When we saw the Steelers’ schedule and found out that they played the Cincinnati Bengals, we knew we would be making Cincinnati Chili for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge. Â Cincinnati is famous for its chili — so much so that during the pre-game hoopla, they played a clip of this peculiar chili being spooned over spaghetti and hot dogs, we suspect from one of the most famous Cincinnati chili restaurants, Skyline Chili. Â Cincinnati chili is different than any other chili we’ve ever had, from the flavor (a mix of sweet, warm cinnamon, and spicy) to the way it is served, over spaghetti. Â We affectionately refer to this chili as “peculiar” without intending any offense — we liked the chili a lot, but initially had our doubts when we saw that the recipeÂ we adapted called for boiling the ground beef and combining a pretty unusual mix of ingredients (e.g., cocoa powder and Worcestershire??) Â We had similar initial concerns about the football game (and Mike Wallace’s seeming inability to catch a pass), but both the chili and the Steelers ultimately turned out to be winners, bringing the current S.O.C.C. record to: Â Steelers 3-3, Foodie Lawyer 5-1.
Cincinnati chili is made with an interesting mix of spices (to say the least) and ingredients: Â ground beef, chicken broth, canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, unsweetened cocoa, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, cider vinegar, bay leaf, ground cloves, cinnamon and salt. Â Legend has it that the original recipe was created by brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff who immigrated to Cincinnati from Macedonia and opened a food stand selling hot dogs and Greek stew. Â Perhaps due to the locals’ unfamiliarity with Greek cuisine at the time, the brothers’ business was not going well. Â Undaunted, the brothers changed the stew recipe to make it a chili, served it over spaghetti and created a city-wide phenomenon, making Cincinnati the chili capital of the U.S.
The recipe we adapted called for cooking the ground beef in water. Â We had a difficult enough time wrapping our minds around the concept of boiling the meat in the first place, so we decided to cook it in chicken broth instead. Â Place the beef in the broth and stir to break it up into tiny pieces while bringing it to a boil and simmering for about 30 minutes.
Skim off (and discard) the fat from the beef.
Assemble the garlic and spices and add them to the pot. Â (Reserve 1 tablespoon of chili powder to add later.)
Add the chopped onion.
Then add the liquid ingredients: Â cider vinegar, Worcestershire, and water.
Finally, add the chopped tomatoes (and their juices.) Â Keep the empty tomato can handy and use it to add more water if necessary while the chili cooks (this will pick up the residual tomato juices from the can.) Â Simmer the chili over low heat, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to all day. Â The longer this chili cooks, the better. Â When the chili first started simmering, we weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, since it smelled rather strange with a lot of uniquely bold aromas competing with each other. Â But as we simmered it for about 6 hours (adding water periodically if it cooked down too much) and tasted throughout the day, the flavors became a lot more cohesive. Â (Similar to the way the Steelers came together in the fourth quarter to take the lead and ultimately beat the Bengals.) Â About half an hour before you’re going to serve the chili, add the reserved tablespoon of chili powder. Â Just prior to serving the chili, remove (and discard) the bay leaf.
Although we prefer Texas chili served over Fritos, the texture of Cincinnati chili (more like a sauce than a stew) makes it an excellent topping for spaghetti. Â We used whole wheat pasta, boiled it until al dente, then drained it and tossed it with a little olive oil.
The uniqueness of Cincinnati chili extends to the ways it is ordered and garnished: ” three-way” (spaghetti, chili and cheddar cheese); “four-way” (three-way plus chopped onion); or “five-way” (four-way plus kidney beans.)
We went with the four-way, plus a “cheese coney” hot dog for Dan (strictly for research purposes, not because he loves hot dogs so much.) Â The four-way chili was good, the cheese coney was even better and the Steelers beating the Bengals was the best.
For the chili–
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- Â¼ cup chili powder, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Â¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 Â½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups water
- spaghetti, cooked al dente
- cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
- white onion, chopped (optional)
- kidney beans, heated (optional)
- Add the beef and chicken broth to a large pot or Dutch oven, bring to a boil and simmer, stirring often to break up the meat into tiny pieces, for about 30 minutes. Â Skim off (and discard) the fat from the beef.
- Add the remaining chili ingredients (reserving 1 tablespoon of chili powder to add later) and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to all day (the longer the better!) Â Add water as needed if the chili cooks down too much before it is done.
- About 30 minutes before serving the chili, add 1 tablespoon chili powder. Â Remove and discard the bay leaf, then serve the chili spooned over spaghetti and garnished with cheese, onion and/or kidney beans.