10 Ways to Make Your Chili and Stews Taste Amazing

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Hearty stews and pots of chili are key for getting through the bitter, cold days of winter. Beginning with sautéed vegetables and everyday spices is a good start, but sometimes it’s worth looking beyond the recipe ingredients to bring even more flavor to your meal. Here are 10 ways to really boost the flavor of chili and stew.

1. Season as you go.

This goes for all cooking, but I find it especially important with longer-cooking stews and chilis. Don’t wait until the end of cooking to season the pot with salt; instead season bit by bit as you add ingredients to the pot. The flavor of the salt concentrates during cooking, ultimately delivering a more well-rounded and full-flavored dish. Don’t forget to taste as you season to avoid over-salting the pot

2. Include dried mushrooms.

Dried mushrooms, like porcini or shiitake, are a powerhouse ingredient for bringing deep, savory flavor to a simmering pot. The trick is rehydrating the mushrooms by soaking them in hot water first. Once they’re soft, chop them and stir into the pot along with the newly flavored soaking liquid.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

3. Stir in caramelized onions.

This is just one of the many reasons why I like to keep caramelized onions stashed in my freezer. You can throw them straight from the freezer into a pot of stew or chili, and get rewarded with an even more rich- and luxurious-tasting meal.

4. Swap in roasted garlic.

Not only does roasting seriously mellow garlic’s bold bite, but it also transforms its flavor into one that’s rich and almost sweet. Instead of using a few cloves of fresh, swap it for a head of roasted garlic.

5. Simmer with whole spices.

Infuse a warm, spiced flavor into stews and chilis by adding whole spices, like a cinnamon stick, star anise, or cloves, to the pot while it simmers. Just be sure to remove them before serving.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

6. Up the umami with miso paste.

Miso is the fermented soybean paste we rely on for flavoring miso soup, but it works just as well for flavoring stews and chilis. Whisk a spoonful into the pot for a super-savory, umami-packed booster.

7. Spice it up.

Bring some extra heat to your stew or chili by stirring in some fresh chiles, or reaching to the spice cabinet for an extra dose of chili powder, smoked paprika, or cayenne pepper.

8. Stir in a spoonful of fish sauce.

Hear me out, because fish sauce really is the unsung hero in your pantry. Use a gentle hand (a little goes a long way) and rest assured your dinner will not taste fishy. Instead, a spoonful of pungent, savory fish sauce will enhance and deepen the flavors that are simmering away in the pot. You’ll love what it does to your next pot of beef stew.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

9. Add a dash of acid.

Just before the pot comes off the stove, stir in a tablespoon or so of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Don’t worry — you won’t distinctly taste either of these ingredients. A dash of acid will brighten up the dish to make it taste more fresh, and keep it from falling flat.

10. Finish with fresh herbs.

This is one you’ll want to save until just before serving. Leafy herbs, like parsley, cilantro, basil, and chives, add a pop of color and a welcome freshness to hearty meals like stew and chili.

Your turn: What are your best tricks for building more flavor in chili and stew?