The Ingredient That Will Change Your Chicken Chili Forever

There's nothing quite like a bowl of chili. Whether eating it on a fall day while watching a football game or sweating it out with a bowl of the spicy stuff in the summer, chili is a go-to, year-round meal. Chili has its roots in the American west, with Texan J.C. Clopper credited with writing the earliest description of the stew he encountered in San Antonio (via Allrecipes). According to Clopper, families stewed peppers and onions with chopped up meat as an economical way to stretch a meal. By 1880, enterprising women sold "bowls o' red" at stands in a San Antonio market.

Different versions of chili abound — from Cincinnati, which is served over spaghetti, to chili made with bison meat. While a bowl o' red remains the Texas state dish, Tasting Table recipe developer Jennine Rye's Smoky Chicken Chili lightens up the dish, creating a healthier version. Rye also uses a special ingredient that adds so much depth and flavor to the chili, not even a die-hard Texan will miss the beef.

Dark chocolate adds depth

According to Rye, this meal, packed with protein from both the chicken and the beans, is the perfect chili choice for folks who want to eat less red meat. "The shredded chicken chunks also add a different texture to the chili than beef mince would do, which makes a nice change," Rye notes. For this version, Rye uses thighs, which are her go-to cuts of chicken. "In my personal opinion I'm not sure how chicken breasts became the prime chicken meat," Rye says. "Chicken thighs have more flavor and they are much more juicy, as well as often being cheaper — especially if they are bought on the bone."

While the chicken lightens up the dish, the addition of dark chocolate is Rye's secret for its rich flavor. "Chocolate and chili spices are a truly classic pairing," Rye explains. "In fact, they were commonly paired together as a drink centuries before we began adding sugar to chocolate."

According to Rye, the ounce of dark chocolate in this recipe "adds both richness and depth, helping to promote the beautiful spices while counteracting any acidity from the tomatoes, adding overall balance and complexity to the dish."

Rye recommends paring the chili with salad, rice, or tortilla chips. It also makes a great bake potato topping, which can be sprinkled with cheese. While it's perfect to feed a large crowd, it also makes a flavorful family dinner. Leftovers last for three days in the fridge.