Smoky Fire-roasted Ghost Pepper Turkey Chili
Turkey chili? What’s this, then?! Well, at the time of this writing, the holidays have been upon us, have come and gone, mountains of heavy, fatty foods have been had, washed down with gallons of drinks. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for us to have something a little different. Something comforting and filling but less heavy…
Like, say, a warming, filling, inexpensive and healthy spicy turkey chili? Granted, some of those words, inexpensive and healthy in particular, aren’t words I use too often on this site. But sometimes a little change is good and sometimes after a food orgy, such as the holidays, we all need a bit of a change. And don’t worry, while simple, inexpensive and healthy, this dish certainly delivers well enough in the flavor department to warrant inclusion on this site!
The quest for perfect turkey chili
Why this sudden infatuation with turkey chili? Well, turkey chili is wildly popular as a healthier, less heavy, less fattening alternative to regular chili con carne. And while not exactly a health advocate, I do realize that we can’t all live off of red meat all the time so an alternative is more than welcome here in Johan-land. The trouble with turkey – ground turkey especially – is that it’s not exactly known for it’s depths of flavor. Owing largely to this fact, I have never been able to find a really flavorful turkey chili and, as such, I have never entertained the though of making turkey chili. Until very recently, that is, when a bit of encouragement popped up out of the blue and inspired me to give turkey chili another go. Turkey, you see, can be flavorful, just think of the roast turkey many of us consumed over the holidays, it just needs a bit of tender loving care and help! The same goes for turkey chili, it seems. And with a little help from my friends, I think I’ve found a way… And it all started on a regular Friday like any other.
A couple of weeks ago, said Friday to be exact, something odd happened. I noticed a definite spike in web traffic on my ghost chili/mango hot sauce recipe and quickly noticed that all of it was coming from a little website called reddit.com. After watching the ball roll for a while, I decided to investigate the source of the traffic and found it to be a link to my ghost chili hot sauce recipe posted by someone calling himself commiecomrade stating that this was the best homemade hot sauce he’d ever tried.
Humbled beyond words, I jumped into the thread to say thanks and conversation ensued. commiecomrade, or Mark to friends, ended up offering me valuable feedback and input on my original recipe and even went so far as to include his mom’s recipe for chili which he had modified to use my hot sauce as a key ingredient. Now, I’ve had a lot of feedback and praise over the years, but I don’t think anyone has ever gone so far as to modify a family recipe for my creations. Humbled as I was, I responded in the only fitting manner, asking: “Can I try this out and use/modify the recipe for the blog if I give credit where credit is due?” – thankfully, the answer was yes, and so, through the magic of the internet, we bring you this intercontinental joint effort in turkey chili perfection.
All original credit for this recipe goes to Laura Mosso. Original recipe here. Slight modifications were made by Mark Mosso and finishing touches added by yours truly. Together, in all sincerity, I think we’ve managed to create a pretty rocking, flavorful and spicy turkey chili recipe. Which adresses one problem with many turkey chili recipes, namely the sub par flavors when compared to regular beef chilies.
BOX A note on turkey: This recipe calls for ground turkey. Ground turkey, generally, is not the most flavorful of meats, so shop carefully. If you can, spend the extra buck on something organic, free range and slow-raised. It not only tastes better, it also makes the conscience feel better. While you’re at it, get ground thigh-meat or leg meat if you can. The legs, especially in the case of free-range turkeys, do a lot more work than the breast, and – as a result – carry (pun intended) more flavor. Come next holiday season, you might even consider using shredded, left-over turkey meat or scraps. Just saying.
Changing up Mom’s Chili Recipe: Highway to the Danger Zone
First things first, if you want to understand what we’re doing here, you may want to start out by checking out the original recipe. If you’re a returning viewer and just want the updated version, then click here.
Now, then… What we’re dealing with in the link above is what I’ve come to call a “mom recipe”. The term mom recipe is one I’ve coined to cover those recipes in which the ingredient list and instructions are usually somewhere along the lines of “add everything to taste and cook till it’s done!” Here, though, we are dealing with a rare case in which ingredient amounts are largely specific and the instructions span more than a single line. So, rather than rewriting things and messing them up in my version, I’ve simply elaborated a little on the original recipe, added a few extra steps, and a few touches of my own as a simple, but fitting tribute to the original recipe. Also, being Danish and a major chilihead, I’ve adjusted a few things to my personal liking and to the general availability of ingredients across the globe.
