Better you should cook Cincinnati chili

August 01, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

I gather that there is some brouhaha today about a fast-food chain that serves mediocre fried chicken. (The One True Fried Chicken was made in an iron skillet by my mother and grandmother, and anything else is a pale and shoddy imitation.) Really, if you are going to eat fast food, Cincinnati chili is a far more satisfactory dish.

Unfortunately, Skyline has no outlets in Baltimore, but I have a recipe for one variant of Cincinnati chili from the late Bob Johnson, my first news editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer, and I am willing to impart the secret to you.

But first, a caution. You have got to get over your unexamined assumptions about the word chili. Cincinnati chili, invented by Greeks in the 1920s, is not chili in either the Texan or Mexican forms. It is served over spaghetti (yes, I said spaghetti; just listen) with shredded cheddar cheese in the basic form, the three-way. Add beans, and it's a four-way. Add chopped raw union, and it is the five-way, the perfect food. My first wife used to say, "They put something in it to make you crave it," and once you've set aside your preconceptions and tried it, you will crave it, too.

Here is the recipe (some variants include chocolate; this one does not).


1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1/2 pound sausage (best if the beef and sausage are run through a grinder together)

2 cups chopped onion

1 large diced green pepper

1/4 cup chopped cabbage

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat

2 cans of tomatoes (1 pound each)

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup water

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons salt (add more later if desired)

2 tablespoons chili powder (more can be added later, to taste)

1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard seed

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 bay leaf, crumbled

COMBINE the chopped onion, green pepper, cabbage, and garlic. Heat the fat in a large pan or skillet and gently saute the onion, green pepper, cabbage, and garlic for about five minutes, stirring until they soften slightly. Add the meat, stirring with a kitchen fork to mix. A potato masher can be used to break the meat into smaller bits, the smaller the better. Stir often and cook until the red is out, about ten minutes.

Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, water, and seasonings, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, simmer uncovered, and stir frequently, for about an hour. Additional salt and chili powder can be added to taste during the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

Canned pinto or kidney beans may be added for a four-way. Rinse them thoroughly in cold water and bring to a boil before mixing with the chili. Home-cooked pinto beans are better. Rinse a pound of them, put in a kettle with cold water to three times the depth of the beans, bring to a boil, and boil uncovered for five minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let stand for an hour. Turn on the heat, bring to a gentle boil, and cook until the beans are tender. Add more water if needed.

FOR SERVING, cook spaghetti as you normally would and put a serving in a bowl. Cover with chili and top with shredded cheddar cheese. For the five-way, top with chopped onion and then cheddar cheese. Serve with oyster crackers.

Kathleen has made the recipe more than once. It does not disappoint.

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