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.
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