I’m dreaming of a White Chicken Chili Christmas
By Andy Mueller
Special to MMC newspapers
One of my favorite things to do when Jack Frost visits is to turn a “chilly day” into a “chili day”. There’s something about the way it fills the house with warm, earthy aromas like cumin and dark chili powder that screams comfort. The slow simmer envelopes my soul and makes me feel alive. Just about any soup can be comforting, but chili has the ability to satisfy both the creative juices flowing within, and the fire of hunger that needs putting out.
If there is one recipe that sits atop the “mine is the best” mountain, chili has to be it. Just about every community from here to Oxnard has their own version of a chili “cook-off”, and if you even start doing the math, you’ll realize in less than a minute that there are more versions of chili than there are of almost any recipe in the world. Families hand down chili recipes from generation to generation, and some are kept more secret than the recipe for Coke or Pepsi.
My opinion is that there is no “best recipe”, just different ones. All have a place; some just rise a little higher in the flavor chain of command. Most of the time, I stick with the ground beef style, adding chili beans, onions, spices and tomatoes with a few other odds and ends depending on my mood. Sometimes, as in the case with this recipe, I give the nod to poultry and throw down a hearty and satisfying version of white chicken chili, and I’m always happy I did.
The key to a good bowl of white chicken chili, as with any chili, is the balance, depth and harmony of flavors. If all you get is heat, you dropped the ball. On the other side of the coin, if you are adding spices with kid gloves, you fall short of expectations and disappointment settles in. Start with a really good stock, add the best quality ingredients you can find, and you’re off and running. Making chili hot is not difficult to do, and should come together quickly once the prep work is done. Making chili that has balance, depth and all the flavors playing nicely together is paramount if you want to throw your hat in the ring at the next church fundraiser.
Having judged many chili cook-offs through the years, I’ve always approached it the same way: I want to taste one flavor that is the result of all the ingredients married together. Just like a strong marriage, how these ingredients “get along with each other” is how successful it becomes.
Like its relative red chili, white chicken chili has similar undertones and shares common ingredients like beans, protein and deep earthy spices, but it’s still a bit more subtle than it’s most popular cousin. Experiment with this recipe and add more of this or that as you feel necessary and seek out that chili harmony that’s been gnawing at your craw. Enjoy!
White chicken chili
In a soup kettle or large pot over medium high heat add:
1/4 lb. bacon, cut into small pieces
Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally until just starting to get crisp then add:
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp. if you like it spicy)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Cook vegetables for about 8 minutes are until they start to get soft then add:
2 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
2 small cans green chilies (4.5 oz. each)
6 cups chicken stock
3 – 15 oz. cans/jars white beans
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. light chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tsp salt
4 cups diced cooked chicken
Bring to simmer, lower heat and cook slowly for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until the flavors blend together. Serve as is or bring it to another level by topping each serving with shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. Enjoy!
Andy Mueller is chef at Galley 57 in Green Bay.