How to Thicken Chili
It seems like no matter who you’re talking to, and everyone has their particular chili recipe. But, no matter who’s making the dish, you can almost always guarantee that chili will be a thick and hearty dinner. Whether you are building chili for the first time or just trying a new recipe, it’s useful to know precisely how to thicken chili.
As you read through this useful guide keep in mind how you’ll be preparing and serving your chili. Some of the methods we suggest will be better for particular situations than others. Also, keep in mind that making a good chili is a labor of love that takes time. Also, once your chili cools it will be thicker than it is at a simmer or boil.
Why Is Chili Thick?
To start out, let’s dive into why chili is such a full-bodied dish. Without question, chili is a unique dish. There are numerous combinations of flavors and styles common to this well known Tex-Mex dish. But, despite all of the different recipes available, all chilis sport a satisfyingly thick consistency and intensely developed flavors.
Historically, chili was a dish that was developed by impoverished families in what is now South Texas. Because meat was sparse and had to stretch over several meals, cooks would stew it with peppers to develop a flavorful dish that would keep their families full.
Chili is still a dish that cooked for an extended period over low heat. This method gives the key ingredients time to meld together and develop the distinctively bold taste of chili. However, this cooking process also reduces the liquid in the dish and naturally creates a thicker stew-like end product.
How to Thicken Chili
Given enough time to cook, most chilis will naturally thicken on their own without any special help. However, if you are rushing, there are several different methods for thickening chili in a much shorter window of time. Keep in mind that none of the methods listed below will develop the flavors of your chili as efficiently as allowing it to reduce over time.
Also, keep in mind that figuring out how to thicken chili may take some deliberation. You should consider what ingredients you have on hand, what method will work well, and if the thickening agent affects the flavor of the chili.
As a final little note before we dig into the various methods, keep in mind the basics of thickening. To thicken any chili, soup or stew, you will need to eliminate some of the excess liquid. You can avoid wasting flavor and ingredients by adding an element to absorb the liquid instead of merely pouring it off.
There are a handful of thickening methods that will work for almost any soup or stew. Some of these methods come from traditional French cooking.
Other standard how to thicken chili methods have developed in other parts of the world. A common theme among these techniques is the addition of a powdered substance to either fat or liquid.
If you want to make chili but are worried that it will take too long to thicken, you can start your cooking process by developing a roux. Build a roux by cooking equal parts of fat and flour over moderate heat until the mixture has browned to the desired consistency. Building a good roux takes some practice, but it can be an invaluable skill to have.
If you use a roux to thicken chili, try substituting some of the flour with the powdered spices in your recipe. This step will allow your spices time to “bloom” and become fragrant. While this won’t fully develop the flavor of your chili, it can help to bring out the best characteristics of the spices you’re using.
How to thicken chili with white wash. This simple method involves mixing flour with a little bit of water to create a slurry. The slurry is then added to your chili pot and simmered. The more flour you use, the thicker your chili will become. But, if you add too much of it, the flavor will come through in your chili. Be sure to simmer your chili after adding the flour slurry to help eliminate the raw flour taste.
If you are trying to create a low carb chili, you can substitute unflavored protein powder for the flour used in this method. This technique will also increase the protein and overall calorie density of the final product.
Cornstarch or Arrowroot Flour
These two starches are used just like the white wash we mentioned above. However, these starches are much more powerful thickeners than all-purpose flour. Mix either type of starch in a one to one ratio with water to create your slurry. You should use two ounces of starch for each quart of liquid you’re thickening. Be sure to simmer your chili after adding.
You can slowly add two to three tablespoons of either masa harina or cornmeal to your chili to absorb some of the excess liquid. You don’t need to create a slurry before adding the corn flour, however, do boil your chili for five to seven minutes after you’ve added it in. Keep in mind that either corn product will affect the flavor of your chili.
If you live in an area with a well-stocked health foods store, it may be possible for you to purchase an emulsifier such as lecithin. Emulsifiers work by evenly distributing fat throughout your dish to provide a richer mouthful.
Keep in mind that you should add emulsifiers slowly. Try starting with one teaspoon at a time. Also, recognize the limitations of this method. Because of how the emulsifier works it will not be a good solution if you have a lot of extra liquid.
Here is a video teaching you how to thicken chili using soy lecithin and an immersion blender:
If you have built a chili base that tastes great but seems too thin, a simple solution may be to add extra ingredients. Tomato paste, beans of all varieties, and corn all make delicious additions to most chilis.
Canned tomatoes is a good replacement for tomato paste. Do this by blending fourteen ounces of canned tomatoes in a food processor until smooth.
Additionally, you can also add instant oats to your chili to make it thicker and increase its dietary fiber content.
Of course, adding extra ingredients to your chili will affect the taste and mouthfeel of the overall product. But, don’t be afraid to experiment. Chili is a very forgiving dish that suits itself well to experimentation.
If all else fails in your thickening pursuits, you can always add a few things when dishing it up. Ingredients like crushed crackers, potatoes or potato flakes, grains, crumbled cornbread, and cheese will all thicken your chili in the bowl.
Remember, the basic premise of thickening is to absorb some of the excess liquid. Each of these ingredients will do just that.
If your chili contains ingredients like beans, corn, or potatoes, you may be able to thicken it by blending a portion of it. The best tool for this job is an immersion blender. However, if you don’t own an immersion blender, you can also use a traditional blender or even a smoothie blender! Merely remove about a third of the chili from the pot, blend it, and then stir it back in.
If you are using a traditional blender, you should let your chili cool some before blending. Blending hot ingredients in a standard blender can be hazardous and lead to unwanted burns.
If your chili has a lot of fatty ingredients in it, skimming the fat off the top may allow you to thicken your chili sufficiently without adding any extra elements. To remove the fat efficiently bring your chili to a simmer and wait for the liquid fats to rise to the top of the pot. Take a large spoon and carefully scoop some of the fat off and remove it to a different container.
When you use this method try not to remove any of the other ingredients from the chili. Take care not to spill the fat onto your skin as well. Hot grease can cause severe burns. Finally, don’t dump hot oil directly into your trash or down your sink drain. Doing so can melt your trash bag or clog your pipes.
Learning how to thicken chili is indeed not rocket science, but it can feel challenging. If you’re new to cooking or new to making chili, start out with an easy recipe and an equally easy thickening method. Cooking skills develop over time just like the flavors of a great pot of chili.
All of the methods we’ve listed above can be used on their own or in combination with one another. We recommend trying them one at a time until you know what you like. Of course, also don’t be afraid to experiment.
By using some of these ideas, you’ll be well on your way to having a delicious and thick chili that will satisfy any craving – and serve them with your best dinnerware set as well!