Black beans add rich goodness to this spicy blend
Fall means the beginning of chili season—at least here at Kitchen Riffs central. When the weather turns cooler (as it’s finally beginning to in most of the US), nothing is more satisfying than a hearty bowl of chili.
We like chili season even better when we can try some new variations. Like this succulent recipe. Pork adds a deep flavor that’s irresistible. It also combines beautifully with traditional chili ingredients—as well as some not-so-traditional ingredients, like sweet potatoes.
Chili takes a while to prepare. But you can make it when you have some cooking time, then stash it in the freezer. Because, as good as it tastes when freshly made, it’s even better reheated. So you can use it for quick weeknight dinners or as tailgate fare for watching the big game. It’s even special enough to serve to good friends at a casual weekend dinner party.
And once they taste your Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili, they’ll become even better friends.
Recipe: Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili
Some cooks say chili should never contain beans, while others wouldn’t make it without. I’ll eat it either way myself, but I do think beans make a fine addition to almost any chili. I’m using black beans in this recipe, but you could substitute kidney beans, pintos, or whatever strikes your fancy. I will say, however, that the combo of black beans, pork, and sweet potatoes is, well, sweet.
The major flavor in this chili comes from dried, powdered red chilies—i.e., chile powder. This differs from chili powder, which is a mix of chile powder, plus cumin, coriander, and other flavorings. I discussed this in more detail in our post on Chili Basics. See Notes below for a discussion of chile powder possibilities for this recipe.
Prep time for this recipe will vary depending on how quickly you work. The most time-consuming process is cutting up the pork and browning it (you can save time if you buy the meat already cubed). Figure on a good 20 minutes for cutting up the meat, and at least another 20 for browning it. While you’re browning, you can do much of the other work, so total prep should take you under an hour. Cooking time adds another couple of hours. BTW, you can cut up and brown the meat a day ahead, then proceed with the recipe the following day.
This recipe yields a lot—at least 4 quarts, and probably more like 5. So it will feed a crowd. Leftovers freeze well in airtight containers.
- 2 pounds of pork shoulder or pork steaks
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, but see Step 1)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil for browning meat
- 2 large onions, peeled and diced (~2½ cups; I like yellow onions in this recipe)
- 2 tablespoons additional neutral oil for browning onions
- ~1 teaspoon additional Kosher salt (or to taste; about half this amount if using regular table salt)
- ~½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 2 - 3 large jalapeño peppers, diced fine (optional)
- 3 - 5 garlic cloves, minced fine or sliced
- 2 - 4 tablespoons mild or medium chile powder, or a mix of the two (to taste; see Notes)
- 1 - 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder (optional, but tasty; see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons ground oregano
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- water for thinning chili mixture
- 3 sweet potatoes (2 to 3 pounds; exact quantity not critical,) peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
- 3 to 4 15-ounce cans of black beans (or 1 pound dried black beans, cooked; see Notes)
- 2 - 3 cups frozen corn (optional)
- additional salt, pepper, and chile powder to taste
- Cut the pork into cubes or rectangles of ½ inch or so (specific size isn’t crucial; it’s more important to have pieces that are all roughly uniform in size—so they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook). Dry the pork chunks thoroughly. Then salt them lightly (just enough to season the meat a little).
- Place a large skillet on the stovetop and heat on medium. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil. You’ll use this skillet to brown the pork chunks, a process that takes some time and attention to do well. That’s because the better the crust you put on the pork chunks, the tastier they will be. (See Notes for discussion of the Maillard reaction.) Begin by adding a few pork chunks to the skillet (don’t completely fill the skillet at this time, because when you add the meat, the fat will cool somewhat). Once the fat returns to heat, add as many pork chunks as you can without crowding the pan (pieces should not touch each other—if they do, they’ll steam rather than browning). Brown each chunk until the first side has colored nicely, then (using tongs) turn the chunk over and brown another side. Do this until all sides of the pork chunks are nicely browned. Remove the chunks from the pan and drain them on a paper towel-covered plate. Continue adding the rest of the pork chunks to the skillet, adding more oil if necessary, until all the meat is browned. When you’re finished browning, you’ll probably notice that some browned bits of meat have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Here’s how to use them (by deglazing the pan): Drain the grease, then heat the pan. Add ½ cup or so of water and simmer, stirring to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat, and let the skillet sit until you’re ready to use the browned bits (you’ll add them in Step 9).
- Meanwhile, peel and dice the onions.
- Warm a large Dutch oven—one that holds 6 quarts or more—over medium heat (this is what you’ll be using to cook the chili).
- When the Dutch oven is warm, add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil and allow it to heat (it will shimmer when it’s hot). Then add the diced onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is slightly brown (5 - 8 minutes).
- Meanwhile, wash the jalapeño peppers and cut them lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful, the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop the peppers into very small dice (or use a mini food processor). Place the peppers in a bowl until you’re ready to use them, then wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin. You may want to reserve a slice or two of the pepper for garnish.
- Peel the garlic and either mince it finely or slice thinly (I usually slice garlic because I like larger pieces).
- When the onion is slightly brown, add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for a minute or two.
- Add the browned pork chunks to the onion mixture, then add the liquid from the deglazed pan (see Step 2).
- Add all the spices—chile powder(s), cumin, coriander, oregano—to the pork and onion mixture, then stir to combine and cook for a minute.
- Add the canned tomatoes (both diced and crushed), plus a can of water to create a nice soupy consistency.
- Bring the chili mixture to a simmer, and cook for an hour (or longer—timing is not critical).
