I’m rushing to post this before midnight so it can be eligible for my list of favorite 2014 recipes, because there’s no doubt it belongs there. Although I’m not a white chili connoisseur (I’ve heard of it but never eaten it), I see no reason to dispute Serious Eats’ claim that this is the best one. The Food Lab knows its stuff, and when that stuff is creamy, cheesy white beans with smoky-spicy chilies, lime, and plenty of cilantro, we should all just get on board.
The recipe sounds a little futzy, but let me assure you that it comes together easily, and there is a good reason for every step. Clever touches that put this head and shoulders above the rest include brining the beans in salty water (that old saw about salt making beans tough is the polar opposite of true), roasting the chilies for deeper flavor, poaching the chicken right in the soup until just tender, and pureeing some of the beans for extra creaminess. With a little patience, you get a bright, zesty, melty and ultra-satisfying stew with just the right balance of heat, freshness and richness.
A few miscellaneous notes: We found the spice level perfect, but you can use plain Monterey Jack if you’re worried that pepper Jack will put it over the top for you. The original recipe calls for a full pound of cheese, but 12 ounces seemed plenty generous to me; do what you like. I skipped the pickled jalapeno and juice because I didn’t feel like buying a whole jar/can, but now I know that this isn’t crazy spicy, I might add it last time—I can particularly see how the pickling juice would be nice, because I ended up adding extra lime juice to boost the acidity. I also skipped peeling the peppers in the broth; the original recipe says it’s easier, but having to then strain the broth and clean extra dishes didn’t sound worth it to me. The skins of the Anaheims and jalapenos slipped right off, but the poblanos did give me a little trouble. I ended up with a few scraps of skin still left on, but since the peppers just get pureed anyway, it wasn’t a big deal. (This might lead you to wonder why you should bother peeling the peppers at all, but since they get pretty blackened I think it would add too much burnt flavor.)
You should make this in 2015. Heck, if you hurry, you can make it tonight and end the year on a properly delicious upswing.
1 pound dried small white (Navy), Great Northern, or cannellini beans
2 fresh poblano chilies
4 fresh Anaheim or Hatch chilies
2 jalapeño chilies
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed, and split in half from top to bottom
8 medium cloves garlic
1 whole pickled jalapeño pepper, plus 2 tablespoons pickling liquid from the can (optional)
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 quart homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds)
3/4 to 1 pound shredded pepper Jack cheese, divided
2 tablespoons fresh juice, plus 1 lime cut into wedges for serving
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided
4 to 6 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- Place beans in a large bowl or pot and add 1 gallon (4 quarts) water. Add ¼ cup salt and stir until dissolved. Cover and let rest at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 24. Drain and rinse beans.
- Adjust broiler rack to 8 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place poblanos, Anaheims, jalapeños, onion, and garlic on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Toss with one tablespoon oil, using your hands to coat. Season with salt to taste. Broil, turning peppers and rearranging vegetables occasionally, until peppers are blackened on all sides and skins are wrinkled all over, 15 to 20 minutes total. Gather up foil and form a sealed pouch. Let chilies rest for 5 minutes.
- Peel chilies, discard seeds and skin, and transfer flesh to the cup of a hand blender or a standing blender. Add broiled onion, broiled garlic, and the pickled jalapeño pepper (if using; don’t add the pickling liquid yet). Blend until a smooth purée is formed. Set aside.
- Heat remaining oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili purée and cook, stirring, until incorporated.
- Add chicken broth, soaked beans and chicken breasts to pot, adding water as necessary until beans and chicken are fully submerged. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken breasts register 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes.
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer chicken breasts to a bowl and let rest. Continue simmering broth and beans until beans are fully tender, about 1 hour total. Remove 1½ cups of beans and their liquid, and transfer to a standing blender or the work cup of an immersion blender. Blend until completely smooth. Stir back into pot.
- Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and stir back into stew. Stir in half of cheese until melted. Stir in jalapeño pickling liquid (if using), lime juice, and half of cilantro. Season to taste with salt.
- Serve topped with extra shredded cheese, lime wedges, cilantro, and scallions. Tortilla chips make a nice accompaniment.
Time: 2 hours, plus 8-24 hours to soak beans
Leftover potential: Excellent; freezes well.