The chili debate might be one of the most passionate food debates out there, especially if you are from Texas. The main debate is about what ingredients make up true chili. This debate does not include chili recipes that have originated from other countries, or about where and when chili came to be in the USA, but whether beans belong as an ingredient in true American chili. If you are from Texas, Texas chili is all that you need to know and Chili Con Carne does not contain beans.
As I understand it, American chili was a meal born out of necessity and survival, and made popular with the cattle drive from Texas to California.Each cook had to make a small amount of meat stretch to feed hungry cowboys with whatever ingredients they could find along the trail, such as chili peppers, wild onions, and garlic. I learned that cattle drive cooks would plant onions, garlic and peppers in the mesquite bushes by the trail so they could replenish their supply along the way. (International Chili Society)
In the beginning of the 20th century, chili’s popularity spread across the nation and was no longer a regional food in the western United States. Chili joints were everywhere in the nation and provided cheap food for the poor. During the depression people believed because chili was inexpensive and so widely available, “… and the crackers were free,” chili saved more lives from starvation then the actions of the Red Cross. (Whats Cooking America, History and Legends of Chili)
American chili has an interesting history and probably a tall tale or two associated with its name. What is consistent is chili came from humble origins designed out of a need for survival. It started as a simple stew using any available meat, dried chili peppers and wild vegetables and has grown into a stew with multiple ingredients focused on developing deep, rich and spicy flavor. This humble stew, with or without beans, has a devout following from all walks of like, who are ready to defend chili’s honor in Showdowns, Throw-downs, Cook-offs, and State Fairs across the landscape of this nation. Not bad for food that started out as an inexpensive means to feed the poor and the incarcerated.
In my experience, I have never had a chili meal that did not have beans as a major ingredient. I have eaten a variety of chili concoctions made with beef, chicken, or vegetables. Not surprisingly, the one thing they all have in common is beans are a prominent ingredient. I may never have had “true” American chili that was born along the Texas cattle drive, but the chili I know is the one I love and will defend.
I love meat chili with the warming spices of dried chili peppers. Yet, now I am enjoying cooking chili made with fresh green chili peppers. White chicken chili has a brighter flavor from the fresh green chilies that do not overpower the chicken and beans. There is an element of surprise cooking with fresh green chili peppers, because it is more difficult to control the amount of heat layered within the stew. It is not something you can measure with a teaspoon like you can using ground spices. The heat in the stew made with fresh chilies will depend on the pungency of each chili pepper. That heat level depends on how much capsaicin has developed in each chili pepper.
My recipe is adapted from two recipe sources, a cookbook by Cooks Illustrated, Soup, Stews, & Chilis, and the website, Serious Eats. Each recipe use a variety of fresh green peppers, chicken breasts cooked in the stock, and white beans. The main difference between the two is how they prepare the green peppers and vegetables. Cooks Illustrated recipe instructs you to mince them in a food processor, then sauté the vegetables. Serious Eats recipe instructs to roast all the vegetables under the broiler, peel the peppers then purée them.
My recipe is mostly adapted from Serious Eats version. Their idea of roasting the vegetables give the chili a lot of depth of flavor. Cook’s Illustrated recipe is a good one that I have made for many years. However, it is time-consuming and I wanted a recipe that was less involved. I love researching and comparing recipes and then use them to learn new techniques and develop my style and flavor combinations.
White chicken chili is a lighter chili stew, but it is not light on flavor and heat. The roasted vegetables provide the foundation for amped-up spicy flavor in the chicken and white beans. Fresh cilantro and lime juice brighten up the chili and balance the heat. White chicken chili is a hearty meal but it won’t make you feel heavy. Don’t skimp on the garnishes. The grated Pepper Jack cheese makes the chili creamier and pickled jalapeño add zing. These garnishes are standouts for making this a supreme white chicken chili.
What to Serve with White Chicken Chili
Serve this chili with skillet cornbread and a simple green salad. You can substitute the cornbread with warm corn tortillas, especially if you have access to freshly made tortillas. The corn and the chili pair very well together.
White Chicken Chili is a lighter chili option that is not light in flavor. The chicken and beans are cooked in the stock along with roasted chili peppers and vegetables. The vegetables are pureed together to form a delicious base for the chicken and beans to cook. The heat from the chili peppers is forward but does not overpower the flavor of the chili. Add grated Pepper Jack cheese and pickled jalapenos peppers as garnishes, and the white chicken chili becomes sublime.
This recipe is adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, The Best White Chili with Chicken Recipe at Serious Eats and inspired by Cook's Illustrated White Chicken Chili from their cookbook Soups, Stews and Chilis.
