Latin Cuisine

Regional cuisine from Central and South America.

The Food Lab Turbo: Spicy Chorizo and Pinto Bean Chili

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A simple chorizo chili made with fresh chorizo and pinto beans, topped with flavor-packed ingredients. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

This is the last in a series of three simple recipes I've been working on featuring fresh Mexican chorizo. The first were these simple Mexican chorizo tacos. The second were these chorizo sloppy joes. The last is a simple chili made with chorizo, pinto beans, and a whole slew of fresh toppings.

This is the kind of thing that happens when I move out of my old apartment and discover several pounds of the fresh Mexican chorizo I was working on a few months ago in cryovac bags inside my freezer. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but excess and the need-to-get-rid-of-excess-crap is its first cousin.

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When you're starting with something as flavorful and juicy as chorizo, there's really not all that much that needs to be done to turn it into a delicious stew. In my Ultimate Chili recipe, I use a puréed mixture of whole dried chilies cooked in chicken stock as the flavor base, but with this recipe, expedience is higher on my list of priorities, so I stick with regular old chili powder, doctored up with onion, garlic, a bit of extra cumin, Mexican oregano, and—the secret ingredient—a dash of fish sauce.

Fish sauce is a concentrated source of glutamic and inosinic acid, two of the ingredients responsible for triggering our sense of umami, or savoriness. A small dash of it added to a meat-based stew will up its meaty factor to Godzilla-sized proportions without actually imparting any sort of excessively fishy overtones.

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A couple of cans of drained pinto beans and a can of tomatoes go in to bulk it up. (I know, I know. Tomatoes and beans in chili??? Don't even start with me.) The whole thing simmers for about half an hour on the stovetop, just enough time to grab your garnishes—and in the summertime, chili is just as much about the fresh garnishes as it is the meaty stew.

I like to go all out, with a mix of diced avocados, diced tomatoes (I use sweet little cherry tomatoes), sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, crumbled cotija cheese, and a drizzle of Mexican crema.

Of course, now that I've managed to get rid of all that excess chorizo, I'm stuck wondering what to do with the extra avocado, tomato, scallions, cilantro, cheese, and crema I have sitting in my fridge. And thus the cycle continues. I smell some nachos in my future.

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