There’s good chili and then there’s even better chili. The tips in this list are what we consider best practices for even better chili. While chili is about as personal and subjective as it gets, everyone can benefit from the wisdom of these tips. So know them, learn them, and may a better pot of chili be yours.
1. Make your own chili seasoning.
Those packets of pre-mixed chili seasoning sure are convenient, but when it comes to the robust, full flavor your chili deserves, they leave a lot to be desired. One of the absolute best (and simplest) things you can do for a really good pot of chili is to make your own chili seasoning. This spice blend will determine the overall flavor and heat level of the chili. At its most basic, it’s a mixture of ground chilies and other seasonings like garlic powder and oregano, and you can use as much or as little as you like to make a batch of chili just the way you like it.
2. Always bloom the spices.
Just as important as the spices you add to your chili is when you add them. To pull the maximum amount of flavor from the spices, always add them to the pot to bloom early on in cooking. This means mixing the spices in the pot with some hot oil and letting them cook for about a minute. You can also add the spices when browning meat or sautéing vegetables, but it should always happen in the presence of fat before any liquid is added to the pot for the best results.
3. Double down with contrasting texture.
Picture your ideal bowl of chili. Whether it’s made with meat or not, it’s full of texture, isn’t it? That’s because an even better chili is dynamic from its flavor all the way down to the texture of the stew. If you’re making a meat-based chili, then consider ground meat the first step in making a good pot of chili. But to make it really great, you’ll also want to add some cubes of seared beef. With a rich, caramelized exterior and fork-tender texture, these cubes are like little treasures hidden beneath the surface of your stew.
For recipes excluding the meat, consider the addition of roasted vegetables —sweet potato and squash are our top picks — or a medley of beans and legumes. Our vegan chili has tender and creamy red lentils alongside more toothsome kidney and black beans.
4. Add some acidity at the end.
Long slow cooker braises, like chili, can be flat and heavy both in taste and on the stomach after so much cooking. Adding some acidity at the end of cooking rounds out the flavor, bringing a bright tang to each bite. For bean-filled chilies, the addition of acid makes it a little easier on the digestive system. Just a teaspoon of vinegar, like apple cider, sherry, or balsamic vinegar, is enough to do the trick.
5. Choose toppings that complement your chili.
Don’t forget the toppings — and choose them carefully! They are an essential component to any bowl of chili and serve the role of balancing the flavors and ingredients in the chili. Essenially, the toppings are what take a bowl of chili from good to great.
For example, additions like avocado or sour cream are an ideal cooling contrast to extra-spicy chili, while jalapeños give more mild versions a punch of heat, and fresh cilantro and scallions add a pop for freshness to extra-hearty and rich chili.
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