Chicken chili is one of my go-to meals when the weather starts to turn and you just want to cozy up with something comforting and delicious. A bowl of hot chicken chili — topped with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, sour cream, and fresh cilantro — makes the perfect cold-weather comfort food.
This recipe is a great baseline for any chicken chili: feel free to make it your own according to your taste or whatever you have on hand!
Also, it’s worth mentioning that different brands of tomatoes, stock, and spices have different flavor profiles and sodium contents, so I always recommend tasting your food as you go and adjusting the seasoning and spice level as your heart desires.
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST PULLED/SHREDDED CHICKEN
Over the years, I’ve found that braising chicken in the oven is the best way to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts for pulling or shredding. The chicken comes out so flavourful and moist, every time!
In this recipe, I stick to the basics (only adding onions, garlic, salt, and pepper to the braising liquid), but you could also add in some chili spices if you want!
One thing I’ve learned (from trial and error) is that the liquid used for braising the chicken should be very well seasoned, if not overly seasoned.
Think of it like cooking pasta noodles… Conventional wisdom is that pasta water should taste like sea water (you need enough salt to get inside of the noodles). It’s the same for chicken!
Also, this is a great method of cooking chicken breasts from frozen! Just allow a bit more cooking time so that they are fully cooked through.
However, if you are short on time, you could just as easily sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and roast it in the oven on a baking sheet.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TOMATOES FOR CHILI?
I always prefer to use San Marzano (or San Marzano-style) whole peeled tomatoes, as they are generally of a higher quality. It is slightly more work (and more expensive) than using a diced variety, but they are less processed and I find them to have a better flavor and a less acidic taste.
You can always go for a less expensive, diced variety of canned tomatoes, but they may just need to be cooked down a bit longer. (Simmering tomatoes allows the sugars to break down and caramelize, resulting in a deeper flavor and a less acidic taste.)
You can also add a pinch of sugar to help cut down on the acid.
HOW TO AVOID BLAND CHICKEN CHILI
One common complaint I often see is that some chicken chili recipes are bland. Having tried and tested a number of recipes over the years, I tend to agree.
This recipe makes a lot of chicken chili and, therefore, needs a lot of salt and seasonings.
I add 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt (Diamond Crystal for reference) at the beginning of the recipe, and then an additional 1 to 3 teaspoons towards the end, as necessary. Different brands of tomatoes and chicken stock have different flavor profiles and sodium contents, which needs to be accounted for.
So, I recommend tasting your chili as you go and adjusting the seasoning accordingly. Nobody likes a (bland) chili that tastes like dirty dish water!
Start by preheating the oven to 325℉.
Then, in a baking dish, add the chicken breasts, sliced onions, and garlic cloves.
Pour 2 to 3 cups of low sodium chicken stock (or water) into the dish. You want just enough so that the liquid comes up to about half of the height of the chicken breasts.
Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165℉.
Then, remove the chicken breasts from the liquid and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Using two forks, pull the chicken into shreds. Set the shredded chicken aside.
To make the chili, start by heating the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat.
Add in the diced onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are softened and slightly translucent. Then, add in the red and poblano peppers and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes, until the peppers are softened.
Add in the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
Add in the cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Drain the liquid from each can of tomatoes into the pot. Then, on a plate or a cutting board, roughly chop up the tomatoes and add them to the pot.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. This will allow the sugars in the tomatoes to break down and caramelize, which reduces the acidity.
Next, stir in the shredded chicken, pinto beans, and chicken stock. Simmer, uncovered, for at least 20 more minutes.
Stir in the chopped cilantro and taste for seasoning. At this point, add in an additional 1 to 3 teaspoons of salt, as necessary, as well as any additional black pepper or cayenne pepper, as desired.
Top with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and fresh chopped cilantro, serving the chicken chili with some tortilla chips on the side.
This hearty and chunky chicken chili is perfect for cozying up during the fall and winter months — not to mention it’s lighter than a traditional beef chili and packed full of healthy ingredients.
For the Braised Chicken
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 medium onion, peeled and ¼" sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
- 2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
For the Chili
- shredded chicken, as prepared above
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 medium onions, peeled and ¼" diced
- 2 red bell peppers, washed and ¼" diced
- 1 large (or 2 small) poblano peppers, washed and ¼" diced
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 28-oz cans San Marzano-style whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- ⅓ cup cilantro, chopped
For Serving (as Desired)
- cheddar cheese, grated
- sour cream
- cilantro, chopped
- tortilla chips
Braising the Chicken
- Preheat oven to 325℉.
- Place the chicken breasts, sliced onions, and halved garlic cloves in the bottom of a baking dish.4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts1 medium onion, peeled and ¼" sliced2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
- Pour in 2 to 3 cups of low-sodium chicken stock (or water) so that it comes up to about ½ of the height of the chicken breasts.2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
- Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.1 ½ tsp kosher salt½ tsp ground black pepper
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165℉ (about 1 hour).
- Remove the chicken from the liquid and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Using two forks, pull the chicken into shreds. Set aside.
Preparing the Chili
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over moderate heat.2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Add in diced onions. Cook until softened and slightly translucent (about 5 minutes).3 medium onions, peeled and ¼" diced
- Stir in diced red and poblano peppers. Continue to cook until the peppers are softened (about 5 minutes more).2 red bell peppers, washed and ¼" diced1 large (or 2 small) poblano peppers, washed and ¼" diced
- Stir in minced garlic. Continue to cook until garlic is fragrant (about 30 seconds).4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- Stir in cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Continue to cook for 2 minutes.1 Tbsp ground cumin1 Tbsp chili powder¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper1 Tbsp kosher salt1 tsp ground black pepper
- Meanwhile, drain the liquid from each can of tomatoes into the pot. On a plate or a cutting board, roughly chop up the tomatoes and then add them to the pot.2 28-oz cans San Marzano-style whole peeled tomatoes
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- Stir in shredded chicken, pinto beans, and chicken stock. Simmer, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes more.shredded chicken, as prepared above1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- Stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste for seasoning, adding in an additional 1 to 3 teaspoons of salt, as needed. Add in any additional black pepper or cayenne pepper, as desired.⅓ cup cilantro, chopped
- As desired, top with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and freshly chopped cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.cheddar cheese, gratedsour creamcilantro, choppedtortilla chips
- When braising the chicken, the cooking liquid should be very well seasoned, if not overly seasoned. You need enough salt to penetrate into the chicken and season it all the way through.
- I use canned whole peeled tomatoes in this recipe as I find they have the best flavor. You could very well use canned diced tomatoes; you may just need to simmer them a bit longer or add a pinch of sugar to avoid an acidic taste.
- Different brands of tomatoes and chicken stock have different flavor profiles and sodium contents. I recommend tasting your chili as you go and adjusting the seasoning accordingly.