Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cincinatti Skyline Chili

Cincinatti-style Chili

Chili is one of those foods that invites passionate discussion about the "right" way to do it. To add beans or not? Tomatoes or not? Texas or Midwestern style? As a card carrying Texan it shames me to say that I really love Cincinatti-style chili, particularly Skyline Chili. With beans. And tomatoes.

Skyline is a chain of restaurants, mainly in Ohio and Kentucky, started in 1949 by a young Greek man named Nicholas Lambrinides. A good portion of my mom's family is from Cincinnati ("cin-suh-natta" as my grandma always pronounced it) and I grew up hearing about Skyline Chili. I have only eaten in the actual restauraunt a couple of times, but long before the days of Amazon, visiting relatives would bring cans of Skyline chili with them.

Nicholas Lambrinides' Greek background is evident in the cinnamon and cloves used in the spice mix which create a heavenly, spicy, caramel-y aroma while the chili is cooking. Skyline chili is also traditionally served over spaghetti, reminiscent of another Greek dish called Pastitsio. It is also fantastic for chili dogs.

Spice Whirl
Spice Whirl
Skyline's recipe is a secret, of course, but a couple of years ago I experimented with copycat recipes on the internet and this recipe came pretty close.

You start by combining ground beef and water, breaking up the meat into very fine pieces as the water comes up to a simmer. This is an essential step in Cincinnati chili. The end texture and consistency should be like thin spaghetti sauce. Add finely chopped onions and garlic, tomato sauce, and a fragrant mix of cocoa powder, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cayenne, bay leaf, worcestshire, and vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, for a couple of hours and delight in how delicious your entire home smells. This makes a rather large batch but freezes and reheats very well. I like to freeze it in a few 1-cup portions to use for chili dogs.

When you order Skyline chili at the restauraunt it comes five ways:
1-way: just the chili
2-way: chili served over spaghetti
3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated Cheddar cheese
4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans
All "ways" are served with oyster crackers

Cincinnati-style "Skyline" Chili
adapted from

1 quart cold water
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 14-15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbls.Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbls. cider vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. salt

oyster crackers for serving
cooked spaghetti to serve chili over, optional
shredded cheddar, chopped onions, kidney beans for serving, optional

Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while breaking up the ground beef with a fork until it is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients. You can serve the beans on the side, heated up, but if everyone you're serving this to likes beans, then I suggest adding one 15 oz. can kidney beans about 30 minutes before the chili is done. No need to drain, just open and tump in.

Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes to thick.

Serves about 6

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