Monday, November 15, 2010

The dawn of a new day: Chicken Cashew Chili

This post is a big deal, but you don't know that yet. You clicked over to read not yet grasping the life-changing moment that was about to happen. The earth didn't shatter as a warning; the bowls in your cabinets stood still. And yet. Those bowls will never be the same, because this chili recipe is the dawn of a new day. The era of ground beef and green peppers is over. Triumphantly taking their place are the four Cs: chicken, cashews, chili, and chocolate. You heard me. Let's get started, shall we?

There are 4 Cs in this chili, and all of them matter.

The chile puree is the foundation for the entire dish. I can't stress that enough. Cook this chili with a whole chicken, and be conscious of what kind of chicken you buy (I buy free-range, hormone-free birds because I can taste the difference and it's important to me to support those business models). Maybe later you can shortcut this dish with a rotisserie chicken you shred yourself, but for the first time, just trust me and plan ahead, k? The cashews provide fantastic texture - both in the puree as a thickening agent and whole in the chili for a delicious, wholesome crunch. Finally: chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate, to be exact. Ruth Reichl calls this touch a "weeknight take on mole," and as usual, she's correct. I added my chocolate last, after tasting, and I honestly felt like it wasn't even necessary - the chili was already complex and rich and delicious. Stirring in the bittersweet chocolate, though, watching it melt and combine with the rich smoky chile flavor... it is a transformative, genius ingredient. There's no way around it.

Make this chili. Turn heads at the neighborhood potluck, freak out your guests during The Big Game, or make it like I did, quietly on a Friday night with a drink in hand, happily preparing a dish we'd enjoy all weekend long.

You can thank me later. And you will.

Chicken Cashew Chili
Serves 6-8 

4 dried ancho chiles
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 1/2 cups salted roasted cashews
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 (31/2 to 4-lb) chicken - rinsed, patted dry, excess fat discarded, and cut into 8 serving pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

 Make the chile puree
Heat a dry small heavy skillet (not nonstick) over moderate heat until hot. Toast the dried chiles, one at a time, pressing down with tongs, for several seconds on each side to make them more pliable. Seed and devein dried chiles; discard stems. Tear dried chiles into pieces and transfer to a blender. Add broth, chipotles, and 1/2 cup cashews and puree until smooth. (Note: if you want a spicier chili, retain some of the seeds.)

Make the chili
  • Heat oil in a 6- to 7- quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. 
  • Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. 
  • Add cumin and salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 
  • Add chicken and stir to coat with onion mixture. 
  • Stir in chile puree, 1/4 cup cilantro, and tomatoes with juice. 
  • Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat and transfer chicken to a bowl.
  • Shred meat using two forks; discard bones and skin. (Note: I wasn't in a rush and waited for my chicken to cool and shredded using my hands; I find that much easier than using utensils.) 
  • Return chicken to pot and stir in chocolate, beans, remaining 1 cup cashews, and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro.
  • Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until chili is heated through and chocolate is melted.


  1. Wonder what I could substitute since I'm allergic to chicken? beef? sausage? Cause this looks delicious!!! Maybe make it veggie?


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  2. I HATE traditional chili, I think mostly because I LOATHE cumin. Will I like this? TELL ME MARGARET!

  3. This sounds DELISH! I plan to make it this week!

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