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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cincinnati Style Chili [A Special Guest Post]

The first guest Seasonal Brooklyn entry, what an honor!

Some of you may know me personally, others through this blog as they lucky recipient of Rachel's frequent and delicious culinary experiments. Either way, hello! This is Andrew, Rachel's husband, with the the first guest entry here on Seasonal Brooklyn. With this first appearance I wanted to bring a recipe that I have taken the time to perfect (in my mind) to try and keep up with the caliber of the blog, but also one that meant something to me on a more personal level. So today it's all about that unique take on chili from a small city in the Midwest. In keeping with the blog's theme, I have adapted a more locally and sustainably minded approach for my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe, something I believe in as much as my lovely wife.

Like most cities in the Midwest, Cincinnati is a pretty laid back and quiet town full of friendly people. It's the type of place where you say 'hi' to strangers as you pass them on the sidewalk. I have long given up this practice after nearly twelve years on the east coast, but I will slip right back into it with every visit to my hometown. A city rich in American History residing on the border between North and South, it once bore the nickname Porkopolis and is still referred to as the Queen City to this day, and yes, Jerry Springer was in fact our mayor. Cincinnatians love their Bengals (Who Dey!) and Reds, it's home to the Crosstown Shootout, and a unique culinary tradition: Cincinnati Style Chili.

Cincinnati Style Chili originated in Downtown Cincinnati in the 1920's. It was introduced by Greek immigrant restaurateurs that were modifying traditional stews or sauces to broaden their appeal and customer base. I'm surmising that the dish originated as a variation of the traditional Greek meat sauce used in moussaka because the similarity in texture, consistency and use of savory and sweet flavor profiles. The chili is characterized by its unique mix of spices, including spicy, savory and sweet, as well as the manner in which it is served; coneys, three-ways, four-ways, etc. Today Cincinnati style chili is served primarily in what are called 'chili parlors', which are either chains like Skyline Chili, or local single-location restaurants like Blue Ash Chili or Chili Time. Chili Parlors are located in and around the greater Cincinnati area, which span parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

There are a few things that need to be laid out before you take on some home cooked Cincinnati Style Chili. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or someone who's never even tried the chili, here are some pointers worth considering:
The Meat
Buy lean ground beef from a trusted butcher and have them use the finest grind they can. The fine grind allows for the chili to be thinner, which will result in a more authentic Cincinnati style chili. I use meat from Dickson's Farmstand, a purveyor of pastured, sustainably raised animals in Manhattan, and have them do a fine grind on a 90/10 meat to fat ratio. You want a little flavor that fat can impart but not so much that it makes the chili greasy (you'll be skimming the excess fat off anyway).

The Seasoning
Cincinnati chili is probably more about the seasoning than anything else, as this is what lends the unique and bold flavor. My fine-tuned concoction is listed below just as I make it at home, but feel free to tweak it to you personal tastes.

The Cheese
You don't want to get too fancy on the cheese front as the proper way to serve Cincinnati style chili is topped with mounds of the stuff. A fine cheese just doesn't quite belong. I go with an easily grated sharp cheddar, but some argue a milder cheddar or even Monterey jack is better suited. Be sure to use the finest grate on your box grater as the cheese will be piled high and should almost be fluffy. Just a quick note for the health conscious, your average cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses are dyed orange with a food-coloring agent called annatto. As you'll see in my photos I have opted for an un-dyed version of sharp cheddar, which can be found easily at your local grocery store.

Serving Styles

Three, four and five ways: The first of two traditional serving styles that dates back to the 1920's is spaghetti topped with a generous serving of chili. Three ways are served over spaghetti and topped with mounds of cheese. Beans and/or raw onions can be added if you like to make it a four or five way.

Cheese coneys: The second traditional serving style is the all-American coney, a hot dog served on a bun and topped with chili and cheese. A variation on this version, which happens to be my personal favorite, is the chili ch
eese sandwich. Its just like the cheese coney, however without the dog, just much more chili and cheese.

Those are some of the traditional ways to serve Cincinnati style chili, but this is still chili my friends and you can serve it up in a number of other untraditional manners. Here are some ideas:
  • Chili Dip (cream cheese topped with chili)
  • Plain Ol' Bowl of Chili
  • Chili Nachos
  • Chili Cheese Fries
With that, I give you
my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe. I hope you all enjoy.
Cincinnati Style Chili

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2-1/2 tablespoons chili powder
3-1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (90/10 meat to fat ratio, fine grind)
16 ounce can pureed tomatoes
2 cups water
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Mix the cocoa powder and all of the dried spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add in the beef and cook, stirring frequently until beef is browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the excess fat from the pot (I do this by pushing all of the beef to one side and tilting the pot so that the fat pools on one side and can easily be spooned out). Add in the dried spice mixture and stir until well combined and the cocoa melts in. Add in the tomatoes, water, worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar and simmer covered for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water as needed.

Adjust seasoning if needed and serve in whatever style you're feeling.


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  2. Skyline what what!?!
    "sweeter than some cinnamon" - mos

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