May 17, 2022

A la Carte: Count on Chicken Chili on a Cold Day!

I have four definites before I give you a recipe:

  1. I have made the recipe and it was good
  2. Someone I knew had made this recipe and gave me the recipe and I understood the intranets and trusted them
  3. The ingredients were available or that a substitute would work for you
  4. I tinkered with the recipe and felt the tinkering made the recipe even better.

This was not the case with the tourtière you read last week.

I had not made a tourtière, or French-Canadian meat pie, in decades because my husband really didn’t like the cinnamon-blend so I never made it again. But my husband is gone and I love the spice blend (like the sauce the Olney, R.I. diners serve with hot dogs in the Ocean State), so I decided to make a tourtière from a recipe on the Internet. I sent the column before I made the tourtière.

I was gob-smacked. Either my palate had changed (which can happen  to anyone) or the spice blend sucked or my taste memory was faulty.

I drove down to my friend Rich Swanson’s house. He didn’t think the pie wasn’t bad (was he just being kind?), but he gave me an individual spiced lamb pie he’d made that might give me something I’d remember. That day I thawed the pie and had it for dinner with some broccoli, and there was that tourtière-flavor I remembered. 

“Will you give me that recipe?”  I begged over the phone.

“Yes,” he said, but it might take him some time to make the right amount of seasoning for a full-sized pie. “Take your time, Rich,” I said.

Unless you are a kid and it is Christmas morning, waiting for something wonderful is easy.

So, today, I am giving you a  recipe for chicken chili that I have made many times. Because it serves 12, you can halve the ingredients for six people; whether it is for six or 12, it freezes well.

Chicken Chili

Adapted from Ina Garten’s  “Barefoot Contessa Parties!” (Clarkson Potter, New York, 2001)
Serves 12

If you call this recipe a stew, make it a day or two earlier and refrigerate, warm it up and serve over rice, everyone will love it.

8 cups chopped onions (6 onions)
One-quarter cup good olive oil, plus extra for chicken
One-quarter cup minced garlic (8 cloves)
4 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and large-diced
4 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and large-diced
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½  teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 teaspoons salt, plus more for chicken
4 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained  (I used Muir Glen diced tomatoes)
½  cup minced fresh basil leaves
8 or more split breast chicken, bone in, skin on (thighs or a combination would be fine, too)

For serving: chopped onions, corn chips, grated cheddar cheese, sour cram

Cook onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne and salt. Cook for 1 minute.

Crush tomatoes by hand or in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add to the pot with the basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the meantime, rub the chicken with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generally with salt and pepper. Roast chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Let cool slightly.

Separate the meat from the bones and skin, and cut into three-quarter chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.

Lee White

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn. Contact Lee at

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