Smoky Bison and Black Bean Chili

August 27, 2018

Smoky Bison and Black Bean Chili

Until recently, every time I’ve thought about making chili, I’ve cast around for the perfect recipe. I can never remember which recipe of the 15 I can find in my various books is the one I like. I read them all, and end up using bits and pieces of each of them. The next time, it’s the same story all over again. Was it the “Beef and Vegetable Chili”  or the “Hearty Beef Chili?” Did I prefer kidney beans or black beans?

I finally decided to get down on paper the approximate formula for the way I’ve made it the last few times. This recipe, to me, brings together all the good things about the infinite possibilities of chili-making. Bison instead of beef (leaner, healthier, greener). Whole chiles. Dark beer. Black beans. Chipotles.

The great thing about chili is that you can do whatever you like. Add corn. Substitute your favourite beans. Make it hotter…or milder. There’s nothing more forgiving than a pot of chili.

I consider this a recipe-in-progress. It’s adapted from about five other recipes, and I’ll probably make it differently next time.


2 lbs ground bison (or, okay, beef. But come on.)
¼ cup olive oil (bison is so lean that a bit of oil is necessary for browning)
1 large onion, diced (doesn’t really matter what colour. Red are nice.)
4 cloves garlic, minced (non-negotiable)
½ of a red pepper
½ of a green pepper
2 whole ancho chiles
1 whole pasilla chile
½ can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 bottle dark ale (I won’t insist on a brand)
1 litre good chicken stock
2 large cans diced tomatoes (including the juice)
2 tbsp honey
2 cans black beans, rinsed well (or a good double handful of dried beans, soaked overnight)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper


  1. Tear the stems off the whole ancho and pasilla chiles and shake out most of the seeds. The more seeds you leave in, the hotter the chili will be. In a dry pan, sear the chiles on high heat for 3 mintues, pressing down on both sides with a spatula. Toss them in a blender with the chipotles in adobo sauce, the beer and just enough of the chicken stock so that they blend well. Blend to a smooth consistency.
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven. Season the bison with salt and pepper and brown. Set aside.
  3. Add the onions to the pan and cook slowly until soft (add a bit more oil if necessary). Add garlic for one minute and then red and green peppers. Sauté slowly for 5 minutes or so. Add the cumin and Mexican oregano, then the blended chile sauce and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the bison, the rest of the stock, the tomatoes and the honey. If you are using soaked dried beans, add them at this point, too. Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Simmer for a good hour (by the way, this isn’t a good recipe for quick-dinner nights) with the lid on. This step is key: it takes at least an hour for all the ingredients to come together and turn into chili. Up until that point (and you’ll know when it happens) it will look too soupy . If it’s taking too long, you can take off the lid, turn up the heat and boil it down to a good consistency. When you feel like you’re getting there, add in the black beans for the final 10 minutes. Stir in the lime juice just before serving. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
  4. I like to eat this with sour cream that has toasted cumin seeds stirred into it. And tortillas. And maybe some fresh avocado slices. Cilantro? Your call.

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