Mexican by name but Texan in origin, the literal translation of chilli con carne (‘chillies and meat’) describes the recipe at its most basic. After that, depending on whether it’s a smoky cowboy chilli, a student storecupboard concoction or a Mexican mole, the recipes differ.
We’ve developed the ultimate next-level chilli con carne recipe and along the way found 10 easy ways to elevate this classic one-pot to a whole new level. The recipe has quite a few ingredients, but make it a couple of times and you’ll be able to tweak it to fit your requirements perfectly.
10 ways to take chilli con carne to the next level
1. Cook it in one pot only
2. Make it ahead by up to three days
3. Use fresh spices
4. Source traditional Mexican dried chillies
5. Use a marbled cut of beef (not mince!)
6. Add coffee for extra flavour
7. Choose your beans
8. Use chocolate
9. Thicken the sauce
10. Serve homemade chilli oil on the side
1. Make chilli in one pot only
Just like a cowboy cooking over the campfire embers we’ve kept it to one pan. This saves on washing up and locks in all the flavours.
2. How to get ahead
With deep, slow-cooked spiced dishes like this, the flavours become more harmonious when made ahead and reheated. This can be made up to three days ahead, chilled and reheated.
See our collection of slow-cooker recipes for more inspiration.
3. Use fresh spices for chilli con carne
Buying fresh whole spices and toasting and grinding them yourself cranks up their flavour and fragrance.
4. Which chillies to use for chilli con carne
Using dried Mexican chillies brings warmth and smokiness. Different chillies have different flavour profiles and heat ratings. Here, we’ve used the ancho as it’s the best all-rounder with a fruity flavour and is the easiest to buy, but dried chipotle also works well in slow-cooked recipes. Traditionally the chillies are toasted and rehydrated before using but we’ve used the chilli to its full flavour capacity by rehydrating it in the sauce and then turning it into a no-waste condiment at the end.
For more fresh and spicy dishes, take a look at our Mexican collection.
5. What meat to use for chilli con carne
Mince might be what you grew up with but large chunks of beef make for a better braise and transform the dish from a weeknight student supper. Buy the best quality you can afford, try a nicely marbled cut like brisket or the meat from the short rib – the fat that renders off as it braises adds to the richness of the finished sauce.
6. Use coffee in your chilli
Good quality coffee is often used in Texan chillies because it adds a big roasted flavour. Our recipe includes half a teaspoon of instant espresso powder.
7. Which beans to use in chilli con carne
Life’s often too short to cook beans from scratch so we opt for canned every time. We’ve used kidney beans but not too many of them. You can easily add more, or if you prefer, swap them for black beans. If you would rather no beans at all just leave them out.
8. The secret ingredient for chilli – chocolate
Dark chocolate adds a touch of bitterness and a depth of flavour to the sauce. We use 25g containing 70-80% cocoa solids.
9. How to thicken the sauce
The Mexican method of thickening involves whisking masa harina - finely milled cornmeal - into the dish and simmering for a couple of minutes. If you can't get a hold of that, you can use semolina flour or polenta flour.
10. What to serve with chilli con carne
As an optional extra, tip the chillies into a mini chopper with a splash more oil and blitz to make a chilli oil paste to have on the side.
If you loved this but need a quicker route to success, try making our classic chilli con carne – one of Good Food's most popular recipes!
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