You look okay, I guess I’ll let you in. But you have to swear on something holy, like this stack of bacon, that you won’t reveal the secret I’m about to show you.
It’s my Secret Cincinnati Chili recipe.
Well, I guess Cincinnati Chili isn’t a real secret, like who shot JFK or how Paris Hilton has a career. If you’re not in the Tri-State area, you probably had no idea that Cincinnati had a chili style, how this constant of life, like the Ohio River, is not to be seen even 50 miles away. I’m a three way Gold Star girl. If you have no idea what that means then listen up.
Cincinnati chili is sort of a sweet and spicy (not hot spicy, flavor spicy) bolognaise. My husband had me make a pot for his birthday party one year, and I thought he was asking me to commit hari-kari on my Wustof, but it knocked people out of their socks. Never underestimate the power of comfort food. I always sold out of it at when I made it for a daily soup special, the people in Seattle being totally confounded by the bowl set before them, and then usually demanding more information. I had to walk out to explain it tableside to disbelieving but delighted diners. A friend showed me a recipe and I poked it full of holes- not enough sweet spices, it didn’t cook near long enough to blend, and where the heck was the not-so-secret ingredient? Which would be chocolate. Pah. They served it 5-way, too. Which, according to my grandmother, only Yankees and Texans ordered.
There is a complicated language that goes along with visiting a chili parlor, so pay attention if you don’t want to look foolish:
1-way: Your basic bowl o’ chili
2-way: Chili on cooked spaghetti noodles
Wet: Extra chili
3-way: Chili on noodles topped with finely shredded cheddar
Inverted: The cheese is under the chili
4-way: Chili, noodles, cheese, and kidney beans
5-way: As above, add chopped raw white onion
Coney: Hot dog on a bun with mustard stripe and chili and cheese.
My mother and I took my MawMaw to a Chinese restaurant for Peking Duck, and after a minute of looking at the elaborate serving platter set before her, MawMaw said she’d rather have a coney.
You can order it online from one of the chains like Gold Star , Skyline or Dixie. But it’s so easy, you might as well make your own.
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 bay leaves
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes with juice
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated
salt to taste
Finely shredded cheddar cheese
Kidney beans and chopped raw onion… if you must.
In a stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions until translucent, add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add all the spices, stir until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and some water- this step is important, you don’t want the beef to brown, you want it to cook through & release the juices into the liquid. Stir constantly to break up the meat into almost a paste. Next, add the tomatoes and about 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil and then partially cover and reduce heat to simmer. At this point and for the next 90 minutes or so, you’ll be thinking you’ve messed up or I gave you a bad recipe, but the magic happens in the last minutes of cooking- the spices blend and it will turn a rich brown and the flavor will suddenly become very full and deep. Add salt- about a tablespoon at least, but check it because you’ll probably need to add more. Add the grated chocolate and cook for about 20 minutes, to blend. Add more water if needed to continue the cooking process if it starts to stick or burn. This shouldn’t be soup-y, but thick like a good bolognaise sauce, so uncover it and boil off extra liquid if needed. Totally cooking time is around two hours, minimum.
Now, figure out how many ways you like it.