Cooking a big pot of beef, beans and spices for hours may be one of the most traditional ways to make chili. But it’s not the only way, and it’s not what I’ve been doing lately as my beef consumption continues to plummet.
To my mind, once you have all those beans and onions and chiles and spices simmering away, adding beef to the pot is simply a waste. I eat beef so infrequently that, when I do, I want it to be the star of the plate — a rare steak, a juicy burger, tender morsels of short rib or brisket dripping their heady gravy onto my generously buttered noodles. Or maybe I’ll even go for a pot of beef chili without any beans at all (which, according to multitudes in Texas and beyond, is the only acceptable way to prepare it).
Instead, I usually stick to bean chilies that are either vegetarian, or spiked with a little ground turkey or chicken for flavor and heft.
I also forgo the hours of simmering because, when it’s cooked in a wide skillet instead of a deep pot, the whole thing comes together weeknight fast, in about an hour.
For this exceptionally cozy version, I crown the chili with cornmeal biscuits before baking. It’s a bit like a tamale pie, an American classic that has nothing to do with Latin American tamales and everything to do with streamlined one-pot meals.
When nestled on top of the chili, the biscuits stay softer underneath than they would if baked separately on a pan — a welcome contrast to their crisp and golden tops.
For this recipe, I did include some ground turkey (or chicken), but feel free to leave it out and add an extra can or two of beans instead. Another possible poultry option is ground duck, which adds loads of depth, but can be hard to find. And fake meat works perfectly here as well.
If you’re a planner, you can make the cornmeal batter and the chili several hours ahead — or even the night before — then bake them together right before serving, so the biscuits are at their most tender. A dollop of sour cream or yogurt at the end isn’t strictly necessary, but the cool milkiness is lovely with the spicy, meaty — or meatless — chili.