The Best Ways to Thicken Chilli

The Best Ways to Thicken Chilli

The word “chilli” can mean a lot of different things, depending on where you are in the country. Setting chilli peppers aside, the dish known as “chilli” can take a few forms, most commonly a mess of meat or beans or some combination of the two, usually swimming in a base of tomato, garlic, onion, and (of course) chilli peppers. (Except in the case of white chilli.) But no matter the colour, meat used, or bean content, chilli is not watery. Chilli is thick.

Making chilli at home can take minutes or hours, depending on your starting materials, but there is usually some simmering involved, which helps marry the flavours and reduce any soupy brothiness into a thick, rib-coating chilli. Sometimes, even after simmering, your liquid just won’t reduce like you want it to. In those instances, there are a few tactics you can implement to thicken things up.

Stir in some masa harina

Masa harina is a ground corn flour made from nixtamal—corn that’s been soaked in an alkaline solution to give it a toastier, nuttier flavour, and make its nutrients more readily available. When added to chilli, it thickens the liquid while giving it a subtle, toasty corn flavour. Though you can add it directly to a simmering pot, making a slurry first ensures it doesn’t clump. For best results, mix 1 tablespoon of masa harina and 1 tablespoon of water, then add to your pot of chilli. Repeat as needed until it is thickened to your liking.

Blend in some beans

If you are “no beans in the chilli” kinda person, you might want to skip this one. (Or you might get an illicit thrill out of sneaking some secret beans in there. I don’t know you.) Beans are full of thickening fibre, and they read as creamy, rather than bean-y, when blended. Just take a cup of pinto beans or white beans, blend until smooth, then stir them into your chilli and let simmer to thicken.

Get slightly French

Chilli is not a French dish, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow one of their techniques. Beurre manié (“kneaded butter”) is a particularly helpful thickener. Butter and flour are mashed together in equal parts to make a paste—kind of like a raw roux—and that paste can be dropped into a simmering pot of chilli (or anything else) to add body and a touch of richness. I start with two tablespoons each of butter and flour, knead it together, then tear the pasty blob into bits and add them one at a time, until the chilli is perfectly thickened.

Make a more exciting cornstarch slurry

Adding spoonfuls of cornstarch directly to the pot can cause the powder to clump up, but making a quick slurry prevents this. Cornstarch slurries are usually made with water, but there’s no law against using something more exciting.

Try making a slurry out of cornstarch and beer, tomato juice, fish sauce (for extra umami), or even bourbon. Any potable liquid will do; you just need equal amounts of liquid and cornstarch by volume. Start with a couple of tablespoons of each, whisk them together, then drizzle them in your hot pot of chilli to give it body and a bit of flavour.

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