Grant’s Ultimate Chili

I love spice and heat. I lived in New Mexico for nine years, and I got used to chiles being used in practically every dish. So I like my chili hot. And of course, it’s usually quite bland if I try to get it in London. So I’ve spent a lot of time “perfecting” chili at home. (I say perfecting, but I don’t think I make it the same way twice. I’m not usually a recipe follower as it is, plus I always experiment and change things, but on the base level, the chili is pretty damn amazing.)

Since it’s Winter and that time of year when a person craves slow, long cooked meals that warm you up, it’s the perfect time to share my ultimate chili with our readers. The last time I made it was when I was staying the night with some friends in Horsham, and she politely asked (maybe insisted) that I cook something for dinner, and she’d get the ingredients. Seemed like a perfect deal to me. Unfortunately, not all the ingredients are available in your local supermarket, so I had to bring a few with me.

I prefer to use dried chiles instead of chile powder for my chile. I think it stems back from my time in New Mexico and how to make New Mexico red chile. The dried chiles are eventually blended into a sauce and added to the ingredients. I get my chiles in London from Cool Chile Company. Lucky for you, you can get the ingredients shipped to your house (or anywhere you get your mail), or you can find them at Borough Market on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. However, the ones I prefer only seem to be available from the stand and not online (but you can experiment with similar chiles that have the same level of heat).

The all important ingredients: Chiles!

To accompany the chili, I prefer to make a delicious corn bread. I like both this one from Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian and this one from the Smitten Kitchen blog. However, if you’re feeling like you don’t want to put the effort in, corn tortilla chips also make a great side. Or if you really must be British, you can always resort to rice (although personally, I don’t quite understand that pairing). Toss in a nice, homemade salad (or if you’re lazy, a bag of salad), and you’ve got a great winter meal.

Most of the ingredients I used (minus the oregano and umami paste)

Grant’s Ultimate Chili
800-1000 g ground beef  (I know the packs can vary in size, go for two, or if you have access to a meat grinder, grind your own meat it’s better. If I can, I go for ground beef cheek.)
400-500 g ground pork (Basically one pack. Again, if you can grind your own, go for it. I will get pig cheek if I can.)
2 bags New Mexico Red Chile from Cool Chile Company (or any two with heat level 3)
1 bag hotter chiles (I go for around heat level 7, or if you want it mild, another heat level 3)
1 jar Chipotle in Adobo
Oregano (I prefer Mexican oregano also available from Cool Chile)
1 tube tomato based Umami paste (or tomato paste)
2 small or 1 large onion
3 bell peppers (I prefer red, yellow and orange, but any work)
Cocoa powder (non-sweetened)
Garlic (or a tube of garlic paste)
2 cans of beans (any will do, I usually do Kidney or Black, but sometimes I like to switch it up and use others. I always add beans, but if you really hate them, you can leave them out.)
500 mL beef stock (I use the Knorr rich beef pots)
Marmite (A secret ingredient that adds some salty and umami flavor)
Oil (for frying)

Chopped chorizo (I like to add it because it adds a bit of smokiness)
Bacon lardons (bacon makes a good addition too, I usually either do bacon or chorizo, but if you want to go crazy, add both)
1 can chopped tomatoes (my husband doesn’t really like tomatoes, so I don’t use them, but if you want more veg go for it)
1 package Chestnut mushrooms (It’s unusual, but I like the extra umami flavor the mushrooms bring)

Optional garnishes:
Grated cheese (I prefer a mature cheddar, but Parmesan is nice too)
Sour cream

That’s pretty much it for ingredients. It’s simple, but the chiles will add enough depth of flavor to the dish that spices such as cumin won’t be necessary. (But feel free to add in more spices if you feel you need them. Cooking should be about making something you enjoy, not necessarily about following a recipe to perfection).


Chop the onion and bell peppers (and garlic if you’re not using pre-chopped or pureed garlic). If you’re using mushrooms, I like to quarter them. Drain the beans and put to the side.

Clean the dried chiles. Do this by wiping them down and removing the seeds and insides of the dried chiles (it cuts back on some of the heat). If you have the time, toast them in a pan for to release the aromas. Put the chiles in a large bowl and cover with hot water to soften (you want them to soften for at least 15 minutes).

Grind the meat (if you didn’t buy it pre-ground).

Heat two pans over medium heat. (One to fry the meat, and the other the vessel to hold the chili. It’s quite a lot of chili, so a big stock pot or a large casserole dish would be perfect.) Add a bit of oil to both pans. When hot, add the ground meat to the pan for frying and the chopped onions and peppers to the large pan to saute down. You want to cook the meat until it’s cooked through, and cook the onions and peppers. When softened, add the garlic.

After cooking the onions, peppers and garlic some more, add the optional chorizo and/or bacon and/or mushrooms and cook for a bit longer. This releases some of the oil and fat into the vegetables, making it taste that much better. While you’re letting the vegetables and meat cook, you can blend your chiles. Using tongs, remove the chiles from the water and place in the blender. Add some water (I use water they’ve been soaking in, but water from the tap works too if you don’t want to get the extra heat) and blend until smooth.

Once the vegetables in the large pot have cooked down some add the umami or tomato paste to the pan and stir into the vegetables. Let it cook a bit to caramelize and add a bit more flavor. When the meat is cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to the vegetables so that you leave a lot of the fat and water behind in the pan. Mix it all well.

Now it’s time to add the chile to the mix. Strain the chile puree into the large pan (you can do it into another large bowl and transfer, but I like to do it directly into the large pan because it’s one less dish to clean). Straining is important because there will be some unblended pulp left which isn’t very nice to eat. Make sure you stir the puree in the strainer to get most of the liquid out and leave the pulp behind. It should look like a smooth tomato sauce at this point.

After that, most of the hard part is over. Now it’s time to add the stock and tomatoes (you may want to add less of the stock if you add the tomatoes as they add a bit of liquid as well), around two-three teaspoons of oregano, two tablespoons cocoa powder, a teaspoon or two of Maramite and the beans.

Then turn the heat down to low under the chili and simmer it for awhile. Three hours minimum. Let it just simmer away and have the house smell like chili. It’s a great time to bake your corn bread if you’re having it. Then just serve it up in some bowl and garnish how you like.

The chili I made for my friends went over fairly well. Unfortunately, one of them isn’t so into spice (he’s a korma man), but he was happy to add a lot of sour cream. The others were really into it though. So if you’re making it for guests, check out their level of heat tolerance first and adjust accordingly. (We were also so hungry, I forgot to get a final photo, sorry everyone!)

Check out more recipes and tips on our recipes page!


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