The idea for this Wild Thing Texas Chili started as my answer to the “what kind of chili do you like?” What I consider the essentials of the genre: 1) no beans (this is Texas chili, after all) with 2) a deep, complex balance of sweet, bitter, hot, and fruity flavor plus a robust, meaty kick and thick, rich red sauce to bind the other ingredients together. That being said, let’s break down how I accomplish these essentials in this recipe.
Folks have strong opinions about what constitutes chili (as I discovered when I conducted some highly scientific research and asked Quora “does real chili have beans?“) so I suspect this chili could be considered heretical because it doesn’t include beef! I got the idea of naming this Texas chili “Wild Thing” from the fact that it’s made with bison, venison, and wild boar… although complemented with a product from a domesticated animal: pastured bacon. I chose bison, venison and wild boar because these wild game meats are naturally very lean, and leanness is preferred here for two important reasons:
Lean meat browns in a skillet. Browning provides a boost of meaty flavor (which is why searing the meat is often the first step in slow cooker recipes, for example) but it’s nearly impossible to properly brown a pot of fatty ground meat. As soon as it begins to cook, the juices seep out and submerge the bottom layer, and there’s nothing uglier than meat graying in its own fat as you cook it, not to mention the wasted flavor potential from browning being prevented. For this recipe, keep the heat high under the skillet after cooking the bacon and sear the ground game meat until there is crispy browning on each side (it’s not important to cook the meat all of the way through during this stage). Open the windows or turn on the vent, and don’t lose your nerve.
Lean meat is an appropriate pairing for a fatty supplemental ingredient like bacon. Fat = flavor and bacon is debatably the most delicious source, but bacon in combination with a fatty ground meat results in an unappealing greasy-texture.
Therefore, this recipe can accommodate any ratio of lean game meat (even 3 lbs of a single type), but substituting ground pork or 85% ground beef will fail!
The meat is the star of the show here, but if you prefer a milder, sweeter chili then by all means double the peppers or add an extra onion. I’ve played around with sweet potato for a higher-carb version in the past: just shred in your food processor with the other vegetables and be sure to let it cook down until al dente in the final stage. The result is a subtly stickier, chewier texture that’s wonderful in its own way. As for the tomato, I call for tomato purée below which is not tomato sauce. If tomato sauce is all that’s available to you, use only one cup and make up the difference with more broth.
Coffee and Fish Sauce
The goal here is umami, that savory taste found in foods like cheese, soy sauce, and ripe tomatoes that Asian cuisines have always understood makes food delicious. Fish sauce is a hack used here to achieve maximum umami; it doesn’t make the chili taste like fish, it merely intensifies the existing flavor of the chili in a meaty, non-specific way. I may add as much as four teaspoons of fish sauce next time, or an anchovy or two!
Aside from the benefit of caffeine, the coffee lends depth and a nutty bass note to balance the sweetness of the vegetables and to complement the smokiness of the chili powder. Experiment with adding a few heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder or a few ounces of unsweetened chocolate to achieve the effect without coffee.
In a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Transfer to a plate to cool, and empty the fat from the skillet but reserve for later use.
Brown the bison, venison, and wild boar briefly on each side. Transfer out of the skillet after the meat has a nicely seared brown color but before it has cooked fully. While the meat browns, load the onions, garlic, bell peppers, and bacon into a food processor and pulse until finely shredded. If you prefer a chunkier chili, chop the vegetables by hand into ½” pieces.
When the meat is finished, saute the bacon and vegetable mixture in the skillet until very soft. While it cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat in a large stew pot over medium heat. Add the chili powder, cumin, chipotle powder, oregano, paprika, salt, and chili flakes. Cook until fragrant, then stir in the meat, vegetable mixture, pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, coffee, broth, and fish sauce.
Combine thoroughly, allow to simmer for 10 minutes until the flavors meld, then serve warm with sliced jalapeños, cilantro, and shaved red onion if desired.
I used salted broth in my version, if your broth is unsalted you may need to increase the salt to two teaspoons.