The theme this month is “Frankenstein’s Monster”, in which we’re challenged to “try using a spice (or blend of spices) with a technique or dish from a cuisine that typically never uses that spice (or blend).” I chose to feature Cincinnati-style chili, which uses spices that aren’t usually found in chili to create an entirely different vibe to an old favorite.
If you’ve never had it, Cincinnati chili is very hard to describe. Most people hear the words “cinnamon” and “chocolate” in conjunction with the word “chili” and make the yuck face. Trust me, it’s not that bad. It’s an acquired taste, of course, but one that I acquired quite quickly once I set aside my preconceived notions and gave it a try. The best way to describe it, tastewise, is like mole sauce or the sauce you find in Greek casseroles. It’s always amazing to me how a certain spice (cinnamon, for instance) is interpreted in the foods of different cultures – moussaka in Greece, mole in Mexico, five spice powder in Asian cooking, etc.
Which makes perfect sense, of course, when you consider that the whole shebang was created by a Greek immigrant who decided to tweak a typically Greek sauce and start serving it over spaghetti and hot dogs. Traditionally, it’s served with a side of oyster crackers. Also, traditionally the ground beef is boiled rather than browned – unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do it that way, as that would have required me chilling it overnight to skim the fat. I did it the “quick” way, as you’ll see below.
There are several ways to serve it, and each person who loves the dish prefers it a different way. A “one way” is a bowl of chili alone, a “two way” is spaghetti topped with chili, a “three way” is spaghetti, chili, and a mound of finely shredded mild cheddar, a “four way” a three way with either diced onions or kidney beans, and a “five way” is spaghetti, chili, cheese, beans and onions. My personal preference is a four way with onions, in case you were wondering.
Even though it is a regional dish, you can get Cincinnati chili in cans, although of course it’s better fresh. Regionally, if you don’t feel like making it yourself, head on down to your closest Skyline Chili store.
Modified from several recipes on Recipezaar
As is, the recipe is soupy – if you like your chili thicker, eliminate the water. This is a double recipe, I usually serve half and freeze half for another meal.
2 lbs. ground beef
1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 c. water
4 (15 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 oz. square unsweetened chocolate or 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. beef base or bouillon granules
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Cayenne pepper or hot sauce, to taste (optional)
1 lb box spaghetti, cooked
1 lb. package finely shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 large red onion, diced (optional)
1 can kidney beans, drained (optional)
There’s two different schools of thought on how to make this. Traditionally, you wouldn’t brown the meat first – you’d cook the raw beef in the wet ingredients so it would break up more evenly, and then skim the fat off the next day. If you’re short on time, though – use the method below.
In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, brown ground beef, and then drain off excess fat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until browned. Add the next 11 ingredients, and cook until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cover and cook for at least 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain and set aside. To serve, spoon chili mixture over spaghetti, and top with cheese and other desired toppings (onion or kidney beans).