Cooking for a crowd makes me happy. Especially that eager bunch of hearty eaters who gather for the big game. I bring out my big pots, simmer something satisfying, then offer a few meaty appetizers and salty snacks. Everyone wins.
Chili always works. A bonus: It tastes better reheated. The recipe here lets the cook simmer a cubed beef chuck and chili powder base up to several days in advance. Beans and other add-ins get added to the roster when guests arrive.
I always like to tweak my bowl of red with a surprise. This year, I’m adding bratwurst to my go-to hearty beef chili. The textural contrast between the sausage and tender cubes of beef proves pleasing. Plus, I never met a chili lover who didn’t love brats and vice versa.
To save time, I use fully cooked bratwurst.
As for the bean/no-bean controversy among chili heads, I opt for them. They add lean protein and great texture and cost little. I prefer to cook dried beans in simmering water so I can ensure a toothsome, not mushy, texture. If using canned beans, simply drain, rinse and add to the chili just before serving.
For a vegetarian chili, swap out eggplant cubes for the beef chuck and use vegetable broth. To serve, omit the sausage and replace it with a variety of cooked beans.
Beef and brat chili with white beans
Prep: 45 minutes; cook: 2 hours (or 5 hours if using a slow cooker); makes: 10 to 12 servings. Recipe can easily be cut in half.
3 pounds trimmed beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large or 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ancho chili powder (half of a 1.2 ounce jar)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, salt
3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth
2 small red bell peppers, cored, diced
8-10 ounces thin sliced cremini mushrooms, optional
4 cups cooked dried white beans or drained canned white kidney beans
2 pounds fully cooked bratwurst sausages (or kielbasa, thuringer or andouille chicken sausage)
Crumbled tortilla chips, oyster crackers
Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
Chopped fresh cilantro, green onions
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat beef dry. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in bottom of a large (7-quart) Dutch oven or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown beef in oil until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove to a large plate. Repeat to brown all beef, adding oil as needed.
Add onion to pan drippings in the Dutch oven or skillet. Cook and stir until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, chili powders, cocoa powder, cumin and salt. Cook, 1 minute.
If using a Dutch oven, stir beef into onion mixture. If using a large (7 quart) slow cooker, scrape onion mixture into it along with beef. Into the Dutch oven or slow cooker, stir in tomatoes, broth, red bell peppers and optional mushrooms.
Cover Dutch oven and cook in oven until beef is fork-tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, slow-cook on low for 4 hours. (Chili base can be made up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate covered.)
About 30 minutes before serving, reheat chili base. If using cooked dried beans, add them now and simmer about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice bratwurst into 1/4-inch thick slices. Stir into chili (along with canned beans if using them). Heat through, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt to taste.
Set out chili garnishes in serving bowls. Serve chili hot topped with desired garnishes.
Nutrition information per serving: 585 calories, 34 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 126 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 7 g sugar, 40 g protein, 1,511 mg sodium, 7 g fiber