You see, the recipe I received contained some pretty specific and very American ingredients that may not be well known or readily available to the outside world. So I had to imply a bit of creativity here for my own sake and for the sake of those looking to copy my efforts.
The recipe calls, for example, for one can each of diced, stewed and fire-roasted tomatoes. The idea here, obviously, is to create depths of flavor by mixing various preparations of tomatoes and it’s a great idea. Only, here in Denmark, we don’t have the luxury of readily available fire-roasted tomatoes (or the brand richness) that Americans enjoy, so I substituted two large cans of a good brand of flavorful organic tomatoes that I know and love. I suggest you do the same. To mimic the flavor and depth of the stewed and the fire-roasted tomatoes, I decided instead to grill the red pepper under the broiler for a few minutes before skinning it and adding it to the chili. It’s a little bit of extra work, but it worked beautifully and added even more sweetness, smokiness and depth to the dish.
A second sort of special, sort of American ingredient mentioned in the recipe is chili powder. Chili powder, usually, refers to a relatively mild blend of dried, ground chili peppers – hot and mild – blended with cumin and other spices. Chili powders are readily available in supermarkets and online in a variety of configurations and you can generally go with anything you like – or blend your own. The recipe does not specify which brand or type of chili powder to use, so I had to wing it here and went with a custom mix that I liked. Whether blending your own or using a store-bought variety, I suggest you go for one with a high content of Ancho chilies: a mild, fruity, flavorful chili that adds a very characteristic flavor that’s an absolute classic in any proper chili con carne. For my tribute chili blend, I went with a custom mix of paprika, ancho, chipotle and cayenne for a fruity/smoky kind of twist. You’ll find my blend as part of the revamped recipe, but you can just as easily substitute your favorite chili powder.
A third special ingredient mentioned in the original recipe, and one that may have most Europeans a bit puzzled, is liquid smoke! Liquid smoke is exactly what it sounds like: liquified smoke aroma, created, essentially, from condensing smoke from slow-burning hickory or other smoke wood to create an extremely concentrated and very smoky liquid that can be used to adding deep smoky notes to stews and other stovetop meals. I was, for the longest time, skeptical about liquid smoked as an ingredient as I’ve found it overly smoky and harsh, but I’ve discovered that if used in moderation and added early in the process, it doesn’t so much add pungent smoke as it adds depth and character. As such, I’m going to suggest that you add a bit of liquid smoke to your chili – a mere teaspoon will do the trick! You should be able to find it in well-stocked supermarkets or specialty stores across the globe – if not, you can certainly get it online. It’s well worth the investment – a little really goes a long way!
A not so special, but very important, ingredient used in the original recipe is beans (beans, the musical fruit). Laura’s recipe calls simply for 1 cup of kidney beans. In my version, I’ve actually upped the ante and added about 500 grams of quality canned chili beans, liquid and all. Using chili beans not only adds a bit of extra flavor, it also thickens up the dish quite nicely. I like a lot of beans in my chili, but you can add as few or as many as you like. If you’re one of those savages who believe beans have no place in a chili, you may even leave them out altogether.
Last but not least in the modifications department, we have a few cases where I’ve deviated completely from the original recipe. And this is where I may get in a bit of trouble with Mom, but let’s hope not. First off, the original recipe contained Tostitos nacho cheese. And, uh, well, first of all, I’m unfamiliar with the brand, second of all, I’m not a big fan of processed cheese, so I left it out completely (sorry, mom!). This is a personal choice and I’ll leave it to the home cook to decide which way to go. Lord knows the world loves nacho cheese! Secondly, Laura’s original recipe did not call for hot sauce. Mine does. The addition of hot sauce was a brilliant move on the part of her son, Mark who discovered that the addition of fruity, tropical hot sauce somehow boosted the overall impression of the dish. In theory, any fruit-driven hot sauce will work here, but Mark used my recipe (and this being my blog) I of course recommend using my Ghost Chili Mango Hot Sauce Recipe. You can substitute a good store-bought hot sauce or hot salsa, but do use a fruit-driven variety. Stear completely clear of Louisiana-style vinegar-driven sauces such as Tabasco, Louisiana or Frank’s. The vinegar content will completely mess up the flavor profile and overpower everything else!
