Written by Katherine Sasser.

Photos by Elizabeth McLaurin.

Today I am going to share with you the best recipe I know for White Chicken Chili. I am also going to share with you the secret ingredient that takes this chili from basic to mind-blowing, and I’m going to tell you how to simplify the whole experience. Basically, I’m going to win you over and become your new best friend.

What if I told you it was possible to “cook” White Chicken Chili without actually cooking? Would you believe me? Not only is it possible, but I highly suggest this method. There is a version of this chili in which you cook your own chicken, make your own homemade chicken stock, and perhaps even cook your own beans. But that is not the world I live in.

I live in the world where I need to run into a store at 4:00, grab a short list of ingredients, be home and in the kitchen by 5:00, and have a delicious dinner ready for my family (in the middle of homework and carpool and laundry) by 6:00 that required about ten minutes of prep work.

If this is the world you live in too, welcome. You’re in good company and a delicious dinner is possible.

My first tip for short-cut success is to find your favorite source for cooked chicken. Maybe it is grabbing a rotisserie bird from the grocery store case. Maybe it is purchasing frozen cooked chicken (usually intended for fajitas) and chopping them up. Or maybe, like me, you snag some of the perfectly grilled chicken breasts from the deli case at Central Market and dice it up. Whatever the source, there are enough options to keep you from cooking your own chicken if you so desire.

Next, take all the ingredient short cuts modern society affords you as a consumer. Buy canned chicken broth. Buy canned beans. Buy pre-grated cheese (even though hand-grated is far superior, and if you have the time, I think this is always a worth-the-extra-time step). Heck, even check your freezer aisle for frozen chopped onions. I saw these for the first time last week and gasped aloud at the thought of keeping these on hand for quick meal prep. Fill your grocery cart with as many short cuts as you can find. And then head home, ready to work some magic.

With all of your ingredients in front of you, your eyes may have glanced over the ingredient list on the recipe, particularly the spices and had your doubts.

Cumin? Good.
Oregano? Good.
Cayenne Pepper? Good.
Cloves? Hold up. No way. Cloves are for Christmas cookies and spiced cider. She must be crazy. I’m not going to ruin a perfectly good pot of White Chicken Chili by adding cloves. I’ll just skip it.

Let me stop you right there. If you only hear me say one thing about this recipe, it is this: Do not skip the ground cloves. If you do, you will miss the magic.

Skipping the cloves means you will have chili that is fine, passable, maybe even tasty, but not magical. Ground cloves are the secret ingredient that will turn this pot of grab-and-go short cut ingredients into something you and your family will fall in love with.

Cloves are a warming spice, like cinnamon or ginger. But cloves don’t have spice like cayenne pepper or chipotle chili powder. Cloves add warmth without heat. Cloves will add an element to this chili that is silently, yet dramatically different, setting it apart from all the other versions you’ve tried.

No one will identify or be able to distinguish the presence of ground cloves, but you will hear a lot of comments such as, “Wow, this is really delicious!” Or, “Man, this is outstanding. Where did you get the recipe?” As you knowingly smile to yourself, remembering the promise I made to you at the beginning of this post to become your best friend, you can choose to either share the secret with your friends or keep it to yourself.

As your new best friend, I promise not to tell.


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 3.5-ounce cans chopped mild green chilies
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 15-oz cans Great Northern beans, drained
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken broth
2 pounds cooked chicken, chopped into large chunks
8 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

for serving…
sour cream
shredded cheese
tortilla chips

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt to the hot oil. Sauté until the onions are tender, no longer raw, but not browned. This may take up to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your pan.

Stir in the garlic, green chilies, cumin, oregano, ground cloves, cayenne pepper, and cook for 2 minutes to allow the garlic to cook and the spices to bloom. Be careful not to allow the garlic to burn.

Add the beans and chicken broth and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. If you are preparing the chili in advance, stop here. Cover the pan and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Right before serving, stir in the chicken and cheese to the chili and mix well. Allow the chicken to heat through and the cheese to melt. Taste for seasoning and add more Kosher salt if needed. You should be able to taste all the flavors, and if you can’t, then add small amounts of salt until you can. The finished product should be well-seasoned, but not salty.

Once the chili is finished, the chicken warm and the cheese melted, ladle it into bowls and serve with toppings.

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