Every time we visit Cincinnati, we make at least one visit to the iconic chili parlor in our old neighborhood. Chili is this Ohio city's signature dish and I've been trying to recreate the exact taste for years.
My husband grew up eating this soup-like meat sauce served over spaghetti and topped with a gigantic mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese. This is the 3-way. Add onions on top for a 4-way; add beans to make it a 5-way. You must sprinkle on some oyster crackers (or 'Cincinnati crackers' as my son Sam calls them) before you eat this meal. The crackers soak up the sauce that the spaghetti doesn't catch.
You can also ladle this chili onto a hot dog in a bun and load it with cheese for a coney.
Cincinnati-style chili originated with immigrants from Macedonia and Greece who created the dish to appeal to more customers.
My boys have been eating this chili since they could hold a spoon. My first exposure came when I was in college, and the taste has grown on me ever since.
What sets Cincinnati chili apart is the tenderness of the ground beef (achieved by cooking the meat in water) and the blend of spices, which I'm still trying to perfect.
This recipe is the closest I've come to mimicking the flavor of my family's favorite brand of Cincinnati chili. (If you want to try the real deal, look for cans or frozen packages of Skyline Chili or Gold Star Chili in your grocery store.) What's served in Cincinnati's chili parlors does not have onion or beans cooked with the meat, but we like it that way. If you want to be more traditional, save the onions and beans for topping.
Lots of online resources debate whether the original recipe used bay leaves or cumin. We'll probably never know the secret blend. If you have ideas or tips on how to tweak the spices, tell us!
2 cups of water
20 ounces ground beef (cut the fat and use 1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin and 4 ounces 80% lean ground chuck)
1 large or jumbo sweet onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 ounce can plus 3/4 cup tomato sauce, unsalted
3 teaspoons tablespoon cider vinegar, divided
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 to 1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 bay leaf
1 15 ounce can of unsalted dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound to 3/4 pound spaghetti, cooked to package directions
Shredded cheddar cheese
Warm kidney beans
Using a Dutch oven or other sturdy large pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add ground beef, breaking up and stirring to crumble the meat into very small pieces.
Stir in all other ingredients (using 2 teaspoons of the cider vinegar) up to and including the bay leaf. Return contents to a low simmer and then partially cover. Cook between 1.5 and 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until sauce just starts to thicken. You want to maintain a nearly soup-like consistency.
Add in kidney beans and cook for another 5 minutes or until heated through. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar and remove from heat.
Fill bowls with about 1/2 cup of spaghetti. Add about 1 cup of chili. Top with shredded cheese, onions, kidney beans and oyster crackers to taste.