Guinness-Spiked Chili

Chili is one of those dishes where the possible variations are endless — a pinch of this, a dash of that and a new taste is born. Also endless, however, are the deeply-held, personal beliefs about what “good chili” should taste like — not to mention how spicy or not spicy it should be, how vegetarian or non-vegetarian it should be, or whether or not it should have anything to do with beans at all. These beliefs were most likely instilled in us as children and can possibly be expanded upon as we venture out into the world and discover new facets of chili on our own. If chili could be broken apart into religions, I’d have to confess to having Unitarian-style devotion! I’ve loved almost IMG_1309any chili I’ve ever tried — each of them with their own take on a very simple idea: a hearty, comfort food that can be easily assembled from very basic ingredients.

As a sign of my universal devotion to chili, in my own little library of recipes that I’ve formulated over the years, I have no less than 5 chili recipes that I love equally (there are possibly a few that I’ve simply forgotten about). Some are spicy, some mild. Some are so hearty they’re an entrée unto themselves, while others are very basic and usually are rounded out by corn muffins or even slathered atop a chili dog or open-faced sandwich.

What I love about making chili is that — regardless of what recipe you use — you’ll almost always have a clean-out-the-spice-cabinet kind of experience. Any time I’m measuring out this many spices, I’m reminded of going to the grocery store with my mom and brothers when we were children.

My older brother and I would always run ahead of mom, making our way to the baking aisle where we’d stand in awe of the giant racks of spices. I’m convinced that Benji’s fascination with the rows and rows of little glass jars came from the sense that he was in the midst of a medieval apothecary’s workshop. For me, it was just exciting to grab the little jars, twist off the caps, and search for a bottle or two whose seals were broken enough so that we could smell the contents.


Catching up with us and then standing a distance back to observe, I’m sure my mom was perplexed — both of her eldest sons squealing with delight over the smell of nutmeg, ground mustard, cardamom, etc. Among other things, doubtless she must have wondered which of us would be the one to bring home a pumpkin spice cake to Thanksgiving Dinner rather than a girlfriend. (hint: It was ME!)

Today, I’d like to share with you one of my chili recipes that unites several unique flavors and simmers them down into a fairly mild, very complex-tasting chili that will have even your most devout chili fans interested though it will most likely be a departure from their preferred norm.

To get started, if you’ve never made homemade chili, you may need to open up your pantry or take a spin through your spice rack to see if you’re prepared. For starters, no chili is complete without a good dose of chili IMG_1306powder. Chili powder is actually a spice mix that contains ground chili peppers, cumin, garlic, and other spices. Some chili powders are definitely hot while others are just “complex”. I don’t mind a little bit of heat, so the kind I buy falls somewhere in between. At any rate, to get the rich flavor that all chili needs, you shouldn’t skimp on the chili powder. “2 Tablespoons” may seem like a typo, but I assure you it isn’t.

Coriander is the ground seed of the herb we know in North America as cilantro. In other parts of the world, however, both the seed and the plant are known as coriander. It has a sharp, citrusy taste and is used in all sorts of cuisines from Indian to Mexican. If you’re worried that you won’t find other uses for this spice, consider tossing a little bit into refried beans, tomato sauce, rice pilaf, or even hamburgers.

Chipotle chili powder is becoming more common in supermarkets, these days, thanks to increased demand. While “chili powder” is a mix of spices and chiles, chipotle chili powder (may also be labeled “chipotle chili pepper”) is 100% ground chipotle chiles (a chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeño pepper). Be careful with this stuff! While it adds a smoky richness, it’s SUPER hot. For this reason, I only call for 1/4 teaspoon. If you can’t find it in your grocery store or you’re worried it will be too spicy, you can either use ground cayenne (slightly milder) or add the chipotle near the end of cooking — a little at a time — to adjust the heat yourself. But, again, this chili recipe is NOT spicy by most people’s standards.

IMG_1312The backbone of this chili’s flavor profile is the deep, hearty taste of Ireland’s Guinness Draught. While I’m not much of a drinker, myself, I do try to keep a couple bottles of Guinness on hand for whenever a recipe needs a little Irish lilt. If you don’t like Guinness or can’t find it, substitute a beer of your choice.

The “secret” ingredient, you may’ve noticed, is the cocoa powder. I’ve tried several chili recipes, in the past, that feature chocolate in various forms. While it can certainly be overdone, I love how it deepens the flavor of the dish, tames the heat slightly, and definitely adds a little bit of mystery.

Some chili recipes are thickened simply by mashing some of the beans and returning them to the pot. More traditional recipes are thickened with tortilla flour (masa harina). Borrowing from a recipe I came across a few years ago, I thicken this particular chili with common yellow cornmeal. Like adding flour as a thickener, you’ll need to stir the cornmeal in gradually and cook it for a minute or two before the consistency changes. Some folks like chili soupy, others like it thick. Feel free to adjust the amount of cornmeal to suit your own taste.

Guinness-Spiked Chili

A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 4

    1 medium red onion – chopped
    1 cup chopped red bell pepper
    8 ounces lean ground beef
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    4 garlic cloves – minced
    2 tablespoons chili powder
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon honey
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/2 teaspoon smoked or regular paprika
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
    25 ounces canned red kidney beans – drained and rinsed
    14.5 ounces canned diced tomatoes – undrained
    1 3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth
    12 ounces Guinness Draught
    1-3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

    In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, saute the onion, bell pepper, and beef. Season with salt and pepper; stirring frequently to brown and crumble.

    Once beef is cooked, stir in the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in next 10 ingredients (chili powder through chipotle powder); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

    Add beans, tomatoes, broth, and Guinness to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in cornmeal; cook uncovered 5-10 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency. Stir in cilantro and serve.


A big help in making this recipe will be to combine the spice mix (the chili powder through chipotle powder) ahead of time so that you can just add it all at once. I shudder to think of someone scrambling around their kitchen trying to read the recipe and measure out all these spices while trying to “cook 1 minute, stirring constantly”. Again… I’ve done this, so trust me, you should prepare the spice mix ahead or at least while the beef is browning.

I enjoy serving this chili with a wedge of cornbread or a corn muffin. For more mileage, you could serve it with a side of tortilla chips, sour cream and cheese. No matter how you serve it, chili is one of the best ways I know to enjoy the approach of fall. For me, this particular recipe embraces so many ideas and tastes (childhood reminiscences, adulthood aspirations; exotic spices, homey goodness; Irish lilt, Mexican pizzazz) it deserves an equally interesting backdrop. Instead of sitting down at the dining room table or zonking out in front of the television, ladle yourself a steaming bowl of chili then step out onto your patio, balcony, or back porch and watch as the green of summertime morphs into the magical shades of fall.


~ by Jason on September 20, 2010.

3 Responses to “Guinness-Spiked Chili”

  1. Jason–You have outdone yourself once again!!!Your recipes make my whole day!!!!
    When I see an email with a recipe in the subject line and a hyperlink from Poohbear, I cannot begin to tell you how anxious I am to “Click” and see what goodie you have in store for me!My hands literally shake, while trying to position my mouse to click….and just reading your prelude to the recipe that follows is just as enjoyable as the recipe itself. I must go out and buy a few ingredients as I want this to be as near perfect as yours as possible..although I know it won;t be as good, just knowing though that its one of your own creations or special recipes is enough for me to want to do it as right as I can! A great big THANKS Jason once again for great recipes!!Keep ’em coming!!!

  2. Can. Not. Wait. to try this…thanks for sharing!

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