Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chili. One Way Or The Other.

There are four different chili recipes I like to make. They range from a high school chemistry experiment adding dozens of spices and herbs that take hours of simmering to one that's fast, easy and good. It all depends on my mood as to which chili recipe I will cook. One thing for sure is that I prefer chili during the winter months. We made some last night while watching the heavy snow fall.

If I have some ground venison or extra wild bird meat in the freezer I will go the easy route, using store bought pre-packaged spice recipes such as Wick Fowler’s or Carrol Shelby’s to cook up a decent quick pot of red. Add meat, the spice pack, water (I prefer beer or broth) and in an hour or so you have a fine Texas style chili meal that is damn good enough.

So set the Wayback machine to the 70’s, Sherman, Mr. Peabody wants a bowl of authentic Cincinnati chili. My own (stolen) Cincinnati style chili recipe.

When my brother was attending art school in Cincinnati in the mid 70’s we drove down for a visit one year in my Chevy Vega GT. How’s that for an adventure? Once there he wanted to take us to a restaurant where they served chili five-ways. Chili at that time to me was what my mother or other relatives brought to family pot-luck dinners. Think Campbell’s tomato soup with hamburger and a ton of beans. Gawd did I (and still do) hate beans. Beans are tolerable if used as an adjunct but most people cook with such a heavy bean-to-meat ratio it means ten beans to each bite. Blech. Call it bean soup if you will but don’t call it chili. Spice and exotic seasonings were for the ‘ethnics’ and we were a bland meat and potato rust belt family. Real authentic chili, as I discovered, has no beans at all. For those reasons I was apprehensive to my brother’s suggestion of going to a chili restaurant. But he told me I could have it beanless. Done.

Cincinnati was a new place for me and I liked it a lot. Set on a big river with hills and twisty roads it is hard to navigate. Being used to the flatlands of Chicago where most streets run north-south-east-west Cincinnati roads got the best of me a few times. My brother lived in a neighborhood known as Clifton, adjacent to the University of Cincinnati. In Clifton there were a few ‘Chili Parlors’ ranging from small cafes to the Big Kahuna and defining establishment of the Cincinnati chili empire also known as the Skyline chain of restaurants.

First we went to a small café called The Red Onion. It was a quaint store-front joint with few tables, a real college town style place. Once seated we were asked how we wanted our chili.

Here is the Five-Way style of ordering Cincinnati chili.

1- Way Chili: A simple bowl of chili

2-Way Chili: A simple bowl of chili with beans

3-Way Chili: Steaming spaghetti, covered chili and topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese.

4-Way Chili: A 3-Way with diced onions or red beans.

5-Way Chili: A 3-Way with diced onions and red beans


I ordered the 3-way at his suggestion. It was like nothing I ever tasted before. It was a huge, cheap and satisfying meal. A flavor I had never experienced before. I fell in love. “Not so quick”, said the bro. “Tomorrow we go to Skyline, it’s even better.”

Skyline is a chain of Cincinnati greasy-spoon corner diner-like chili joints that is the “Keeper of the Flame” of authentic Cincinnati chili. As I understand it is also referred to as ‘Greek Chili’ because the owner is of Greek ancestry. It seems as if every Cincinnati corner has a Skyline. It definitely is anything but Texas.

Here is their website:

Skyline restaurants are also famous for their version of the chili dog which they call a “coney”. I am not a chili dog kind of guy so it did nothing for me.

These days the recipe I use to replicate Skyline Chili contains anti-chili ingredients chocolate, clove, cinnamon and allspice. They are unusual blend of flavors that combine for a totally different kind of chili, to say the least. One thing for sure, I like to kick this chili up notches unknown to man (BAM) with a ton of powdered cayenne pepper in my personal bowl since the other living carbon units in my residence do not have my adventurous quest for the extra blast of heat I prefer.

Cincinnati chili is not for everyone. It is nothing like Texas style chili at all. One year I took a batch on a group fishing trip and the guys who had been used to my signature chili for years just hated it. My brother and I had plenty for ourselves.

Want to try it? Here it is. It’s easy. Cook it at your own risk. It’s different but it is good.

2 lbs. hamburger meat
2 large onions diced
1 qt. water

Combine in large cast iron stock pot and cook for ½ hr. then add:

16 oz. tomato sauce
¼ t garlic powder
1 t cumin
½ t ground cayenne pepper
4 T chili powder
1 ½ t salt
1-2 bay leafs
½ oz unsweetened chocolate
½ t ground allspice
¼ t ground clove
2 t cinnamon
2 T vinegar
2 t worchestershire sauce

Cook 2-3 hours.

My serving preference is to fill a large bowl with spaghetti noodles and then ladle a huge portion of the chili onto it. Mix. Add fresh finely diced onions, a ton of powdered cayenne and top it all off with a huge handful of finely shredded cheddar cheese. I prefer to give it a short trip in the microwave for a minute or so on high. It makes for a killer bowl (to me) of Cincinnati Chili.

Don’t want to go through all this for something you may not like? Take a look in the freezer case of your local huge mega-grocery store.

Meijer’s is a chain of Midwest grocery stores that sells frozen single-portion microwaveable Skyline branded chili in their frozen food section. It's the real deal but my fresh recipe beats it all to hell. So there! If you want to try this chili without going to Cincinnati in person or cooking this recipe then give that a try.


Dan from Madison said...

Interesting. I visited Cincy a few times, great town as you said. That spaghetti in the chili to me is a bastardization that I can do without, but the chili itself is good enough. I will try your recipe for sure.

Annie said...

What? No pictures?

Fabiola (or Mary or Both) said...

Your chili recipe looks wonderful!I know what I am making for dinner next Saturday.

Trading you a recipe that I flat out stole from my mother in law. Sigh, turned out that his Mom really was a better cook than I will ever be.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Mary Fabiola, Linkee no workee....

Fabiola (or Mary or Both) said...

Blinking twice, pausing. There is a way to leave an active link in comments?

Waddayaknow. Huh.

Scenic route to the recipe (don't look at me like that -- you live in Indiana, traveling to anywhere there requires the scenic route. Former Rome Citizen here.) Anyway. Click my name, takes you to Fabiola, left sidebar, drop down list titled "Soups and Stews" - Evelyn's Chili Soup.

Your blog is wonderful, by the way. Shoulda said that in my first comment.

Carl from Chicago said...

I lived in Cincy for about 3 years while working on a client there (Cinergy, bought by Duke). I thought the town was OK but could have used a fire so they'd re-lay it out as a grid (just kidding, kind of) because I could never find my way around, especially Mt. Adams.

I agree with Dan on the chili - it kind of sucks. BUT I am sure your own chili recipe blows the doors off it... you are just being modest at giving the pasta / chili such love.