While I’ve been in and around the kitchen from as far back as I can remember, it wasn’t until my final years of college, when I met a kindred kitchen spirit, that my eyes were opened to the vast universe of food beyond my small town upbringing. She had an unrivaled collection of cookbooks and magazines, the likes of which I’d never seen before. Amongst that vast collection was a book that had a hand in shaping the way I think about food to this day.
In the late 90’s, while a show featuring the exploits of a quartet of Manhattan besties was lighting up TV screens around the world, Ina Garten’s series of Barefoot Contessa books was feeding binge-watching parties across the country. The recipes were practical and approachable and yet they were posh enough to cater to the needs of the Hampton’s set. The lesson for me was that good food doesn’t need to be complicated.
This chicken chili is one I’ve refined over the years but is one I first made from the pages of Barefoot Contessa Parties!. My version simplifies the process a bit while adjusting the balance of flavors to add some more depth and complexity.
The key difference is that I brown the chicken in a pan, rather than roasting it in an oven. The chicken is only partially cooked while browning, and it’s finished off by gently poaching it in the chili at the very end. This small change not only saves time, but it also ensures that each piece of chicken is plump, juicy and tender.
I like serving my chicken chili with tortilla chips, which imparts a marvelous toasted corn flavor while adding a satisfying crunch. If you want something more substantial, my triple cornbread would be awesome as well. Because this uses breast meat and a medley of sweet aromatic vegetables, it’s lighter than my Chili con Carne and Chile Verde, but you can adjust this using condiments. Personally, I love the combination of sharp cheddar, creamy avocados, sweet red onions and fresh cilantro.
- Rub the chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
- Place the chicken, skin-side down in a pot. Turn the heat on to medium heat and fry the chicken, until most of the fat has rendered out of the skin (about 4 minutes).
- Flip and brown the chicken on the other side (another 3 minutes); the chicken does not need to be cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it cool enough to handle.
- Add the onions, garlic and bell peppers to the pan you browned the chicken in. Saute until tender, and the onions start to brown (about 10 minutes).
- Add the chili powder, salt, oregano, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Saute until the spices are fragrant (about 2 minutes).
- Add the canned tomatoes along with the juices they're packed into the pot and crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Simmer the chili over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
- While the vegetables are simmering, chop the browned chicken into 1-inch chunks and set aside.
- Add the chicken to the chili and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through (about 5 minutes). Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Serve the chicken chili garnished with avocado, red onions, cheddar, and cilantro.