Monday, March 25, 2013

Cincinnati Chili, Unlike any Other

Many long years ago I lived in Cincinnati, and was introduced to Cincinnati Chili. For any who have never had the pleasure, Cincinnati Chili is a thin consistency and with unusual flavors. And that's just the start. All over Cincy they serve what they call "Chili Spaghetti", and that is a take-off on the Cincinnati Chili "Two-Ways." Maybe this is getting confusing. Let me explain.

Cincinnati Chili Two-Ways, or Chili Spaghetti
Cincinnati Chili has a thin consistency, with little tomato in the sauce. The flavors are distinct, including such possible spices as cinnamon, allspice and chocolate, among others. The chili may be served alone ("One-Way"), over spaghetti noodles ("Two-Way"), with shredded cheddar over top ("Three-Way"), with the addition of either kidney beans or chopped onion ("Four-Way"), or may be served with all of these things, making it Five-Way Chili.

This chili is not one that everyone will like, but if you are up for the unusual, you might want to try out this Cincinnati special. Interestingly, I lived in Cincinnati for 2 years prior to getting married for the first time and moving straight to Guatemala. In Guatemala, it is very common to have these kinds of flavors together in a savory dish. Mole, whether sweet or savory, contains cinnamon and chocolate among other things. Recado over tamales also contains these flavors. I was being introduced to many more dishes that mixed together spices and flavors that previously had been reserved only for sweets. I was very young when I moved to Guatemala, but I went with an open mind and learned a lot about cooking and combinations that seemed unlikely but were wonderful when tasted.

Cincinnati Chili Five-Ways
Some years ago my current husband and I went back to Cincinnati for a family reunion. He had never been introduced to Cincinnati Chili before, but one of my brothers-in-law had actually worked at Skyline Chili, where Cincinnati Chili is served. He had to have my husband try it, and I was curious to taste it again after so many years. In the meantime, I have seen recipes for this chili, but my recipe combines the flavors as they seem right in my own mind. This may not be "authentic". In fact Skyline has the chili brought in already  made, so no one knows the secret of their ingredients. Still, I think my version tastes great, so I hope there are those out there who might be willing to try it out.

Cincinnati Chili

Makes about 8 - 10 servings
Cincinnati Chili Five Ways

2 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 quart water or beef stock
2 pounds ground beef
1 (15-ounce) can + 1 (6-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
½ ounce (½ square) unsweetened chocolate, grated
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 - 3 teaspoons salt (depending on the saltiness of the stock, if using

In a large soup pot, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat, until the onion is quite tender and translucent. Add in the chili powder, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and cloves and toss to combine until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add in the water or stock and then the ground beef. Break up the beef into the liquid until in very small pieces. Add in the tomato sauce and bay leaf, cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 2 - 3 hours.

Add in the grated chocolate, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire and pepper. Stir to combine. Check for salt and add more if needed.

The chili may be made a day ahead and refrigerated. This allows the easy removal of any fat that has risen to the surface. If the chili has been refrigerated at this point, reheat and continue the recipe from here.
NOTES: As noted above, this chili may be served in a bowl all by itself. It is traditional to serve this with oyster crackers and a bottle of hot sauce on the side. The chili is not made to be hot-spicy, but left to the discretion of the one eating. "Chili-Spaghetti" is found everywhere in Cincinnati, and this is also considered Chili Two-Ways. The addition of a mound of grated cheddar makes this Three-Way Chili. Either the addition of kidney beans or chopped onions make the chili "Four-Way. Using all five together makes Five-Way Chili.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.