Perfect for Halloween. And you can freeze the leftovers for Thanksgiving eve!
It’s pumpkin season in our part of the world. Chili season too.
So, hey, pumpkin chili. Pumpkin adds unique flavor (not to mention a rich, creamy texture), and it plays well with pork.
Sounds like a trick, we know. But it’s a real treat.
Recipe: Pumpkin and Pork Chili
We use canned pumpkin in this dish, but you could easily use fresh, roasted pumpkin. We add some cinnamon, too. Cinnamon tastes terrific with both pumpkin and pork, and also works well with chili spices.
We include a few jalapeño peppers in this dish for flavor and heat. You could also add spicy green peppers if you like – Hatch or poblano chiles would be wonderful.
This recipe makes a lot of chili – about 5 quarts. That’s probably way more than you can use at one time, unless you’re feeding a crowd. But this chili freezes well, so you can save some for later. Like maybe the night before Thanksgiving?
Prep time for this recipe varies 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 20 minutes for cutting up the meat, plus 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.
- 2 to 3 pounds pork shoulder or pork steaks (see Notes)
- salt to taste (1 or 2 teaspoons kosher salt, but see Step 1 and Notes)
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil for browning meat
- 2 large onions
- 3 to 5 garlic cloves (to taste)
- 2 to 3 jalapeño peppers
- additional 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- additional salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons mild or medium red chile powder, or a mix of the two (to taste; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
- water for thinning chili mixture
- 3 to 4 cans black or kidney beans, or a mix of the two
- additional salt and chile powder to taste
- 2 to 3 cups frozen corn
- Cut the pork into chunks 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 brown). Dry the pork pieces thoroughly, then salt them lightly (just enough to season the meat a bit).
- Place a large skillet on medium stovetop heat. 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 (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 heats again, add as many pork chunks as you can without crowding the pan. Brown each chunk until the first side has colored nicely. Do this until all sides of the pork chunks are browned. Remove the pork chunks from the pan and drain them on a plate covered with a paper towel. Then brown the remaining pork chunks (using a bit more oil if necessary). When you’ve finished browning the meat, you’ll probably notice that some browned bits have stuck to the bottom of the skillet, so you’ll want to deglaze the pan: Drain the grease from the pan, then add ½ cup or so of water. Simmer for a bit, stirring to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat, then let the skillet sit until you’re ready to use the browned bits (you’ll add them in Step 8).
- Meanwhile, peel the onions and cut them into dice of about ½ inch. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and mince or slice it finely. Set aside.
- 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.
- Warm a large cooking pot or Dutch oven (one that holds 6 quarts or more) over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the chopped onion, season it with salt to taste, then cook until the onion is wilted but not browned (5 to 8 minutes). Add the garlic and jalapeño pepper, and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the browned pork chunks to the mixture, then add the spices (chile powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, and cinnamon). Stir to combine the ingredients, then cook for another minute.
- Add the liquid from the deglazed pan (Step 2), along with the canned tomatoes and the pumpkin. Add enough extra water to create a liquidy consistency – usually about one 28-ounce can of water. Bring the chili mixture to a simmer, then cook it for an hour (or even longer – timing is not critical).
- Pour the canned beans into a strainer and rinse them well. Add the beans to the chili and cook for an additional half-hour. (Add more water at this point if too much has evaporated or if you prefer chili with a thinner consistency).
- At this point, the chili should be almost ready (though you can continue to simmer it on low heat for another hour or two if you prefer). Taste the chili and adjust the seasoning. About five minutes before serving, add the frozen corn to the chili, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Ladle the chili into serving bowls (see Notes for garnish suggestions).
- There are many options for garnishing chili. The best ones not only look good, but add a flavor boost too. Try 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.
- What kind of chile powder to use? We like medium Hatch chile powder in this recipe, but that can be hard to find. Ancho chile powder (which is sold in many supermarkets) also has great taste and is fairly mild. We also like to add a bit of dried chipotle powder, which has a pleasant smoky taste (it’s widely available in supermarkets too).
- We use 4 tablespoons of chile powder, which produces a chili that we consider somewhat spicy. If you prefer less spice, you may want to start with half that amount. Taste the chili when you add the beans (Step 9), then add more chile powder if desired.
- You can substitute chili powder for chile powder in this recipe. Remember, chile (with an e) powder contains just powdered dried chiles. By contrast, chili (with an i) powder contains chile powder, but also typically includes oregano, cumin, and other flavorings. If you’re using chili powder, we suggest 3 to 5 tablespoons – though as always, season to your taste. You might also want to reduce the cumin, coriander, and oregano by about half, or eliminate them altogether (since these flavors are already in the chili powder).
- We like to use pork shoulder or pork steaks for this recipe. But any fairly lean cut of pork will work. And don’t stress on the amount – you want at least 2 pounds, but up to 3 pounds wouldn’t be too much.
- 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 benefits 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). This reaction helps intensify the meat flavor.
- You can release this flavor by deglazing the frying pan with liquid (water in this case, though beer or wine would also work well). Liquid loosens the crust and dilutes it. When you pour the deglazing liquid (which holds the scraped crust in suspension) into the chili, you recapture the flavor.
- BTW, because browning meat can take a while, we often use two skillets to speed up the process.
- We use canned beans in this recipe because they’re quick and easy. But you could also use dried beans that you’ve prepared ahead of time (and, of course, beans you cook yourself are usually better than canned).
- 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 as we suggest. If the dish isn’t salty enough, you can always add more later.
- If you like really thick chili, cook it a bit longer to evaporate more of the liquid. If you prefer a thinner chili, just add more water at the end to achieve the consistency you prefer.
“Delish!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This chili lights my jack o’lantern.”
“Yup,” I said. “A light went on in my head when I thought of this recipe.”
“And the bright grin on your face completes the picture,” said Mrs K R.
“You were really jacked up to drop that comment, weren’t you?” I said.
“Sure,” said Mrs K R. “Thought I’d just carve out some fun.”
“Booo,” I groaned.
“Well,” Mrs K R smiled. “You would say that, wouldn’t you?”
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