours. Check after 2 hours to see if you need more salt and broth, and to see how the beans are doing. If you have the habanero, this is the time to add it.
- When the beans are tender, take out of the oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Serve with your grain of choice, and top with cilantro, cheese and some of the crispy bacon pieces.