Chilly Outside? Chicken Chili Inside

Andy Mueller

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | oct. 2019

One of my favorite things to make on a cool fall day is chili. There's something about the way it fills the house with warm, earthy aromas like cumin and dark chili powder that screams comfort. The slow simmer envelopes my soul and makes me feel alive. Just about any soup can be comforting, but chili has the ability to satisfy both the creative juices flowing within and the fire of hunger that needs putting out.

If there is one recipe that that sits atop the "mine is the best" mountain, chili has to be it. Just about every community from here to Oxnard has their own version of a chili "cook-off," and if you even start doing the math, you'll realize in less than a minute that there are more versions of chili than there are of almost any recipe in the world. Families hand down chili recipes from generation to generation and some are kept more secret than the recipe for Coke or Pepsi.

My opinion is that there is no "best recipe," just different ones. All have a place; some just rise a little higher in the flavor chain of command. Most of the time, I stick with the ground beef style, adding chili beans, onions, spices and tomatoes with a few other odds and ends depending on my mood. Sometimes, as in the case with this recipe, I give the nod to poultry and throw down a hearty and satisfying version of white chicken chili, and I'm always happy I did.

The key to a good bowl of white chicken chili, as with any chili, is the balance, depth and harmony of flavors. If all you get is heat, you dropped the ball. On the other side of the coin, if you are adding spices with kid gloves, you fall short of expectations and disappointment settles in. Start with a really good stock, add the best quality ingredients you can find, and you're off and running. Making chili hot is not difficult to do, and should not be the primary goal. Making chili that has balance, depth and all the flavors playing nicely together is paramount if you want to throw your hat in the ring at the next church fundraiser.

Having judged many chili cook-offs through the years, I've always approached it the same way: I want to taste one flavor that is the result of all the ingredients married together. Just like a strong marriage, how these ingredients "get along with each other" is how successful it becomes.

Like its relative red chili, white chicken chili has similar undertones and shares common ingredients like beans, protein and deep earthy spices, but it's still a bit more subtle than its more popular cousin. Experiment with this recipe and add more of this or that as you feel necessary and seek out that chili harmony that's been gnawing at your craw. Enjoy!

White Chicken Chili

In a soup kettle or large pot over medium-high heat add:

1/4 pound bacon, cut into small pieces

Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally until just starting to get crisp then add:

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced carrots

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp. if you like it spicy)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Cook vegetables for about eight minutes are until they start to get soft then add:

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2 small cans green chilies (4.5 oz. each)

6 cups chicken stock

3 – 15-ounce cans/jars white beans

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons light chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon. cayenne pepper (to taste)

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups diced cooked chicken

Bring to simmer, lower heat and cook slowly for one hour stirring frequently. Serve as is or bring it to another level by topping each serving with shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

--'Chili Pepper' photo by Erik Forsberg is licensed CC BY 2.0. Find more of his work at flickr.com and a copy of this license at creativecommons.org.

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