Bison Chili with Ancho, Mole, and Cumin


One of my favorite parts about winter in New England, is the thick hearty soups and stews that accompany it. They’re particularly inviting after a cold commute back from work or school or after a long day of snowshoeing or skiing. My Montana-bred friend suggested that I use bison instead of the traditional ground beef found in most chili recipes. If ground bison is hard to find, beef or lamb make great substitutes. I always top my chili with a sprinkle of cheese, diced jalapeños, and sliced avocado over a bed of brown rice.

The Bite: We have 5 taste receptors in our mouth: sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami (“savory” in Japanese). These receptors are located throughout the surface, housed inside papillae (the raised bumps on your tongue). Specific taste receptors aren’t localized to certain areas of the tongue, as we were taught in grade school. Instead, they are interspersed throughout the papillae. Each papillae can pick up on all five tastes, but some respond better to certain ones rather than others. For instance, some papillae are more sensitive to salty foods rather than sweet. But, if we only have 5 taste receptors, how do we taste the spicy chile powder and cumin in this recipe? We actually have another receptor in our mouth called TRPV1. This receptor is sensitive to the molecule capsaicin, which is found in chili peppers and other spicy foods. When capsaicin interacts with the TRPV1 receptor, it activates the receptor much like a heat receptor does and causes the “burn” that is associated with spicy foods. If you think that drinking water will help reduce the spice sensation, think again because water actually heightens the feeling of heat in your mouth as it spreads the capsaicin to other areas in your mouth, activating more TRPV1 receptors. So, if you really want to tone down the spice, drink or eat something fatty like milk or top your chili with sour cream or full fat yogurt.

Bison Chili with Ancho, Mole, and Cumin

Yield: serves 5


2 bacon slices, chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground bison
1 cup onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/4 cups beef broth, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons pure ancho chile powder
2 tablespoons Texas-style chili powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
dash of cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 cups black beans
4 plum tomatoes, diced
2 or more tablespoons masa harina (you can alternatively use corn meal)
cooked brown rice, optional

Optional Garnishes

Chopped red or green onions
Grated cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack cheese
Sliced jalapeño chiles
Crumbled tortilla chips
Sliced Avocado


Sauté bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until brown and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Reserve the bacon drippings and brown the bison until cooked through. Transfer the cooked bison and most of the pan drippings to bowl. Add the onion and garlic to pot. Sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup broth to pot. Bring to boil, scraping the browned bits of the surface of the pan. Return the bacon, beef and its drippings to the pot. Mix in ancho chile powder, cumin, Texas-style chili powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, vinegar, oregano. Add the remaining 2 cups of broth and diced tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, adding more broth if the chili is drying out. Add black beans and cook for 5 minutes. Lastly, mix in the masa harina, and cook for 2 minutes until chili has slightly thickened. Ladle the chili into bowls, adding any additional garnishes you may like. I like to serve this chili over a bed of brown rice.

Source: created by Nathan and Katie, inspired by Epicurious.


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