white chili is the perfect warm & comforting meal for a chilly fall day. packed with flavor from a carefully built base of onions, chili peppers, & warm spices, this white chili is braised with beer, loaded with pulled roasted chicken breast, & thickened with masa harina. oh, & if that didn’t win you over, spoonfuls of white chili make for the perfect vessel for guacamole. #boom.
i told you a while back that september is my all-time favorite month (even with birthday & anniversary bias aside), but october is totally a close second. everything i love most about september carries into october: the crisp air in the mornings only gets crisper, apple season comes on in full-force, & the colors begin to change, making october the hands-down most beautiful month of the year in minnesota.
aside from the crisp air, yummy flavors & beautiful scenery that comes with autumn, i think my love for this time of year spans back to my childhood. my maternal grandparents would make the trip from hawaii to northern wisconsin every other year for a two-week visit. grandma & grandpa always chose to come in october since the cool weather & changing colors make it the best time of year to visit the midwest. & since visits with these grandparents were far & few between, their arrival in wisconsin was always a special treat.
another special treat – grandpa clarence is quite the cook & baker. he has a repertoire of amazing recipes that he’s perfected over the years: banana muffins with chocolate chips, pineapple upside down cake, “las vegas” beef stew, & so many more.
i remember sitting with him at the end of our kitchen table & using the bottom of one of my mom’s crystal glasses to carefully press out the prettiest peanut butter cookies.
i remember eagerly asking grandpa what he would be making for dinner before getting on the bus for school in the morning. i would cross my fingers & hope with all my might he would say dinner would be his grandpa clarence’s chili & perfect cornbread.
needless to say, some of my fondest childhood memories with grandpa clarence were these visits to wisconsin & the amazing baked goodies & comforting home-cooked meals he would treat us with over the course of his stay.
to this day, like clockwork, once october hits, i start to crave warm, comforting chili. & it’s without a doubt, these chili cravings are inextricably tied to my cherished memories. grandpa’s chili is a classic: ground beef & kidney beans slowly simmered with a hit of beer in a spicy tomato sauce & served with a side of warm homemade cornbread. grandpa’s chili dinner is fall comfort food at its finest & was one of the first meals that i set out to learn how to make when i moved out on my own in college.
these days, though, i opt for spicy white chili with pulled chicken & beer.
my white chili with pulled chicken & beer transforms but also preserves all of the amazing flavor of grandpa clarence’s chili & cornbread dinner, with a bit of a my own personal jess twist.
this white chili starts with a slow & steady sauté of onions & jalapeños, which creates the flavor-bomb base that cuts through the creamy broth of this white chili. if there’s anything italian cooking has taught me, it’s that you can do no wrong when you slowly let your aromatics soften – the outcome will always be flavorful.
to me, good chili needs the flavor & the extra element of earthy richness that a couple of glugs of beer can offer. you don’t need anything fancy; a light, lager-style beer will work just fine. (shout out to my favorite beer of my home state – new glarus spotted cow! if you’re ever in wisconsin, find & drink a spotted cow asap!!) once the onions & peppers have cooked down & the flavor of the garlic, green chilis & spices have warmed, this white chili calls for slowly braising the lot of it in beer.
i add my beer in two additions, allowing each to cook down almost completely. while it may seem tedious, braising the onions & chilis serves an important purpose: concentrating the rich, earthy flavor of the beer & giving these flavors the time they need to seep into the onions & chilis.
i love any dish that calls for plain ol’ chicken breast. it may not be fancy or have the best rep amongst foodies, but it is realistically the protein that we most often use in our house. as such, i can usually count on having some extra pulled chicken in my fridge at any given time, making white chili a viable weeknight contender in our menu planning. (rotisserie chicken works great, too!) also, like any soup or stew, the flavors of chili meld & develop over time. you can make a big batch during meal prep on sunday & bring to work throughout the week. #notasaddesklunch guaranteed.
