God, chili is amazing this time of year. It's hearty, filling, freaking easy to make, and it warms you from the inside out.
My favorite part about chili is how none of its ingredients are set in stone. For example, maybe you don't have the Worcestershire sauce you usually douse it with... so you throw in some steak sauce instead. Your batch still tastes amazing, and you feel like a boss for coming up with something on the fly.
Throwing random stuff into your pot of chili and seeing whether it will sink or swim is just as fun—if not more fun—that using a smart substitution. Sure, why not throw in the beer I'm drinking to see if that wakes up a few taste buds?
Well, for those of you with particularly adventurous taste buds, I found two completely bizarre add-ins that you need to try: fish sauce and instant espresso powder.
Yeah, a Western chili is the last possible place you'd expect to see this funky and fermented Asian sauce, but I swear on everything good in the world that you need to give it a try.
If you're unfamiliar with the stuff, fish sauce is made by fermenting fresh fish, then adding water, salt, and sugar. It's an extremely common ingredient in Southeast Asia, and is used in cuisines such as Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino, for starters.
Just a dash of this stuff will add a world of flavor to your favorite pot of chili. Just a dash will do, though: fish sauce is super-strong—not to mention extremely pungent—and it can easily overpower anything it's added to if used with a heavier hand. But you'll find that the meat magically tastes meatier, and the savory sauce that you can't get enough of is amplified times twenty.
Honestly, I love using fish sauce in any kind of meat sauce, like spaghetti or stroganoff. It's my go-to umami flavor hack. (Seriously, though... don't smell it too closely. It smells putrid.)
Fish sauce may have sounded far out there, but I bet that this ingredient has some of you doubting my sanity. But hear me out before you dismiss it completely, because instant espresso powder is a fantastic chili add-in.
Coffee's bitterness adds complexity to a lot of different foods: coffee ground-rubbed steaks are insanely delicious, and coffee added to chocolate desserts brings out the intensity of the chocolate. But coffee grounds would be too grainy for any self-respecting chili sauce, and using liquid coffee would just water it down.
Enter instant espresso powder. Just a small sprinkle of powder—¼ to ½ teaspoon—is all you need to add a bitter counterpoint in flavor that people will love, but not be able to put a finger on.
Hey, if you think I'm crazy and that these ingredients are too far out there, then it's no sweat off my back—but you'd be missing out on some damn good chili, and that's sad. So give either of these ingredients a try the next time you've got a bubbling pot (or slow cooker) of chili cooking, and make your mouth happy.
Did you try these ingredients? Or do you have any other crazy ingredients you think we should try? Let us know in the comments.