A few weeks ago, my sweetie went to Cincinatti for work. Without me. Which means he got to eat Cincinatti chili. Without me.
Obviously, something had to be done.
I’ve only been to Cincinatti once, on a road trip. I don’t remember where we were going. But I remember stopping at Skyline Chili. I recall the silky mouthfeel of the spaghetti and chili in my Chili 5-Way, the contrasting sweet starchiness of the kidney beans, the spike of raw onion and the blanket of tangy orange cheddar cheese. And most of all, the intriguing blend of spices, including chocolate and cinnamon, that makes this dish so unlike any other chili.
But let me back up a bit, because those of you not familiar with Cincinatti chili may be wondering: Chili 5-Way?
The chili pictured at the top of this post is Chili 5-Way. Cincinatti Chili can be served by itself, but that’s not how it’s best. Usually you’re going to get at least Chili 3-Way – over spaghetti, with a blanket of shredded cheddar. Chili 4-Way adds either red kidney beans or diced onions, and 5-Way adds both (and is best). All varieties are served with oyster crackers. The chili is also used to make coney dogs (chili dogs).
A couple of times since then, I had faked Cincinatti chili by adding some cocoa and spices to a simple ragu, and it was pretty good, but it wasn’t the real thing. So, when Arne had been back from his trip for a few days – and the taste of Gold Star Chili was still fresh in his mind – I did a little research and gave it a try.
The recipe is a little weird. I have never before seen a recipe that starts with boiling ground beef. But that is the key to the chili’s unusual velvety consistency. Since the rest of the ingredients are added to the ground beef in its boiling liquid and then cooked down, all the flavor remains. If you plan ahead, you can greatly reduce the fat in the recipe by refrigerating the meat in its liquid and skimming off the fat in the morning (this option is in the recipe instructions below). I did not plan ahead, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness of this suggestion, but it sounds like it should work well.
Serve the chili with as many “Ways” as you want – but I recommend all five.
This recipe is a combination of two that I found on the internet, with a few additions. Arne testifies that it tastes just like the real thing, only better. (By which he means spicier, because I just can’t help myself.) The recipe takes a little time, but is super-easy, and perfect for a chilly fall evening.
2 pounds ground beef
1 quart water
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 or 2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chili powder
2 or 3 teaspoons cinnamon, to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Seeds from 1 green cardamom pod, optional
1 ounce unsweetened (baking) chocolate, broken up
Place the ground beef and water in a large pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, breaking up the beef into very small pieces with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 30 minutes. If you have planned in time to refrigerate overnight, do so now. Skim fat before continuing.
Stir in all remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 hours. The chili should be nice and thick. Taste and adjust seasoning – it may need a little salt, or a dash of cayenne if your chili powder is very mild. Serve in as many Ways as you like.