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What Is a Chili Casserole?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2016
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Many cooks hold their chili recipes close to the vest, with a range of possible ingredients and techniques. The same holds true for chili casserole, which takes the western favorite a few steps closer to a full meal. This dish typically involves making a batch of chili, then baking it over or under a layer of cornbread in the oven. Some cheese is added to the top in the last few minutes for a browned, flavorful skin that conceals all the other flavors underneath.

Many true chefs try to create an original chili recipe. A standard route involves browning various types of ground meats like beef, veal and sausage in oil that is infused with garlic and onions. As the meat is cooking, ingredients like Worcestershire, salt, pepper, chili flakes, cumin, coriander seeds, oregano and paprika are added until the meat is browned and the onions are caramelized.

Before the chili casserole can be constructed, the chili must be finished off with the addition of ingredients like beef or chicken stock, stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and chopped chili peppers — the more, the spicier. Since a thicker chili often works best in chili casserole, some cooks also add tomato paste as a thickening agent. After the chili stews for at least 15 minutes, it should be thick enough to add to the casserole dish for the final steps.

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Two routes are available to makers of chili casserole: cornbread on the bottom or the top. After making the batter according to the manufacturer's suggestions—with milk for a richer bread — it is either poured into a casserole dish before or after the chili. In either case, the dish should be lined with oil, and each layer should consume about half of the height of the dish. The final step is a sprinkling of cheese.

Though cooking times vary according to the temperature that's used, a standard combination is a half-hour at 350°F (about 177°C). To lessen the cooking time, some use cornbread that is already prepared. This can be placed on the bottom of the oiled dish or pan as well as sprinkled over the top before adding the cheese.

Perhaps the easiest way to make a chili casserole involves canned chili. Though not the most gourmet or flavorful approach, it is the easiest and quickest. To kick up the the canned chili, some cooks add salsa to the mix, along with readily available ingredients like ketchup.

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