- At about the 45-minute mark, wash and peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes of ½ inch or so. Place the sweet potatoes in a microwave-safe dish with a cover, and microwave for 4 to 5 minutes. You want to just soften the sweet potatoes, not cook them completely.
- Meanwhile, pour the canned beans into a strainer and rinse them well.
- At the hour mark, add the sweet potatoes and beans to the chili, then taste. If necessary, add more salt, pepper, and chile powder. Add more water if too much has evaporated or if you prefer your chili to have a thinner consistency. Set the timer for 30 minutes (the time it should take for the sweet potatoes to cook).
- When the timer goes off, check the sweet potatoes to see if they’re soft. If not, continue cooking.
- When the sweet potatoes are soft and fully cooked, the chili is almost ready to serve. Add the frozen corn (if using) and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. You can keep the chili on a low simmer for an hour or more if you’re not yet ready to serve it. See Notes for garnishing suggestions.
- Chile powders: You don’t need to use a specific chile powder for this recipe. I use medium Hatch chile powder, as well as chipotle powder. Ancho chile powder (which is sold in many supermarkets) also has great taste and is fairly mild. If you can’t find chipotle powder, you can substitute cayenne (but use only half as much), or just leave it out. Chipotle powder has a nice smoky flavor that adds an interesting dimension to this dish, but it’s not essential.
- The amount/strength of chile powder mentioned in the previous note produces a batch of chili that I regard as just a bit beyond mild in flavor, with a slight ping of heat to it. But that’s my palate—your taste will differ. You may know from experience that the quantity of chile powder I call for is too much or too little for you. If you’re concerned about the heat level, use half the amount specified, then taste after the chili has been simmering for about 10 minutes. This is a good point to adjust the chile powder level. Don’t wait until the end to adjust, because chile powders need time to simmer in order to develop the full depth of their flavor. (Although it's OK to add a bit more chile powder at the end to increase the spiciness, if you wish.)
- You can substitute chili powder for the chile powder(s) in this recipe. If you go that route, use 3 to 5 tablespoons of chili powder. Reduce the cumin, coriander, and oregano by about half, or eliminate them altogether (since these flavors are already incorporated into chili powder). The taste of the finished dish won’t be as crisp if you use chili powder, but you’ll still be pleased with it.
- Browning meat caramelizes the surface, which concentrates and improves flavor. If your browning skillet is too crowded, however, the meat will just steam—and you’ll miss most of the benefit of browning.
- Ideally, bits of meat will adhere to the browning pan, forming a crust that's extraordinarily tasty. In fact, this crust may have more flavor than the meat itself. That’s because, as you brown meat, a process called the Maillard reaction is taking place (it’s named after Louis-Camille Maillard, who described it in 1912). Essentially, this reaction helps intensify the meat flavors—which are left on the skillet as crust.
- We can release these flavors by deglazing the frying pan with a liquid (water in this case, though you can also use wine). Liquid both loosens the crust and dilutes it. We can then pour the scraped crust and deglazing liquid into the cooking chili, recapturing all the flavor that was left behind.
- BTW, because browning meat can take a while, I often use two skillets so I can do two batches at once, thus cutting down on the total time needed.
- Canned beans are easy to use in this recipe and have acceptable flavor, but make sure you wash off the gunk they’re packed in (Step 14). If you prefer to substitute dried beans for canned (I often do), prepare a pound of dried beans.
- How to prepare dried beans? The easiest way is the “quick-soak” method: Sort through the beans, looking for dirt or stones; then rinse off the beans and pour them into a 4-quart (or larger) pot. Fill the pot with water to within a couple inches of the rim; place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then turn off the stove and cover the pot; let it sit for an hour. Once the hour is up, drain the beans; place them in a smaller cooking pot and cover them with about an inch of water. Add a peeled and halved onion and several cloves of garlic (peeled or not) for flavoring, then bring the beans to a simmer. Simmer until they’re tender—typically about an hour for black beans. Drain the beans, then add them to the cooking chili in Step 15.
- Kosher salt is more coarse than regular table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If you’re substituting table salt for Kosher, always use less—about half as much. If the dish isn’t salty enough, you can always add more to taste.
- If you like thick chili, cook it a bit longer to evaporate more of the liquid. If you prefer a thinner, soupier mix, you can add some water at the end to achieve the consistency you prefer.
- There are many garnishes for chili that not only look great, but add a flavor boost. A slice or two of jalapeño pepper, a handful of oyster crackers, some grated cheddar cheese, a sprinkle of diced raw onion, or a dollop of sour cream all work well.
Seize the Day (and Your Spoon)
“Wow!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This chili has a terrific combination of flavors!”
“Agreed,” I said. “In the past, we’ve done pork chili and we’ve done sweet potato chili. But I never thought to combine the flavors before.”
“I’m glad you did,” said Mrs K R, taking a sip of her Margarita. “I’m loving chili season already!”
“Me too,” I said. “And I’m loving this Beer Bread—it goes really well with chili.”
“Yes,” said Mrs K R, “but we should make some cornbread with our next batch of chili. That’s a dynamite pairing.”
“Funny you should mention that,” I said. “Later this week, I’ll be posting a recipe for Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread—it’s terrific with almost any chili.”
“Count me in for that,” said Mrs K R. “And I hope you’ll be doing another chili recipe, too.”
“Yup,” I said. “Coming up in about a week we’ll be doing Pulled Pork Green Chile Chili.”
“Sounds intriguing,” said Mrs K R, pushing her empty bowl across the table towards me. “But while we’re waiting, let’s enjoy another bowl of this Chunky Pork and Sweet Potato Chili.”
I ladled us up another round. When it comes to chili season, it’s all about carpe diem.
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