There exist reasons to brown meat before stewing/braising/whatevering it, but they are not all necessarily legit. There is no need to pre-cook meat when it will be immersed in near-boiling liquid for several hours. Similarly, browning meat will not retain its moisture if it is to be surrounded by even more moisture for a long cooking period. If one is using a fatty cut of meat or ground meat of a high fat percentage for a soup or stew, that fat can be skimmed off of the surface during simmering, if desired. Or, resolve that issue by using leaner meat.
There is one good reason to brown meat before slow-cooking it: the Maillard Reaction. To grossly simplify, it means proteins + sugar + heat –> various dark, delicious, aromatic compounds. Ultimately there is a definitely a difference in flavour between a chili whose meat and onions were browned before slow-cooking verses a straight-up boiled chili. But if you don’t have the time/patience for this step, I suggest a pseudo-substitute here. A combination of chili peppers in adobo sauce and ketchup provides a flavour that is similar (but of course not identical) to the smoky sweetness of browned meat.
This recipe is for a northern North American chili/English chili con carne for the slow cooker (by that I mean it is cheap and contains beans). Browning the ground meat before slow-cooking would be a wonderful bonus, but it is not required to produce a perfectly edible and tasty weeknight meal that is bold with different flavours.
No-Browning-Required Ground Beef and Chipotle Slow Cooker Chili
Time: 10 min prep + 8-10 hours in the slow cooker
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 650g extra-lean ground beef
- 2-3 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried marjoram
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 can (96 ml) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
(A whole can was too spicy for me.)
- 1-2 Tbsp (a generous squirt) tomato ketchup
- 2 cans (1080 ml) beans of your choice, rinsed and drained
(I like black beans and pinto beans.)
- 1 can (796 ml) diced tomatoes with their liquid
- water, enough to just cover all ingredients (about 650 ml)
- salt, to taste
- Your favourite chili toppings, e.g. cheese, sour cream, scallions
- Place all ingredients except for the salt in a slow cooker. No need to break up the beef at the beginning; just lay the slab down at the bottom with the garlic and onions.
- Cover and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.
- Use a wire potato masher or ladle to break up the meat at the bottom of the slow cooker. Some beans will inevitably be mashed in the process, which will help thicken the chili.
- Add salt, to your taste.
- Serve hot with some bread/cornbread/tortilla chips and your favourite toppings.