Secret Chili Recipe – One of the Reasons My Hubby Married Me
By Jen Sommerness
You can feel fall is in the air, as kids go back to school, leaves begin to turn colors in many places in the U.S., and the air turns wonderfully crisp in the evenings…if not all day. Living in Minnesota, fall was my absolute favorite time of year. In large part due to time spent in the kitchen on weekends, making things that can simmer slowly all day while multitasking doing things like raking fallen leaves or preparing the yard for the snow that is surely going to come before long.
My husband and I got married in October, nearly 20 years ago now. We chose this time of year because of our love the fall colors, the cool breezes, the light that the fall Midwest sun brings, and the foods that are comforting that go hand and hand with the season.
One of the reasons he married me, he claims still to this day, is my secret chili recipe. I know that he said this at first in jest, but to be honest, as I have made this and tweaked it over the years I think that sentiment holds a definite grain of truth. Even now, my three boys love when I say I am making chili, partly due to how it tastes, and partly due to the excitement it brings as for each batch I divulge one of my secret ingredients. It engages them in the process, as they watch me put the secret ingredient of the day into the pot, and they try to sneak a peek at other secret ingredients too. By the time they go off on their way to college or beyond, my hope is that they will have watched with a close eye how to make the perfect batch themselves, and have an unbelievable recipe to share with their families one day.
I am going to share the ingredients with you, but not the measurements of everything. I do this purposely, so that you can develop your own flavors that you like, and I can keep part of the secret a mystery. ;)
The key to the perfect batch is giving it time to simmer and reduce, adding what you think it needs over the course of time that you give it to slowly develop flavors. I can’t emphasize enough how different it tastes if you give it the gift of time, with frequent taste tests along the way. Add more or less of what you want it to taste like, and develop your own favorite batch.
The list of ingredients may seem long, but the chili base is simple, and the additional (secret) ingredients are mostly things you will find already in your home. If not, just use what you have, and when you are grocery shopping keep the list in mind, slowly adding some of the secret ingredients to your cart little by little. Over time you will have a full arsenal to choose from! I like to pull out all of the ingredients and set them near my simmering pot, that way I can add a little bit of this, little bit of that as it cooks away.
At the beginning, you will taste the tomato first, but by the end, you should taste the many layers of flavors in each bite. I have only eaten one chili that approximates this one, where all of the layers of complexity come through – not one flavor standing out in the forefront…and I have tried many chilies!! You’ll know you have reached the time to eat it when you taste it and think to yourself, “Wow, this is really good!”
And, as with all good chilies, they taste even better when you eat them the next day. Some magic happens in the fridge overnight, and the leftovers will be amazing! Thankfully, this recipe makes a huge batch, so you should be able to try the leftovers and see for yourselves. Keep in mind it makes incredible chili dogs!
I serve it with shredded cheese, diced white onion, and either tortilla chips for dipping or cornbread for noshing…yum!
Enjoy the secret recipe, but shhhh…don’t tell anyone!
Chili base (must have ingredients):
2 lbs. beef (you choose any combination – ground beef, coarsely “chili” ground beef, or steak cut in 1 inch cubes)
1 lb. ground pork
1 onion, diced
3 T. olive oil
½ cup red wine
4 stalks celery, diced
6 cloves minced garlic
4 cans chili beans
2 large 28 oz. cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes (better the quality – better the result!)
64 oz. bottle of 100% tomato juice
Large pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Secret ingredients (add as it simmers; vary amounts based on your preferences):
1 bottle of beer (any kind – but again, better the quality – better the result!)
Coca-Cola (start with about 1/3 cup…add more for sweet or caramel taste OR if it gets too spicy during simmering – this will dial the spice level back)
Brewed Coffee (start with 1/3 cup…add more for bitter tones)
Bakers cocoa (start with 1 T…add more for bitter, rich tones)
Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce (start with one, minced…add more for spice and smoky qualities)
3 T chile powders (I use a combination of many different kinds…regular, ancho, chipotle, Urfa pepper, Espelette)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I like it much hotter – but this is a good start)
½ tsp dried chili flakes (again, this is a good start – but more of these will bring the spice up nicely)
Start with 1 T of the following…then add more to taste:
Sugar (don’t hesitate to add this…it balances the acidity from the tomatoes! It can also bring the spice back down to an edible level, if you accidentally add too much to your liking)
In a large pot, heat the oil to shimmering over medium-high heat and add the beef and onion. If using steak, allow the beef to brown and create brown lovely bits on the bottom of the pan. If using ground beef, you can add the pork at this time too.
Once meat has browned, and the onion has softened, add the wine and allow to reduce by half, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the celery and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato juice and salt and pepper. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat to low and stir occasionally allowing it to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Once there is enough room in your pot (or at 15 minute intervals if your pot is large enough to hold all of this at once!), you can start adding the other ingredients. First add the beer, and allow to simmer/reduce for 15 minutes. Do the same when adding the coffee and the cola.
At this point (about an hour of simmering so far), add all of the other ingredients, or you can add them one at a time and allow them to simmer before adding more. This is where the beauty of this chili comes in…taste it, think about which direction you want it to take – and add the ingredients as you like.
Allow chili to simmer over low heat as long as you can, developing the flavors as you go. It should reduce by at least 2 inches in your pot by the time you are done…that is how I measure it! I look at the line on the side of the pot from where it started until it is ready…2 inches is the minimum!