3 fresh poblano chilies
3 fresh Anaheim chilies
3 jalapeno chilies
2 medium onions
8 cloves of garlic
3 Tb vegetable oil
1 tea Kosher salt, divided plus more to finish seasoning
1 Tb ground cumin
1 tea ground coriander seed
1 tea dried oregano (Italian or Mexican)
1 bay leaf
4 boneless chicken breasts
3 15 oz cans low salt, or no salt cannellini, Great Northern, or navy beans *see note
4 cups chicken stock, homemade or low salt store bought
3 scallions, white and light green part sliced thin
2 fresh limes, divided
Heaping large handful of fresh cilantro, divided (about a packed cup of cilantro leaves)
Condiments to serve with your Supreme White Chicken Chili
Grated Pepper Jack Cheese, about 1/2 pound
Pickled Jalapeno Peppers
Sliced Avocado, 2 slices per bowl
See note about special equipment.
Put the chicken breasts on a plate large enough to fit the chicken without overlapping. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season the chicken breasts on both sides with Kosher salt, about a half teaspoon in total. Set the plate of chicken aside to rest.
Adjust the oven rack to be 8 inches below the broiler element. Turn on the Broiler.
Place all the chili peppers, onions and peeled garlic cloves on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle 1 Tb of vegetable oil and half teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables and toss with your hands until they are evenly coated with the oil and salt.
Place the baking sheet with the vegetables under the broiler, and broil them until they have browned and the skins are wrinkled. Turn the vegetables from time to time for even browning. This can take a while, about 20 minutes. You want the skin on the peppers to be wrinkled all over as well as browned. Remove any vegetables, like the garlic and onions, if they are done before the peppers. You do not want the garlic to be completely burned.
Pour the chicken stock into a large bowl and place the broiled chili peppers in the stock. The stock will help the skin separate from the flesh of each pepper in one long piece. Peel off the skin and remove the seeds from each pepper in the stock. As you finish peeling the skin off each pepper, place the peeled pepper into a small bowl.
In the bowl of a food processor or blender, add the peeled peppers, broiled onions and garlic and puree until smooth. Set aside
Rise the canned beans under cold running water and set aside.
Place a large Dutch oven (mine was 5 qt size) on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Add the remaining 2 Tb of vegetable oil and heat until the oil is very hot but not smoking. Add the ground cumin, ground coriander seed, dried oregano, and bay leaf to the shimmering hot oil and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved chili pepper and onion puree and stir until incorporated.
Place a fine mesh strainer over the Dutch oven with the chili puree, and pour the chicken stock through the strainer into the pot. Press down on the chili pepper skins and seeds with the back of a spoon, to push out as much liquid as possible, being careful not to push the skins and seeds through the mesh. Dispose of the skin and seeds. Stir the chicken stock with the chili pepper puree until combined.
Add the rinsed canned beans (or soaked and rinsed dry beans) and chicken breasts to the stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Occasionally stir the chili and cook the chicken until it is slightly underdone about 15 - 20 minutes. The internal temperature of the chicken should be between 150 degrees F and 155 degrees F. Remove the chicken and place on a plate and let the chicken rest.
Continue to simmer the chili for 30 minutes if using canned beans, 1 hour or until soft if using dried beans, stirring occasionally. When the beans are very soft, measure out a cup and a half of the cooked beans and their liquid, then add to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Puree the beans until very smooth. Stir the pureed beans back into the pot with the chili.
Shred the chicken into bite size pieces and place back into the chili. Stir and simmer the chili for about 5 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed, then stir to incorporate. Add fresh squeezed juice from one lime, one handful of the chopped cilantro, and the minced green onions. Stir to combine the added ingredients and taste. Adjust seasoning with salt if needed.
Cut the remaining lime into small wedges and place in a small serving bowl.
Ladle a bowl with the chili and garnish the chili with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, and a couple of slices of pickled jalapenos, and grated Pepper Jack cheese.
Offer lime wedges, avocado slices, more pickled jalapenos and grated cheese at the table for guests to help themselves.
Using Dried Beans
If you want to use dried beans you can cook 12 oz of dried beans (navy, cannellini, or Great Northern) in the stock, added at the same time as the chicken. The night before, you should prep the beans by soaking them overnight or up to 24 hours before you add them to the cook in the chili. Drain the beans from the soaking liquid and rinse them before you add them to the chili. After the chicken has cooked and is removed from the pot, continue to cook the beans in the pot for one hour, or until the beans are soft.
Ideally you will need a 5-quart stock pot or Dutch oven, an immersion blender or stand blender or food processor, and a large rimmed baking sheet.
Don't be discouraged if you do not have all this equipment, there are always adaptations that can be made, especially with something as forgiving as chili,
If you only have a small stock pot, 3 qt size, try making the chili downsizing the ingredients in half. You may have to adjust your liquid ingredients to that the pot does not dry out.
Don't have a large rimmed baking sheet- use whatever broiler safe baking dish you have and divide the vegetables and broil them half at a time.
Do not have a blender or food processor- you can mince the vegetables and add them into the stew. The consistency will be different but the flavors will still be there. You can mash the beans using a fork or potato masher. Again the consistency will be different, but it should still taste fine. There is nothing that a little elbow grease can't fix.