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A Chef's Best Chili Secrets

Ron DeSantis, CMC, director of culinary excellence, Yale University, New Haven, CT, is a 25-year veteran of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and is one of only 62 living Americans to pass the rigorous test to achieve Certified Master Chef status.

We asked DeSantis what it takes to make the greatest chili possible.

What is one thing that most may not be doing that could make a great chili?

One of the key things to do, if you’re really going to make a great chili, is to start with whole spices and toast them. You achieve a completely different flavor. It’s an unbelievable difference.

What if it’s not an option to start with whole spices?

Even if you start with ground spices, you can put those in a dry sauté pan.Toasting them over heat for a few moments will still help them open up so much.

How do you use dried chiles in chili?

Dried chiles help build flavor. When making chili, you are looking for not just fiery heat, but also those satisfying rich, deep, earthy tones that make you want to go back again and again for more chili! The variety of dried chiles is all over the board: guajillos and anchos are good. You can grind them, or soak them to rehydrate and then chop and add to the chili. Experiment with different chiles and just keep building the flavors.

Do you always need to cook chili for a long time?

Some things are always cooked quickly, like stir fry. But with any chili, stew or braise, the slower you cook it, the happier you will be.

So, you should use cuts of meat that require slow cooking?

Yes—get the toughest, most flavorful cuts, like chuck and shank. They just scream flavor. Cut them up first—maybe to the size of about the end of your pinkie finger. You must cook them super slow. Whenever you encounter meat that’s stringy or dried out in chili, that meat has been cooked too fast. You want your pot of chili barely bubbling, barely simmering, for the best flavor.

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