One of my favorite regional dishes is a comfort food popular in southern Ohio called Cincinnati chili. It’s somewhat misnamed since it’s not really chili as we normally think of it. Cincinnati Chili is really pasta with chili.
A specialty of the greater Cincinnati area, Cincinnati chili is beef chili made with a mix of atypical spices (compared to Texas chili) such as allspice and cinnamon. Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili are the best-known Cincinnati chili purveyors, but there are many throughout southern Ohio, each seemingly with its own secret recipe.
Cincinnati chili is typically served atop spaghetti (usually slightly overcooked; not al dente). When you order Cincinnati chili, it’s helpful to know the following styles:
2-way: chili & spaghetti
3-way: chili, spaghetti & shredded cheese
4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese & onions
5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions & beans
In addition, it’s de rigueur to serve Cincinnati chili with oyster crackers on the side. Hot sauce is another typical accompaniment.
As I said, there are a gazillion different Cincinnati chili recipes; this one is my favorite. Don’t let the number of ingredients dissuade you from making it as it’s actually very simple. Just dump everything into a pot and go! This is also a meal that’s very popular with kids.
- 2 lbs. lean ground beef
- 1 qt. water
- 1 28-oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 28-oz. can peeled whole tomatoes or stewed tomatoes
- 2 finely chopped onions
- 2 Tbs. cocoa powder
- 2 Tbs. chili powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. white vinegar
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 3 bay leaves
Optional toppings: finely shredded cheddar cheese, minced onions, kidney beans
Put all of the ingredients into a dutch oven or crock pot and cook slowly, barely simmering, for 4-5 hours. It’s virtually impossible to overcook Cincinnati chili. If cooking in a crock pot, you might want to decrease the amount of water. Just eyeball it. You can always add more water, if needed. The finished product should be fairly “wet,” – more saucy or soupy than Texas chili would be.
Remove the bay leaves before serving.
An important note: DO NOT brown the meat before cooking. Authentic Cincinnati chili requires that the meat stew with the spices. That’s why I recommend lean ground beef, since you won’t be able to drain off the fat.
Serve on a bed of spaghetti, along with optional accompaniments like onions, beans, crackers and such.
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