While I’m hardly aspiring towards the Texas Gold Standard of chile con carne — chunks of beef, lots of chiles, and ftlog, no beans — I think there’s something to a fairly straightforward, excellently-seasoned chili. I could overlook the instant tapioca, jars of salsa, cinnamon, chocolate, onion powder, garlic powder, taco seasoning mix and celery on the front page of Google’s results that might be someone’s thing, just not mine, but I kept getting stuck on one point: if we’re going to run the slow-cooker for 5 or 10 hours, or simmer a chili on the stove for 3, why start with canned beans? Dried beans are more economical, more flavorful and will plump up splendidly in either of those cooking times without any presoaking nonsense.
And so I had to fiddle up my own recipe. I made a hasty pot of chicken chili in the hazy newborn days this summer because I hadn’t then or now shaken this obsessive need to only consume meals that can be eating on or with tortillas, and everyone declared it the best dinner in a long time. I hadn’t expect this; it was food for convenience, for ease — mustn’t it then taste like compromise?
The leftovers were grand, too, and from there, I couldn’t stop. When my husband had to go to Germany for work in November and I was quietly fur-reaking out over how I was going to single parent when I am barely cut out for coparenting most days, I set up another pot and boom, two nights of wholesome dinner were set. I made it a few weeks ago when Thanksgiving pies were weighing heavily on our midsections, and I made it again yesterday when we’d finished off the weekend’s potato kugel and baked Lorraine-ish omelet and oh-god-don’t-even-find-out-how-good-these-are-they’re-just-going-to-ruin-everything sticky bun brunch and were, at last, all set on butter and cream for a while. Did you hear that? Eight times we’ve had this in two months, and we’re not even tired of it yet. I hope you find this equally worthy of repetition.
One year ago: Popcorn Party Mix and My Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup
Two years ago: Parmesan Broth with Kale and White Beans
Three years ago: Carrot Soup with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
Four years ago: Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze and Carrot Soup with Miso and Sesame
Five years ago: Chard and White Bean Stew
Six years ago: Parmesan Cream Crackers and Walnut Pesto
Seven years ago: Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread and Pizza with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions
Eight years ago: Caramel Cake and 2008’s 96 Favorites
Nine years ago: Hazelnut Truffles, Gougeres and Russian Tea Cakes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Green Beans with Almond Pesto
1.5 Years Ago: Blue and Red Berry Ricotta Galette
2.5 Years Ago: Slow and Low Dry-Rub Oven Chicken
3.5 Years Ago: Flag Cake
4.5 Years Ago: Skirt Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Sauce
Psst, there’s a vegetarian Three-Bean Chili in the archives.
Updated to note: It sounds like a lot of people are having trouble getting their dried beans to cook in the suggested times. I’m so sorry for the trouble. I tested this with different beans (Rancho Gordo and also Goya brand) and in different slow-cookers (an ancient one from Farberware and another from Proctor-Silex) and never had trouble; I’m beginning to suspect my slow-cooker is more robust than others in heat. This is little consolation to those of you with crunchy beans.
So, updated suggestions: If you’re worried or have had trouble in the past getting dried beans to cook in a reasonable amount of time in your slow-cooker, go ahead and soak them overnight first. But, I want you to soak them in the 5 1/3 cups of water and then use that water — which is now full of flavor — in the slow-cooker. This will also allow you to have the right liquid level at the end, since it will be impossible otherwise to know how much water your beans absorbed and adjust the recipe accordingly.
Serves 6 generously, 8 in more moderate portions (i.e. what you see above)
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken parts, cut into 3 to 4 large chunks (I use a 50/50 mix of breasts and thighs)
1 small yellow onion, chopped small
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Heat via 1 to 2 jalapenos or other fresh hot pepper, minced, or a ground chili powder of your choice, to taste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if you can find them or 2 10-ounce cans Ro-Tel (yield is a little less but not noticeable in final chili)
2 2/3 cups small dried beans (I use half black beans, half small red beans; I do not presoak but do read the updated note up top; read the note at the bottom if you’re using kidney beans)
5 1/3 cups water (can replace all or part with broth)
To serve: Lime wedges, sour cream or Mexican crema, finely chopped white onion or thinly sliced scallion, chopped cilantro, corn or flour tortilla chips, and hot sauce
(I have always wanted to write recipe instructions just like this!) Throw everything in the pot and turn the heat on:
- On the stove: Simmer the ingredients on low until the beans are tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally.
- In a slow-cooker: On HIGH for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or on LOW for 8 to 10.
- In a pressure-cooker: I am sorry but I haven’t tested it out in mine but my estimate, based on other recipes, would be 22 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the beans. You can use your pressure cooker’s manual as starting point, as well.
To finish: The chicken will likely have fallen apart, but you can help it along by reaching into the pot with two forks and shredding it to your desired texture. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with fixings of your choice.
P.S. We like this with baked tortilla chips. I estimate two small corn tortillas per person and cut them into 8 wedges. Brush a large baking sheet lightly with olive oil, arrange tortilla wedges in one layer, lightly dab the tops with more olive oil and sprinkle with fine salt. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, check for color, and add more baking time as needed until they’re golden and crisp.
A note about kidney beans: I do not use kidney beans here, but small red ones, and I do not presoak my beans however if you are using red kidney beans, do keep in mind that due to a pathogen known as phytohaemagglutinin the FDA advises people who wish to use kidney beans in slow-cookers to first soak the beans for at least 5 hours, dump the water, boil them in fresh water for 10 minutes and then continue with the recipe. As your beans will have soaked up more liquid before they go in, you will find you need less to cook them in for the final chili. In terms of how freaked out you should be over kidney beans, from the FDA website: “Reports of this syndrome in the United States are anecdotal and have not been formally published.” And that this was mostly a concern reported in the last 70s in the UK.