Thai Chili Chili

I have a question: In a cooking competition, is spiking a recipe with fish sauce cheating or just savvy? On the one hand, it is pretty much umami distilled; just one small step short of dumping in the MSG and looking the other way as you rack up votes. On the other hand, it’s fish sauce. Thinking to put it in chili required some creativity on my end so I think I’ll just say a gracious thank you for my recent chili cook-off victory and share the recipe.


Saturday night, my friends threw their annual fall party complete with apple bobbing, sack racing, and, most importantly, a chili cook-off. A few weeks before, as I contemplated my chili contest entry, I told one of the hosts that I was going to try making a Thai chili chili (puns!). I also predicted I would lose the contest. It’s hard to win the chili cook off with a non-traditional chili.

But, this chili is special.  Fish sauce actually turns out to be kind of perfect in chili because it is smokey and sweet. This chili is both of those things but also spicy and meaty. It has a vinegary kick and is finished with coconut milk and lime juice. It’s turkey based. I used edamame in place of kidney beans and shallots in place of some of the onions.

Here’s the recipe. As you’ll see it’s so packed with umami boosters (tomatoes, fish sauce, soy sauce) that in retrospect I feel a bit like I stacked the deck. Nevertheless, I’m keeping my whisky prize. And, may I suggest, that if you ever face the level of competition that I faced Saturday night–when all the chilis were indeed excellent–that you consider a similar strategy.


Thai Chili Chili

– 1 big glug olive oil

– 3-4 Thai or Birds Eye chilis, seeded and finely chopped. (I find that how spicy these guys are varies quite a bit so taste a tiny bit before you decide to go for all 4. Alternatively draft your boyfriend into being your chili taster; I find this is also a good idea for potentially spoiled milk.)

– 2 medium shallots, finely diced

– 1/2 a yellow onion, finely diced

– 2 red peppers, chopped into small squares

– 4 cloves of garlic, finely diced

– 1 lb ground turkey

– 2 cups frozen, shelled edamame

– 1 tsp smoked paprika

– 1 tsp curry powder

– 3 tsps coriander

– 2 tsps turmeric

– 1 tbsp soy sauce

–  2-3 tsps fish sauce

– 2 cups chicken stock

– 2 tbsps tomato paste

– 5 small, roughly chopped tomatoes

– 2-3 tbsps rice vinegar

– 1/3-1/2 cup coconut milk (I used low-fat coconut milk, so you’ll probably want to use a little less if you use full fat.)

– 1 lime

– 5 scallions, chopped

* Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add chili peppers, peppers, shallots, onions, and garlic. When onions begin to brown stir in smoked paprika, curry powder, coriander, turmeric.

* Add edamame and turkey and stir to mix into onion, pepper, and spice mixture. Then add soy sauce and fish sauce (start with 2 tsps and add more at the very end if you think it needs it at the end). Cook until turkey begins to brown.

* Add stock, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, and rice vinegar. Stir until tomato paste is mixed in. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

* Simmer for about 45 minutes-1 hour, until liquid is mostly absorbed and it looks like chili.

* Just before you turn off heat, stir in coconut milk and the juice of one lime. I would start with 1/3 cup of the coconut milk but then add more if you think it needs it.

* Adjust spices. (These amounts should basically work, but every time I’ve cooked this chili, I’ve toyed with the proportions a little at the end. Sometimes I add a little more coriander, rice vinegar, or fish sauce.)

* Serve topped with chopped scallions.


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