It’s a big claim to make, I know. Not just the best chili ever, but in an Instant Pot, too? Yes, friends. It’s true. This is the most amazing chili ever, and you will mark the day you first made it in your calendar and celebrate its anniversary every year.
OK, that might be hyperbole – but only a little. This recipe started as something I saw on Sara Moulton’s old show on Food TV – before it was Food Network, I think. Does anyone else remember her hour-long show, where viewers were encouraged to cook along? And folks would call in with questions? I loved that show. Sara Moulton is the bee’s knees. She was also the executive chef at the dining room of Gourmet magazine (may it rest in peace) for a long time. For all its bourgeois sensibilities, Gourmet really only ever printed quality recipes – you can still trust them.
An old roommate gave away my entire box of Gourmet back issues, not that I’m still bitter.
Anyway, I saw this recipe presented on Sara’s show, and I thought, “that sounds alright; I’ll give it a try.” It’s probably been fifteen years – see, I didn’t mark the date in my calendar, and now I regret it – and I’ve made a few tweaks here and there. But this is still my go-to, #1, best chili ever recipe, and the Instant Pot has made it so fast and easy there’s no reason not to make it.
About the chocolate
Before I go any further, I need to address the chocolate in the recipe. Everyone who reads it goes “wait, what? Chocolate? Really?” Yes, really. Let me reassure you that it will not taste like chocolate; the quantity compared to the volume of chili is minimal. What it does lend is a mysterious depth of flavor, smoothing the acidity of the tomatoes and the heat of the chiles into a harmonious whole that just hits you right in the roundest part of the palate. There is no real substitution, unless you count cocoa powder – which is also chocolate, basically.
I should say that the cocoa powder is a substitution of desperation; it works, but it’s not quite as mind-blowingly complex. Only use it if you’ve got everything else and really, really don’t want to go to the store.
Think about Mexican hot chocolate with its hint of cayenne and cinnamon. Heck, even Trader Joe’s has a chocolate-chile bar these days (it’s called Fireworks and if they have it you should buy it because it’s got pop rocks and spice and it’s amazing).
Trust the recipe.
Trust the recipe.
Can we make it faster?
The original recipe, and the way I’ve always made it, calls for browning the meat, vegetables, spices, and tomato paste before adding the majority of the liquid. This helps to develop layers of flavor thanks to the Maillard reaction and blah blah Ginger. But we are busy people, and sometimes we don’t feel like standing there waiting for things to brown, even if the Instant Pot makes it pretty easy (but not that easy since you still have to do several batches and it takes time and that’s what we don’t have).
I’ve tried it, a few times, just browning the onions and peppers; and I’ve tried it with no browning at all. And this is my advice: If standing around browning stuff is going to rule the recipe out for you, skip it. You can chuck everything into the Instant Pot and hit the pressure and it will taste great anyway. You might miss out on like, 7% of the maximum flavor, but since this is the best chili ever, it’s still going to be probably 80% better than any other chili.
An intermediate option is to roast the onions and peppers in the oven, if that fits into your schedule. I have this idea that I’m going to roast a bunch ahead of time and just freeze them, but I have yet to do it. You know how it is.
Last thing – chili powder
I really do like Penzey’s the best. I rarely bother to make my own anymore, because their blend hits the spot for me. The mild is fine for the kids and for me, with my stupid GERD. I used to be able to eat super spicy anything. Ha ha. Not anymore. You can add a little cayenne to make it hotter, since that’s what the hotter blends do.
So much of the flavor of the dish is dependent on the chili powder that finding a good one counts for a lot. So if you have a favorite already, use that; if not, give Penzey’s a try.
The Best Chili Ever
- 2 pounds ground beef or use half beef and half pork (I usually do)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 medium onions roughly chopped (or use frozen chopped onions)
- 1 medium green pepper roughly chopped
- 1 medium poblano pepper roughly chopped; you can substitute another green bell pepper, Anaheim, or other mild chile here too.
- 2 cloves garlic minced, or a heaping tablespoon of pre-minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chili powder Penzey's is my favorite and comes in several heat levels
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups beef broth I reconstitute and use Better than Bouillon
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
- 1 oz chocolate unsweetened, 90%, or even 70% is fine; you can also use 1T cocoa powder
- 2 cans kidney beans drained and rinsed; or use 3 cups of any cooked beans
- kosher salt
- black pepper
Begin by doing all the chopping and measuring. I set the onion and peppers together on the cutting board, with the garlic in a corner and the blob of tomato paste in another corner (so they can be scraped in separately).
The chili powder goes in a small bowl or ramekin.
Reconstitute the beef bouillon if using, or measure the broth; you can add the apple cider vinegar as well. The chocolate can go together with the tomatoes.
You won't need the beans til the end, so you can rinse and drain while the rest of the chili is cooking.
Instant Pot - Super Fast Version
Turn the Instant Pot on to its saute setting and brown the meat in smallish batches. You can also brown in a pan on the stovetop, though it's an extra thing to have to wash; depends on how you feel about dishes and whether you've got a dishwasher. Remove and set the browned meat to the side. Now you have to decide whether to go for maximum flavor development or minimum time commitment.
If you want the flavor, place the vegetable oil in and heat (unless there's enough rendered fat from the meat) until shimmering. Add the onion and peppers in small batches - if you overcrowd the bottom of the pan they'll just steam - and brown. When the last batch is just about ready, add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, stirring. Next add the tomato paste and saute another 30 seconds; you really must stir constantly so it doesn't burn. Finally, add the chili powder and saute a further 30 seconds, again stirring non-stop. At this point, add the beef broth and vinegar and stir well, scraping up any bits off the bottom. Add the rest of the sauteed onion, peppers, and ground meat back in. Add the tomatoes and chocolate and stir, add a generous pinch of salt and stir again, then put the lid on and set for 30 minutes on high pressure.
If you are short on time and/or energy, you can skip all the intermediate sauteing and just go for broke. Put all the meat back in; add the broth, vinegar, tomatoes, chocolate, onion, peppers, garlic, tomato paste, and chili powder, and a generous pinch of salt, and stir well. Stick the lid on and set for 30 minutes on high pressure. Yeah, that's it. So you can see the time and energy savings. Frankly this is what I do 90% of the time.
When the timer beeps, you can do a quick release or you can wait for the pressure to release naturally; it doesn't make a huge difference here. Taste the chili for seasoning; add salt if needed and you can also add a few grinds of black pepper at this point. (You can probably add it earlier; I just never do.) Rinse and drain the beans and add them to the pot. Put the lid on again and set for high pressure for another 5 minutes.
When the pressure cooker beeps, you can again do a quick release or a natural release. Stir, check the seasoning, and serve in bowls with cornbread. You can also do cheese, sour cream, green onions, or whatever you like.
Stovetop - Not As Fast
You can also make this on the stove in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Proceed as for the Instant Pot directions, above, but instead of cooking under pressure, you'll put the lid on the pot and simmer for 2-3 hours.