This dish has walked through my viewfinder several times, in increasing frequency, such that I just had to try it out.
I first heard about Cincinnati chili when I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode about Cleveland, where one of his best buddies, Michael Ruhlman, a food writer and BIG Ohio Fan, resides. They went to Skyline chili and tucked into this dish: chili atop spaghetti (yes you heard right), topped with cheese and beans and other goodies. Judging by the way they gorged themselves on this dish, I figured, “Wow, that must taste good.”
Cincinnati chili can be presented 3-way (chili, beans, cheese), 4-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions), 5-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions, sour cream…) and beyond. Wowee. It seemed bizarre and good, like Frito Pies are bizarre and good. I shelved the images in my mind. Must try this someday.
Cue the Whole Foods Budget Recipe Challenge, where Rachel of Coconut and Lime‘s Cincinnati chili recipe was showcased as a finalist. There it was again! It was like being in the know–and boy did it look delicious. I bookmarked the page.
And most recently, I got an email from Cooks’ Illustrated highlighting a Cincinnati chili recipe. I watched the video and became entranced.
You know how they say it takes people three tries to like a food? I guess after running into Cincinnati chili three times, I just gotta make it.
My husband’s a big chili lover and he was excited about me making chili (I’ve never made homemade chili before so sue me!). I announced my intentions on making Cincinnati chili on Facebook and was met with mixed reviews. “Ugggh,” they said, “Cue the Jaws music.” Why? I asked. Does it taste bad?
“No,” my friend replied, “It’s just not chili. It has COCOA in it! And it doesn’t have beans in it!” After pushing them further they said, “It’s an acquired taste.” Hrmmm. “You either love it or hate it.”
Oh. Did I mention that the chili has cocoa powder in it? I was astonished but reassured that it was indeed an integral part of Cincinnati chili. (And really, chocolate can only make things yummier, right?).
Still, I forged on, hoping that we’d be in the love it camp. I had to keep telling my husband, “This is NOT your Texas chili! Don’t expect it to be CHILI!” I wanted him to be in the “love it” camp, and expectation-setting, I felt, was key in preparation.
There are variations on this recipe–Rachel of Coconut and Lime sautes her ground beef. I chose to boil my ground beef, following the America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks’ Illustrated recipe more closely. Rachel’s recipe included cloves. The Cooks’ Illustrated recipe didn’t include cloves. I like cloves. So I added cloves. I tasted as I went, and the following is the recipe I came up with.
The result? It was a hit. The hubby said it was like a really interesting spaghetti. I took it to work and offered it to a couple of Ohio natives, who gave it a thumbs up.
We’re in the “love it” camp. Thank you, Ruhlman and Rachel and America’s Test Kitchen. :)
Update: Recently, we tried the chili atop poached eggs. Delicious; and if you like yolks, the yolks combined very well with the chili. Great lower-carb option to putting the chili atop spaghetti.
Recipe follows after the jump…