I don't know about you, but I've tried a zillion chili recipes in my life, and none of them has become The One.
You know, The One you immediately think of when you want to make chili.
The One Thanksgiving dinner rolls, which are SO good I make them every week.
But The One chili?
It's been elusive.
Until I discovered this Oven-Baked Chili recipe on our site – and immediately changed it.
After all, "can't leave well enough alone" is the banner we test kitchen bakers wave.
Our favorite mantra? "What if..."
And this chili recipe was no exception. It calls for a can of tomato paste – not something I usually stock.
It also lists a cup of water. Hmmmm... tomato paste + water = spaghetti sauce? Or even better, what if I use black bean salsa, more in keeping with the theme?
The recipe also calls for baking the chili in the oven. But why heat up my entire oven, when I can plug in my energy-friendly slow cooker?
Bottom line: follow the recipe as written. Or try what I've done here in this blog post. Or do your own thing.
Whatever path you choose, you'll end up with a big pot of delicious chili, starring big chunks of beef (rather than hamburg), green pepper, sweet onion, and just the right spice.
As noted, I'll be using a slow cooker here. But if you want to bake the stew in the oven, or simmer it slowly on the stove top, start with a large pot or Dutch oven – as opposed to the shallow skillet you'll see in the photos below.
In a large skillet, brown 2 pounds cubed beef in oil, in batches if necessary, and drain it well. Use stew beef, or your own favorite cut.
Add 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) chopped onion (about half a large sweet or Vidalia onion), and cook until the onion is soft.
(You might notice I forgot to sauté the onions while I was making this batch of chili, and simply added them to the pot along with the rest of the ingredients; no big deal.)
Transfer the beef and onions to your slow cooker. If you're going to bake in the oven or simmer over a burner, just leave them in the large pot you've started with. Add the following:
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups (15 ounces) chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
6-ounce can tomato paste*
1 cup diced fresh green bell pepper (about 1 medium pepper)
2 tablespoons dried cilantro (optional, but good)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
up to 4 tablespoons sugar, to taste, optional; cuts the acidity of the tomatoes
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper, cayenne pepper, or a few dashes hot sauce, optional
1 tablespoon cornmeal
*As previously mentioned, I've substituted an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce for the paste. I've also subbed a cup of black bean salsa - YUM.
Stir to combine. If you're using a slow cooker, place the removable bowl of your slow cooker, with its stew, into the microwave. Heat for about 5 minutes, stirring midway through, until everything is somewhere between warm and hot.
Add enough hot water (or beef, chicken, or vegetable broth) to come close to covering the meat. You don't need to cover it entirely, as the meat and vegetables will create their own juices as the chili cooks. Note: If you've used tomato sauce or salsa in place of tomato paste, you may not need to add much water at all.
Cover the slow cooker or pot. Simmer the chili until the meat is tender; the time for this will vary anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the cut of meat you've chosen, and how you're cooking it. I find it takes about 3 hours in my slow cooker set on high; and about 2 hours in a preheated 275°F oven. I haven't tried simmering the chili on the stove, but I imagine it would take a slightly shorter amount of time than cooking in a slow cooker.
Stir the chili after 1 hour, adding a bit of beef stock or water if it seems dry. Continue to simmer while you make the corn muffins.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup standard muffin pan; or line the pan with papers, and grease the papers.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the following:
1 3/4 cups (7 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
*For Southern-style cornbread, reduce the sugar; or eliminate it entirely.
In another bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the following:
1 1/4 cups milk
1 large egg
Add this all at once to the flour mixture, stirring quickly and gently just until combined.
Stir in 1/2 cup melted butter.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. For muffins, fill the cups about 3/4 full; a level to very slightly heaped muffin scoop is just the right amount.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the muffins are set, or the bread baked in a pan is starting to pull away from the sides. A toothpick inserted into the center of either a muffin, or the pan of bread, will come out clean.
Remove the muffins or bread from the oven. I like to tilt muffins in the pan as soon as I take them out of the oven, so their bottoms don't steam and become soggy.
Half an hour before serving, stir in 1 can (15 ounces) dark red kidney beans or black beans, well-drained.
If the stew isn't as thick as you like, thicken it with a bit of flour stirred with enough water to make it pourable.
At last! Hot chili, warm muffins... and a lovely fall day to enjoy them both.