As for procedures? Well, Laura’s recipe, as any good mom recipe, more or less calls for adding all the ingredients and cooking till done. This is the way most mothers explain things – and, honestly, usually the way I explain things, too. This way of doing things, however, does have a habit of driving other home cooks crazy, so I’ve tried to elaborate a bit. As a matter of fact, I’ve taken the liberty in this recipe to add a few steps that should hopefully serve to not only clarify things, but also help to drive the most possible flavor out of the ingredients used. I’d like to think it’s how Mom would have done it.
With that, I give you: Laura’s turkey chili with a touch of Ghost Chili and Johan! (… and Mark!)
Fiery, smoky Ghost Pepper Turkey Chili Recipe
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper - left whole
- 1 green bell pepper - medium dice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¾ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon hot paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried Ancho chili
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon Chipotle chili powder
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- dash of ground coriander
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 2 tablespoons my Ghost Chili/Mango hot sauce or similar fruit-driven hot sauce
- 2 cans diced tomatoes (about 800 grams total)
- 1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
- 200 ml chicken stock
- 500 grams chili beans
- Turn your oven to broil and leave to get smoking hot.
- Poke red pepper a few times with a sharp knife, then pop in oven directly under broiler.
- Leave pepper to broil, turning every now and then till thoroughly browned all over.
- Remove pepper from oven and immediately stash in a disposable food-grade plastic bag and tie shut.
- Leave pepper to steam for about 10-20 minutes (or until cool enough to handle).
- Using a sharp knife, remove the core and seeds from the pepper, then carefully scrape off the blackened skin.
- Cut pepper into a medium dice, reserve any accumulated juices if you can.
- Put a large Dutch oven or other pot over medium heat and add a generous splash of oil.
- Add garlic, onion, celery and peppers (green and red), fry for about five minutes till fragrant and softened.
- Add hot sauce along with any accumulated roasting juices from the red pepper and cook for about five minutes, giving the sauce a bit of time to mellow out and cook down.
- Transfer vegetables to a bowl and set aside for a few minutes.
- Turn heat to medium high, add another splash of oil followed by the ground turkey.
- Fry turkey for a good five minutes until browned.
- Mix all dried spices (including the homemade or store-bought chili powder).
- Throw your spice mix in with the turkey and continue to fry for another few minutes until everything (your house included) smells awesome.
- Throw aromatic vegetables back into the pot along with the bay leaf, liquid smoke, chicken stock, tomatoes and beans (liquid and all).
- Let everything come to a boil, then back heat down to medium and cook for about 30 minutes stirring every now and then.
- Finish cooking when everything has reduced a bit and has thickened nicely. It will be done after 30 minutes, but you can keep cooking it down for a thicker, more flavorful chili. The choice is yours. It’s pretty damn hard to overcook ground meat.
A Perfect Turkey Chili?
The results of our efforts? A warming, flavorful bowl of chili with a unique depth and balance of flavors achieved from the perfect mix and treatment of vegetables, herbs and spices.
Thanks to the addition of a large amount of pretty kicking hot sauce, this is quite a spicy chili to the average palate. As could well be expected from something bearing the words “ghost chili” in the name. But it’s by no stretch of the word menacingly hot, especially not if left in the fridge overnight for the flavors to settle and mingle. Seriously, though, if you’re worried about heat, start by cutting the hot sauce down by about half and all should be well. You can always add more at the time of serving and by doing things this way, you’ll have a benchmark for your next batch.
Unlike many other turkey chilies I’ve had, the turkey flavor actually pushes through in this one quite nicely thanks to the use of thigh meat and a bit of stock. It is, however, the tomato depth, herbs and spices along with the bell peppers and chili bite that actually carry this dish through. I shudder to think it, but you probably could make a very tasty vegetarian alternative to this recipe by simply substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock and sweet corn for turkey.
Okay, I’m meat drunk from Christmas, let’s pretend I never said that and end this here by saying that this is one hell of a kicking turkey chili recipe – something that I did not in my wildest dreams think I would say. Thank you, Laura and Mark for the challenge and willingness to play along. I’d like to think I did you proud!