Chili for chilly days
Recipe has two secret ingredients that make this dish sweet and malty
When the temperature finally starts to drop, there’s nothing more comforting than a big pot of chili simmering on the stove. This easy venison chili recipe is hearty and delicious, perfect for hunting season or any time you’re lucky enough to have ground venison in your freezer. If you don’t have access to wild game, it’s also great with ground beef, turkey or bison.
Chili is one of those recipes that varies a ton depending on where you’re from, and what’s authentic is subject to debate. I know some people say real chili doesn’t have beans, but in my kitchen it does. I use ground meat, but some people prefer chunks.
One thing I know for sure is that it’s not chili without chiles. Great chili layers different types of peppers for balanced, deep flavor, not blistering heat. That’s why this recipe kicks off with a purée of ancho chiles, chipotles in adobo, tomatoes, broth and crushed tortilla chips. It’s smoky, savory, and as spicy as you like it. Since everyone has a different threshold, I give a range in the recipe for the hottest ingredients. You can always add more heat, but you can’t take it back.
While you can use whatever meat you like, I created this recipe to use the most popular wild game in Florida, white-tailed deer. It includes two secret ingredients that enhance the flavor and texture of ground venison, and they tend to win over any skeptics: bacon and beer. Venison is quite lean, so the bacon adds richness and a boost of flavor. Beer is malty and sweet, two flavors that perfectly mellow venison. Once it simmers, it fades into the background. The end result is a deeply flavorful, crowd-pleasing chili. Add some Southern-style skillet cornbread, and you’ve got the perfect meal for a cold winter day.
Venison Chili & Southern Skillet Cornbread
2 ounces dried ancho chiles
2 cups venison or beef stock
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup crushed corn tortilla chips
1 tablespoon to 1/3 cup chipotle chiles in adobo [to taste]
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 pounds ground venison [or other ground meat]
1/2 teaspoon salt [plus more, to taste]
3 onions, diced
1-3 jalapeños, diced [to taste]
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper [to taste]
1 1/2 cups beer
3 15-ounce cans beans [pinto, kidney, and/or black], rinsed
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, sliced
jalapeños, green onions, cilantro, lime wedges
Soak the ancho chiles in hot water for 10 minutes. Once softened, drain and discard liquid. Remove stems and seeds and tear into pieces. In a food processor or blender, combine anchos, tomatoes and their juice, broth, tortilla chips, chipotle and adobo sauce, and tomato paste. Blend until smooth.
Add the bacon to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring often, until it begins to crisp. Add the venison and sprinkle with salt. Stir and break up the pieces of venison. Once the liquid has evaporated and the meat begins to brown, add the onions and jalapeños. Cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander, and cayenne. Cook while stirring for about 2 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the beans and the puréed chiles and tomatoes. Reduce to low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Taste and season with more salt and cayenne as you like. Serve with your favorite toppings and cornbread.
Southern Skillet Cornbread
2 tablespoons bacon fat or high-heat oil
2 cups medium-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted bacon fat or butter, cooled to
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Put bacon fat or oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven heated to 400 degrees. Stir together cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and melted bacon fat or butter. Fold the liquid ingredients into the dry with a spatula until just combined. Pour batter into the preheated skillet. Bake the cornbread for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden.
Danielle Rose is a seventh-generation Florida gardener and fisherwoman and descendant of the prodigious Summerlin family. A graduate of the University of Florida, she loves gathering friends and family around the table for homegrown food.