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Chips Ahoy

by James O. Fraioli

No great Pacific Northwest boating trip would be complete without dropping anchor to have an onshore lunch at one of Washington’s beautiful beaches—tastes and flavors always seem to be more delicious when enjoyed in the great outdoors. Next time you are planning to cast off for a picnic, instead of the proverbial canned beans or freshly caught fish, try this easy-to-follow Chocolate Bison Chili. It will warm your body and soul, and the chili can be made using a Dutch oven over a crackling fire or a stockpot in your galley should it be too drippy to venture beyond the aft deck.

This particular chili is from my recent cookbook, New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian, which I co-authored with Chef Freddie Bitsoie, a renowned Native foods educator and former chef at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Chocolate has a long, sacred history in Indigenous recipes beginning with the Mayans, Aztecs, and other communities of the Yucatán Peninsula, where cacao beans have always grown wild. Cacao has been integral to Indigenous ceremony and cuisine—from drinks to mole sauces and spice rubs. In 2000, the Chickasaw Nation became the only Native American community to create its own brand of artisanal chocolate; I had the pleasure of visiting Bedré Fine Chocolate several years ago and witnessed firsthand how the company instills their cultural passion into every delicious morsel.

This recipe draws on this ancient tradition to create a spicy, savory, herbaceous chili with a hint of that bittersweet goodness. This is the kind of fabulous tasting chili that your friends and family will remember—and ask you to make again and again all wet spring long.


Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 pound ground bison*
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans
3 cups bison or beef stock
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

In a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, thyme, and bay leaf. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the bison, season with salt and pepper, and sear the meat while breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook for about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and allow the paste to brown but not burn. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, and diced tomatoes. Use the juice of the diced tomatoes to deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add the beans and stock and bring to a boil. (Note: Do not boil hard or for too long or the beans will tear apart.) Allow to boil for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and simmer. Add the chocolate and allow the chili to reduce until it reaches a nice stew consistency. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary, then stir to make sure the melted chocolate is evenly distributed. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf and serve immediately. This chili can be refrigerated for three to four days, or frozen for four to six months.

*If you can’t find bison, you can substitute with ground beef.

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