Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Steaming Hot Cincinnati Chili

A four-way served at Skyline Chili
If you order chili in Cincinnati, Ohio be prepared to answer the following question: "Would you like a two-way, three-way, or five way?"  The inquiry refers to ingredients.  Intrigued?

As it turns out, Cincinnati is the chili capital of the world.  There are over 100 chili parlors in the greater metropolitan area, more than any other city in America.  And the chili in Cincinnati is unlike chili in other parts of the country.  Cincinnati chili is always served piping hot and spicy, but never, ever jalapeno pepper hot.  It's about blending spices and creating delicious, subtle flavors, not about setting your mouth on fire.

Cincinnati chili probably started in 1922 when Tom and John Kiradjieff, brothers of Macedonian origin, begin serving it over spaghetti at their hotdog stand.  Tom modified an ethnic stew to attract more customers.  Eventually, the brothers opened Empress Chili. [Their hotdog stand was next to the Empress Theater, a burlesque on Vine Street.]  Soon their chili was copied and tweaked by other restaurateurs, including immigrants from Greece, who began Skyline Chili, as well as, 4 brothers (the Daouds) from Jordan, who opened Gold Star Chili.

Somehow my father learned how to make Cincinnati chili and taught my European mother how to prepare one of her first American dishes.  On dates, they ate at a well-liked parlor called the Chili Bowl.  My Mom said when she first came to the States every business she walked into, like the Chili Bowl, had Elvis Presley singing on the radio.  Below is a winning recipe.

Cincinnati Chili

1 pound ground sirloin
1 large onion
A sprinkle of seasoned salt
2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 15 ounce can red kidney beans
1 bell pepper, any color
1 stalk celery, with leaves
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened baking chocolate
2 teaspoons red chili powder, or to taste (Dark chili powder is milder.)
½ teaspoon black pepper, or 12 turns of the pepper mill
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 beef bouillon cubes
A pinch of parsley, cilantro, cloves and nutmeg
optional: 1 cinnamon stick, a sprinkle of liquid smoke and 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

1.  Sprinkle the ground sirloin with seasoned salt and cook until golden brown in a pan.  Dice and sauté the onion in the pan.
2. Transfer to a large sauce pot, or a dutch oven.
3. Add the tomatoes, red kidney beans, bell pepper, celery, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, chocolate and spices.
4. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Shredded cheddar cheese
oyster crackers
peanut butter sandwiches (use extra fresh bread)

Cook the spaghetti, separately, according to the package directions and set aside.

And now back to our intriguing question:  Ordering Cincinnati chili is based on ingredients. The number before the "way" determines which ingredients you are requesting.  Here's the lingo:
1) Bowl - chili in a bowl
2) Two-way - chili and spaghetti
3) Three-way - chili, spaghetti, cheddar cheese
4) Four-way - chili, spaghetti, cheddar cheese, diced onions
5) Five-way - chili, spaghetti, cheddar cheese, diced onions, beans

It is also customary to eat Cincinnati chili topped with saltine crackers and a mild hot sauce.  Oyster crackers are used because they are thicker and stay crisp.

A peanut butter sandwich (made with very fresh bread) and paired with an ice cold glass of milk is especially tasty served with a big bowl of Cincinnati chili.  It's comfort food at its best.

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  1. I'll have to make this chili, though it has a lot more ingredients than I normally use.

  2. This was very enlightening. I would have guessed that someone named Ortega popularized chili- obviously not. The Eastern Med angle (Greece - Jordan) makes total sense. I will skip the PB and milk- maybe try it with Hellas beer instead.