Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Whiteout (White Chicken Cheddar Chili)

Also published in Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

I don't know about you, but after the holidays, I usually feel a little wiped out. If you've spent your cooking mojo with friends and family, or just have a busy week, a slow cooker is invaluable. Pinterest and the internet at large abound with slow cooker recipes with good reason, because this kitchen device is extremely versatile. It also lends itself to brewing up vast cauldrons of food, which should suit those with families, visitors, or bottomless appetites like mine. In this case, to ward off the winter chill, I decided to make chili.

Chili blanco
Chili has a colorful history and a contentious ingredient list, characteristics appropriately matched to its fiery flavor. Growing up, there were always beans in my chili, but I never lived anywhere near Texas. Purists hold that a proper chili is meat and peppers and nothing else, even the saucy tomato is an item of dispute. Even so, I hold to upbringing in most cases, especially as an interdiction against legumes precludes much hope of vegetarian options.

Sorry, not vegetarian this time
As tomatoes are optional, I decided to try my hand at making a white chili. When you combine poultry and white beans with chicken stock (or white beans and veggie stock), the resulting mixture will appear white. Many white chilis also lighten themselves via copious amounts of cream, a temptation I attempted to avoid, but even so I couldn't refuse a little half and half and cheddar at the finish. A lighter version could substitute more white beans and then be thickened with a few passes of an immersion blender.

No more tears.
Although I initially hoped that fresh chilis and vegetables would provide all the flavor I needed, I actually found the flavor a little flat at first. To fix this, I added some smoky powdered cumin and spicy cayenne pepper, which add all the right notes to pull it together. The resulting dish is a thick, creamy stew with an intense aroma, mellow heat across the tongue, and big chunks of meltingly tender slow-cooked chicken. The perfect balance would be some sweet corn bread on the side.

Warm up time
White chicken cheddar chili

While I used chicken thighs, you could substitute boneless skinless chicken breast, meat from a whole chicken, or even leftover Christmas goose or turkey.

2 yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, diced
2 fresh poblano peppers, diced
2 sprigs fresh oregano
4 c chicken stock
12 chicken thighs, cut to rough chunks
4 (15 oz) cans white beans
2 tbs corn starch
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
1 c half and half
1 c sharp white cheddar, shredded
Juice of one lime
Salt, to taste

Bring the heat
Add the onion, garlic, peppers, and oregano to the bottom of a large slow cooker.

Chili verde?
Top with the chicken thighs, white beans, and chicken stock. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6. Retrieve and discard the oregano stalks.

That's more like it
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the corn starch, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Drizzle in a small amount of the half and half and whisk until it forms a smooth paste, then whisk in the remaining half and half until fully dissolved.

Stir the corn starch mixture into the chili, and allow to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, which gives you time to freshly shred the cheddar.

Add the shredded cheddar and stir until smooth. Season to taste with lime and salt. Serves a crowd (12+).



K said...

Looks like we think alike. I recently made this recipe:
It made 4 hefty bowls of chili with no leftovers.

James Pereira said...

Great minds think alike? :)