I’m gonna come out and be honest here, folks: I don’t watch college football. I know, I know. I could go and blame it on the fact that the good ol’ Banana Slugs didn’t have a football team, but I’m not the biggest fan of spectator sports in general. Save for basketball, of course, but watching the Lakers right now is downright depressing. Truth be told, I’d much rather play sports than watch them.
But one thing I DO love is cooking for fans on game day. Seeing people fight over the last piece of cornbread is my kind of dogpile.
Which is where this bison chili comes in.
I’ve been totally digging on bison lately. This game meat really is the ultimate protein: it’s lean, it’s delicious, and it’s a heckuva lot cheaper than good cuts of grass fed beef at Whole Foods. If you treat it right, it can be just as delicious as a proper steak.
Seer the flanks, and you’ve got the ultimate kale salad-topper or accompaniment to Vietnamese bun. You can use the chuck for savory braises or a hearty wintertime stew. Buy it ground and swap it in for burger meat, in pasta sauces, or in chili like this one. The possibilities are endless, so long as you follow the golden rule: DO NOT overcook bison, because it is quite lean and can get tough if it’s overdone.
When cooked right, it makes a great chili, which is totally easy to make, and incredibly flavorful when you add in a pint of porter into the mix. (Just make sure you buy an extra pint for the chef.) And just like most stews and chili, it gets better over time so you can make it a day ahead.
I call this chili California-style because it’s unfussy and it’s served using a few of my favorite local brands: Sriracha from LA-based Huy Fong Foods and a smooth porter from Lagunitas in Petaluma. In my humble opinion, chili isn’t chili without some slices of California avocado and a dallop of plain yogurt in place of sour cream. Call me a crunchy Californian, but I dig the healthy zing. Oh, and unlike the Texans, I like beans in my chili. They are a magical fruit and I love them. Maybe you Texans can convert me when I’m in Austin in a few weeks, but for now that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
No matter where your chili comes from, it always goes best with cornbread. Admittedly my favorite recipe is from Paula Deen, but instead of using cornmeal, I use Bob’s Red Mill — the same stuff I use to make polenta and grits. It’s a courser grind, but I’m sort of obsessed with that Southern style of hearty, rustic cornbread. (Did I mention how excited I am to get to Texas so I can eat my weight in BBQ and cornbread?!?) If coarse cornbread isn’t your thing, keep it as is.
Either way, cornbread always better with a heaping dose of honey butter, which is basically just one parts honey two two parts softened butter whipped up in a Cuisinart. The key is, of course, to use great ingredients. I just discovered Anchor dairy from New Zealand and am obsessed with the flavor and the quality of baked goods it’s turning out, plus they are nice to their cows. And happy cows put me in a good mood.
And so does this chili. In fact, you might even say I’m excited for game day. And no, that’s not just the beer talking.
2 strips bacon
1 pound lean ground bison
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 cloves garlic, minced
One large can crushed tomatoes
One can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
One can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
One pint Lagunitas Porter
2 cups chicken stock
Optional: Avocado, yogurt or sour cream, cilantro, cheddar cheese, and lime wedges
Heat bacon in large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove from heat and reserve. Add the bison and cook in the rendered bacon fat until browned, taking care not to break the meat into very small pieces, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bison to a plate using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Keep the pot over medium-high heat and sweat the onions. Add the bell peppers and carrots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Then add tomato paste, chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic. Cook and stir until the spices are fragrant and toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with the juices, and bring to a simmer while scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes.
Return the bison to the pot and add the pinto beans, kidney beans, sriracha, stock and pint of porter beer. Chop up bacon and add that in too. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until thickened, about 45 minutes. Season with salt. Serve with the yogurt, cheese, cilantro, onions, lime and avocados, and of course, some cornbread and honey butter.