Sensational Smoky Chilli

Making a great chilli requires time, patience and imagination. It is not the occasion to stick slavishly to a recipe but rather to think of your cooking pot as a cauldron of dark, smoky-sweet, carnal alchemy.

When I conjur up a chilli my aim to achieve shifting layers of texture, taste and sensation. No two chillis are ever quite the same, nor should they be, and so any recipe must be taken as a jumping off point for leisurely enjoyment and experimentation in the kitchen. This is my family recipe, but its up to you to create yours.

For me, going to your local butcher is part of the experience. Ask your butcher to roughly dice a cheap, forgotten cut of beef and use it to add texture.

I use butcher’s mince because I find it less claggy on cooking – it separates out nicely rather than forming a lumpen mat of mince when you brown it and won’t be full of water.

I like to use some pork in the recipe because I think it adds flavour – this time I used a sausage mix with a hint of caramelised onion - why not? I’m sure that extra hit of sweetness will be delicious. Next time, I might throw in something different.

I also picked up a bulb of glorious smoked garlic at the butcher’s – one whiff and you know that’s going to add depth.

Smoked garlic

Take the opportunity to go to your local greengrocers and see what peppers and tomatoes they have in that day.

I went to a tiny Turkish shop (nothing special or fancy) down a side street this morning and found long wriggly red Pimenton peppers, their thin, slightly hotter emerald sisters and a pale green, ghostly, sweeter cousin. Much more subtle and interesting than a standard, supermarket Bell pepper.


Generous stalks of vine tomatoes and a fist full of fresh coriander completed my purchases, all for a fraction of the supermarket price.

A slow cooker is an ideal way to make chilli. Even better, have a go on the barbeque.

Make it a day or two in advance to let it develop even more depth and complexity.

(This recipe is a minefield for Grammarians – I am sticking to smoky and chilli as the modern spelling choice!)


Serves 10-12 people

  • 1.25kg minced beef
  • 500g roughly diced beef skirt
  • 500g pork sausage meat
  • 2 tsp Chermoula spice blend (this is a wonderful mix of paprika, cumin, garlic, lemon, chilli, coriander and turmeric amongst other things)
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 3 tsp Ancho chilli paste – sweet and hot
  • 3 tsp Chipotle paste – hot and smoky
  • 3 tsp Pibil paste (ingredients too many to list, but adds a necessary degree of vinegar)
  • 3 mixed fresh peppers – see above. I like to chop them all slightly differently (fine, chunky, slithered, diagonally) to add to the final texture of the dish.
  • 2 fresh chillis, thinly sliced (minimum)
  • 5 cloves of smoked garlic (at least)
  • 2 large red onions, diced
  • 5 large vine tomatoes
  • Half a tube of tomato puree
  • 500g passata (although tinned tomatoes would be fine)
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 1 can red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 2 squares dark chocolate
  • Fresh coriander
  • Salt
  • Olive oil


Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: at least 6 hours

  1. Brown your various meats separately; use a splash of olive oil. Don’t be tempted to brown them together, this will just be a mess. When browning mince, give it time to actually pick up a bit of colour before attempting to break it up – this makes it a lot easier. Add your meats to your final, large cooking pot.
  2. Put your vine tomatoes in a heat proof bowl, make a small slit in the skin, cover with boiling water and leave for 5 minutes until skin is ready to peel off.
  3. In a frying pan, gently soften your onions, smoked garlic and peppers in some olive oil.
  4. Add all your spices, dried ones first, to cook through for about 5 minutes.
  5. Squish the whole, peeled tomatoes into your onion and pepper mix using your hands to pulp them. WEAR YOUR APRON! Although this can be messy, it’s the fastest way to pulp fresh tomatoes and you can feel for and remove any fibrous bits with your fingers.
  6. Add the passata, beef stock and tomato puree, mix and add to your large cooking pot or slow cooker.
  7. Stir everything and leave it in your slow cooker for about 4 hours.
  8. Taste and see what else your chilli needs. Think about it? Salt? More heat? More vinegar? More smoked garlic? A touch of sugar?
  9. Add your beans.
  10. Add a square of dark chocolate. Maybe it needs 2?
  11. Come back an hour later and taste again.
  12. Cook, low and slow, for a further 4 hours.

Serve with love and scattered fresh coriander.

I usually cook this up for friends. I don’t bother with a tablecloth, but rather cover any table with brown paper so I can just throw it away at the end of a meal. This has the added advantage of making your guests feel uninhibited which adds to their eating pleasure.


  • Tortilla bread (use this as a plate if you like)
  • Rice
  • Gauacamole
  • Mango, cucumber and pomegranate  salsa
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream seasoned with lime juice and pepper
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Matchstick carrots
  • Lime wedges
  • For extra fun offer up a chilli sauce ‘bar’ so guests can add their own, additional heat if they want to.

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