Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cincinnati-Style Chili

I like chili - all kinds. Pork, vegetarian, beef, etc. And occasionally I want Cincinnati-style chili. If you're unfamiliar, it's typically a thinner chili with a distinct cinnamon flavor, served over spaghetti (three-ways, four-ways, etc.) and on hot dogs (coneys). The chili was created by Greek descendants, which explains the unusual blend of spices. I usually go to Skyline, which satisfies any craving. I'm not from Cincinnati, so I'm not familiar with the nuances of the style.

That said, I wanted to make it, and the internet was both helpful and overwhelming - tons of recipes, theories and debates about what's right. And the grocery store was completely unhelpful! No spice packet so I could shortcut it, and no allspice.

I researched ingredients and methods. Some recipes are super-spicy (not hot spicy, just a more complex blend of spices like coriander, allspice and cloves). Some saute onions and garlic. Some saute the beef. Some use diced tomatoes. But Cincinnati-style chili is not hot; the cayenne is there to bring out the flavors and add some depth - not to make you sweat! It pained me not to add a jalapeno, but I was aiming for traditional here.

I took what seemed most traditional and went with it. My recipe turned out really tasty, so I thought I'd share it, along with what I'll do differently next time.
Cincinnati-Style Chili
1 pound-ish of ground beef - mine was 90% lean organic and I'd totally recommend it
½ can of tomato juice (the biggie - 1 quart, 14 ounces, I think)
2 cups of water (estimate - this will depend on how thin/thick you want your sauce)
½ can of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of cayenne
In a large pot, mix tomato juice, water and tomato paste. Heat and add the beef, breaking it up as much as possible. Braise the beef until it's cooked through. While it's cooking, put together your spice mixture. Add more water if necessary. Add Worcestershire sauce and the spice mixture. Simmer as long as possible. If you can serve it the next day, it'll be even better. And if you use less-lean meat, refrigerating overnight will make it easy to remove the extra fat. With 90% lean, though, I don't feel there's any need.
Mine simmered about 2.5 hours, and it was fine. I served it with drained and rinsed red kidney beans, diced onions (for Aaron; I think raw onion is gross) and shredded cheddar cheese. Oh, and oyster crackers! I don't know why, but they're traditionally served and I like the crunch. Don't forget the hot sauce. Typically a thinner hot sauce is served. I used Tapatio and Aaron used Sriracha (which I think is too thick for this application, but I'm also sure it was delicious).

So I ate a four-way with beans (spaghetti, sauce, cheese, beans), and Aaron ate a five-way (spaghetti, sauce, cheese, beans, onions).

I really think braising the beef instead of sauteing it is key - and doing it in a blend of tomato juice and water is really nice. I suppose you could use broth instead of water, but I don't think I will. For the traditional style, I'd also stick with powdered garlic and onion - it's supposed to be a meat sauce, and I wouldn't mess with that texture.

Next time I will definitely add a half of a teaspoon of allspice and a half of a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder - I think it'll make the flavor more complex and interesting. And maybe a touch more cinnamon, although mine is probably old, so if you're using newer cinnamon, a teaspoon is probably good. And I might shred my own cheese next time - a nice blend of sharp cheddar and colby would be tasty. Other than that, I think it's good!

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