Put down the chicken breasts and slowly back away. See those lovely chicken thighs lying right beside the breasts? The ones that also have no bones or skin, but somehow manage to pack a shit-ton of flavour and succulence? These are your new go-to cut of chicken if you haven’t already been oriented to the magic of thighs. Juicier and just as user-friendly as breasts, thighs are the unsung hero of the bird. Thighs can handle the long cooking time of chili without drying up and becoming the kind of protein that gets eaten purely for nutrition rather than for pleasure.
This has been my go-to chili recipe for a couple of years now. It’s dead easy, presumably healthy (an aspect that is never really a selling point for me, but that I suppose might appeal to some), and tasty AF. Meaty without being red-meaty. Hearty without being overly fibrous. Zippy without being pungently spicy (though I implore you to consider leaving the jalapeños in this recipe, even if you are normally the type of person who immediately considers omitting them). Plus, it is the only chili of the 3 varieties presented that meets the criterion of being a “set it and forget it” type recipe – with the exception of the overnight bean-soaking, but that part can literally be done in your pajamas, 5 minutes after you’ve already gone to bed before remembering that “oh shitshitshit, I was going to make chili tomorrow”. Skip the cornbread if you want to be really lazy about it. Except don’t actually do that because this cornbread is buttery and great and you shouldn’t deny yourself such pleasure after all that midnight bean-soaking work you put in.
Chicken Thigh Chili w/ Skillet Cornbread
Chili adapted from Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen)
Cornbread taken directly from Hillstone Restaurant (via Bon Appetit, March 2016)
Serves 6 generously or 8 stingily
1 1/3 cups dried black beans
1 1/3 cups small dried red beans (preferably not kidney if possible)
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks (cut each thigh into 2-3 pieces, unless
they’re tiny, in which case leave them whole)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp cumin
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
2 tsp kosher salt
2 jalapeños, diced finely (seeded to lessen the heat if desired; you could also use a single jalapeño, or of course, none at all)
½ tsp chili powder (NOT optional, so if you are sensitive, reduce or omit the jalapeño instead)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Lime wedges + sour cream + chopped chives, to serve
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly)
1 cup cornmeal (fine-grind if possible)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature (you can speed this up by placing the eggs in a bowl of warm – not hot – water for ~ 15 minutes)
1 14-oz (398 ml) can creamed corn
1 4 ½-oz (127 ml) can chopped green chiles (this can be found in the pitiful ‘Mexican’ section of most grocery stores)
½ cup grated white cheddar
½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup white sugar
Oil, for greasing
The night before you want to serve the chili, place the beans in a large bowl and pour 5 + 1/3 cups water overtop. Let soak overnight.
The next day, throw the beans and their soaking water into a slow-cooker along with all of the other chili ingredients (minus the lime wedges, sour cream, and chives, of course). Cook the chili on ‘high’ for 4 ½ hours or on ‘low’ for 8-10 hours. While both settings will produce tasty results, I have found that the low & slow method yields a thicker chili, which is my preference.
While the chili cooks, start on the cornbread. If you wish to serve lovely warm cornbread with your chili, start making it about 60-90 minutes prior to the chili being finished. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set an ovenproof skillet (~10 inches in diameter – use cast-iron or something like this) on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the preheating oven. You will eventually pile the cornbread dough into the sizzling hot pan, which is gloriously satisfying.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs to blend. Whisk in the creamed corn, canned chiles, and grated cheeses. Set aside. In a large bowl, mash the butter into the sugar as best you can. This is a slightly awkward task, just do the best you can. Ideally the butter should stay in chunks, but don’t fret too much if you wind up with a mass of butter and sugar. Pour in the egg mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the flour mixture until barely incorporated. The batter may look chunky and funky – this is normal.
Remove the skillet from the oven and lightly grease with oil. Scrape in the cornbread batter (it should sizzle upon contact), keeping it slightly mounded in the middle of the pan. Bake the cornbread until golden and slightly springy in the middle, about 25-35 minutes. I like to pull it out at 25 minutes and test the centre with a toothpick. Unless it’s still super goopy inside, I don’t cook it any further (this way it stays slightly custardy in the middle). If you like your cornbread to be a bit drier, or if you like crumbling it over your chili, bake it for the full 35 minutes, or longer if your oven runs cold.
Prior to serving, season the chili to taste with salt and pepper. Use 2 forks to shred any big chunks of chicken into bite-sized pieces (or to pulled pork consistency if preferred). Serve the chili with piles of sour cream and chives, lime wedges for squeezing over top and fat wedges of cornbread on the side. If you were smart enough to NOT invite friends over, clap yourself on the back for sorting out your meal situation for the next 3 days.