Wild game meat and cocoa chili is one of those dishes that’s great to reheat in a Dutch oven suspended over a fire pit. Before heading out on a hunt, we used to fill empty milk cartons with the stuff and then staple the tops shut and freeze them.
The frozen chili would help keep the contents of our cooler cold. When it was time to eat it, we’d simply peel the carton away from the frozen chili and put the icy block into a pot. Then we’d use the carton to light the fire that would heat the chili.
This particular recipe is as inventive and unconventional as our old chili-cooking method. It comes from my friend Chef Matt Weingarten, who’s an expert at adapting his restaurant dishes that use wild game for cooks working at home.
Whenever I serve this, people say, “Oh my God, that’s amazing.” I think you’ll agree.
- 2 lbs. game meat (from the shoulder or leg), cut into ¾-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 dried ancho chile peppers (or 2 tbsp. ancho chile powder)
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1-1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tsp. ground Juniper berry
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 2 cans (15 oz. each) chopped tomatoes
- 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
- 1 quart game stock
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano
- 4 cans (15 oz. each) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- Hot sauce, chopped scallions, grated cheese, cilantro sprigs, and sour cream for serving.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.
- Toast the whole ancho chiles. (If using chili powder, skip this step and incorporate the chili powder when you add the other spices.)
- In a 6-to 8-quart heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the whole ancho chiles over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until they become very aromatic and dark brown all over.
- Remove to a bowl. When cool, remove the stems and finely chop the chiles, seeds and all. Set aside.
- Add the oil to the pot. When it shimmers, sear the game meat in batches, never crowding the pot, until browned on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped anchos to the pot along with the cocoa powder, sugar, and spices. Stir to incorporate.
- Add the meat back to the pot, along with any juices that may have collected on the plate. Stir to incorporate and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chipotles, and a splash of game stock. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining game stock plus 1 cup water (or as much as needed to cover the meat). Raise the heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low. Skim off and discard any scum that has accumulated on the surface of the chili.
- Tie the cilantro and oregano sprigs into a bundle with butchers twine and add the herb bundle to the pot. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 2-1/2 hours on low heat or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick.
- About 30 minutes before the chili is done, add the kidney beans and heat through.
- When the meat is tender (it won’t spring back when crushed on a spoon with a fork), remove the herb bundle. Adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper as needed. I like to add a huge dash of hot sauce at the end.
- Serve around the fire pit with chopped scallions, grated cheese, more cilantro, and sour cream.