I have made many pots of chili. I have cooked in a pot on the stove top. I have used a slow cooker. I even used a cast iron pot.
And contrary to popular belief those recipes didn’t always turn out as I planned. In fact, some downright didn’t taste like chili. Some were bland. Some too spicy. Some were total liquid. And one so thick you needed an electric knife to cut.
I spent a considerable amount of time researching the best ways to fix these failures. I hate to throw out food. So I found this great article from TheKitchn. I put together this cheat sheet for all your Chili 911 needs. I hope they help you in a pinch!
HOW TO FIX A TOO BLAND CHILI
Spice Up Chili by adding these according to your taste. Hot sauce, Pickled, jalapeños, and Cayenne pepper are a few.
HOW TO FIX A TOO SPICY CHILI
Add a few whole, peeled Russets potatoes to the pot. As they cook, they will sponge up some of the cooking liquid and the spices along with it. You’ll probably need to add some more liquid once the potatoes are cooked through since they will also release a considerable amount of starch as they cook, thickening the existing chili. Remember to remove the potatoes from the pot once they’ve done their job, but don’t toss them! Chili soaked potatoes make for killer lazy mashed potatoes when smashed with some butter and cream.
Use strategic toppings. Cool and creamy dairy works wonders to balance out the heat. Sour cream, Greek yogurt, and even cheese help.
Remove some of the chili. If things still aren’t moving in a milder direction, start by removing a quarter of the volume of the chili (and save it as a chili starter for your next batch) and add in another can of beans and diced tomato. Since you’re literally removing some the heat, you’re guaranteed to reduce the spice level by about 25 percent. Make sure you give the pot a good stir before you take this route.
HOW TO THICKEN CHILI
Simmer with the lid off. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your chili and you just need to cook off some of the excess liquid. Bring it to a vigorous simmer for about five to 10 minutes and watch the excess liquid cook off.
Add beans or veggies. Thick cut root veggies will release their natural starches as they cook and help thicken the pot. Sweet potatoes, winter squash, and a regular potato all work. Adding more beans helps too. Thick, refried beans can do wonders for a thin chili.
Mash it. Grab your potato masher and get to mashing. If there are beans in this chili of yours, mashing them will help immediately thicken it. You could probably do this with an immersion blender or stand blender, but the masher works just fine.
Make a cornstarch slurry. This is a dead simple solution and probably my favorite. In a separate bowl mix together two parts cold water with one part cornstarch and then add to the chili pot. Cook the chili at least 10 minutes more and any liquid in the pot will take on a heavy, velvety consistency.
HOW TO GIVE CHILI A FLAVOR BOOST
Add something acidic. Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar are good choices. One tablespoon in a pot is enough for it to giving more flavor.
Try to identify what about your chili is boring. Is it lacking in savory depth? Add a hit of soy sauce, Worcestershire, or tamari. These salty, savory powerhouses won’t dominate or change the flavor of your chili so much as amplify what’s there. Start with one tablespoon, stir, and taste before you add another.
Add tomato paste. If you’re going to go this route, don’t add it to the pot without cooking it a bit in some fat first. It can taste raw when it isn’t cooked, and a quick sauté in a small skillet is worth the more flavorful outcome.
Drop in some chocolate. We’re all about adding some cocoa to your chili, especially in the early stages of cooking when you’re blooming your spices. You can also drop a few pieces of dark chocolate into the pot too. This lends a faint sweetness and a bit of strategic bitterness.
Embrace pickling liquid. Adding some of the brine from pickled jalapeños isn’t so strange, but plain pickles, and even sauerkraut, aren’t as common. All three bring salt, acidity, and sharpness and help wake up a sleepy chili with just a tablespoon or so.
Stir in some molasses. It’s great in chili — especially those featuring lots of cumin and black beans. Its smoky, bittersweet flavor adds complexity to chili and you won’t need more than a teaspoon to capitalize off of its assertive and distinct taste.
Good Luck making that Blue Ribbon pot of Chili!
This article is part of the Tips That Help in the Kitchen Series, Tip Friday.