to me, aside from beer (see #2, above), good chili needs the flavor of corn. this belief is undoubtedly tied back to memories of grandpa clarence’s chili & cornbread dinners. while grandpa clarence’s cornbread would make a killer side for my white chili (& don’t worry, i will share that recipe with you all soon enough!), i found a brilliant hack on pioneer woman ages ago that’s indefinitely changed my white chili game: masa harina slurry.
masa harina is a very fine corn flour that is most commonly used to make tortillas & can be found in the ethnic foods aisle of most grocery stores. i whisk together 1/4 cup masa harina with whole milk & slowly stir into the white chili just as it’s ready to come off the stove. the masa harina slurry does double duty: it thickens the white chili to an expected chili consistency (this chili would otherwise be more soup-like since the only liquid in the recipe is chicken stock), & reinforces the light flavor of corn throughout the broth.
& fifth, guacamole.
any food that acts as a vessel for guacamole is pretty alright in my book. topped with a dollop of perfect guacamole & a squeeze of fresh lime juice & served with a side of tortilla chips, this white chili is perfection & will have you coming back all soup season long.
what’s your favorite way to eat chili? do you opt for traditional chili or do you have tricks & tips to make your chili your own? if not chili, what comforting soups do you crave once temperatures cool down & soup season comes on in full force? let me know in the comments below – i’d love to chat!
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 yellow onions, diced
- 4 jalapeños, stemmed & deseeded**
- OR 1 bell pepper & 1 tsp crushed red chili flake
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 heaping tbsp cumin
- 1 heaping tbsp coriander
- 2 5 oz cans green chilies
- 1 16 oz bottle light lager-style beer
- 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
- 1 lb chicken breast, roasted & pulled*
- 1 32 oz container reduced-sodium chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup masa harina
- in heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven, heat coconut oil over medium high heat.
- cook diced onions & jalapeños with 1 tsp of kosher salt over medium heat until softened, about 7-10 minutes.
- add cumin, coriander, minced garlic& chilies & allow to cook for about 1 minute to warm up the chilies & bring out the flavor of the spices.
- add the beer in two intervals. first deglaze the pan with half of the beer & bring to a simmer over medium high heat stirring frequently for about 5 mintues, allowing beer to reduce by half. once beer has reduced, add remaining beer, continue to stir, & allow it to reduced by half again, about another 5 minutes. this concentrates the flavor of the beer & semi-braises the onions & peppers with its flavor.
- add beans, pulled chicken, & reduced-sodium chicken stock to the pot. add in bay leaves. bring chili to a boil over medium-high heat, cover & let simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes.
- in a bowl or measuring cup, combine milk & masa harina. mix together with a whisk. the mixture will be similar to a slurry & will thicken up quickly. stir until smooth, breaking up any lumps of masa harina.
- uncover the chili pot. while stirring the chili, slowly pour the masa harina slurry into the pot.
- let chili simmer for 10 more minutes uncovered over low heat to bring all the flavors together one last time.
- serve in bowls with tortilla chips & perfect guacamole.***
- preheat oven to 400 degreees
- place chicken breasts on baking sheet. season generously with olive oil (about 1 tbsp), & salt & pepper (about 1 tsp each).
- bake chicken for 25 minutes, until cooked through.
- allow chicken to cool & shred.
- we like things with a great kick of spice, so i stem & deseed half of the jalapeños & leave the stems & seeds in the rest. if you want something more mild, stem & deseed all of the jalapeños. either way, remember to thoroughly scrub your hands & fingernails with hot soapy water once you're done chopping.
- there is really no reason to be afraid of a stemmed & deseeded jalapeño! their flavor is mild, fruity, & delightful. but if you're afraid of jalapeños, you can swap out with a green bell pepper & add 1 tsp of crushed red chili flakes with the cumin & coriander.
- cut corn tortillas into a thin ribbons & place on a nonstick baking sheet.
- spritz tortilla strips with cooking spray, & season with a sprinkle of cumin & kosher salt.
- bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes until crispy. keep an eye on them!
- once baked, pull out of the oven & sprinkle the zest of one lime over tortilla strips.
- cool & serve.