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This rich Cincinnati chili is made with cloves and cayenne, allspice and cumin. Add in lots of chili powder and some dark chocolate and you have an amazing chili!
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.
Shivering from the chill, she plunked down at the table and eyed the chili with a chilly look. “This sure looks like weird chili to me”, she thought. The deep brown Cincinnnati chili stared her down and dared her to chill out. “For real. Let’s do some chillin’, ” this chili muttered. (Well, that is, if chili could talk.) With air scented from the essence of cloves and cumin, allspice and cayenne, the aroma from the chili was enough to send her over the top.
That’s a lot of chills to come out of one bowl of chili. And Cincinnati chili, no less. Ever since I made my Chili Mac last year, I’ve become kind of obsessed. I never loved chili as a child. I remember it as a kidney bean thing and I am no lover of kidney beans. But having married a chili lover, I’ve since become one. Once I discovered the myriad of ways to make chili, I was quickly won over. Truth be told, I love Cincinnati chili. Manservant may love his Texas style chili, but Cincinnati chili is hands down, my favorite.
A few weeks ago I ran across the Mast Brothers Chocolate cookbook at the library. This is a great book, I’ve since bought. Filled with recipes like Orange Nib Crusted Salmon and Cocoa Butternut Squash Soup and even a Cocoa Balsamic Vinaigrette – well, this is not just a dessert cookbook. This is a chocolate lover’s cookbook and a cookbook lover’s cookbook, too. It is a great story about how the Mast Brothers came to be. Since chocolate or cocoa is a component of Cincinnati chili it’s only fitting that this chili should be in their book.
What is Cincinnati Chili?
Cincinnati chili origins began with Greek immigrants in 1920 in Cincinnati and became a meat sauce for spaghetti or hot dogs. With spices from Mediterranean regions such as allspice, cinnamon and cloves, this chili is not a standard chili. Think of this as a sauce that may have had its origins in moussaka or pastitsio and quickly adapted to its new American region. Cincinnati chili is served whatever way you like it and by that I mean one orders their chili over spaghetti with beans and onions or cheese. Two way chili is simply chili and spaghetti. Add in onions and cheese and one has four way chili.
Mast Bros chili recipe is kind of like an over the top gourmet restaurant’s chili. It is simple to make and fun to see how the flavors build on each other. When you start the tastin’, which I do along the way, it doesn’t seem to be getting there. But when you reach the conclusion, with the adding of the sherry vinegar and stirring in of the dark chocolate, well it’s kind of like an opus gone wild. It just reaches a crescendo and keeps ascending from there. This is not unsimilar to when I make mole, only making Cincinnati chili is a whole lot simpler.
Now I love my other chili mac recipe but that chili might be more of what you find in a diner. I also serve it Cincinnati style 3 ways and I love it and though similar, this Cincinnati chili is much richer. This chili is one to savor and eat slow. Well, I say that, but I’m not sure. You might want to ladle it directly into your mouth. It would be fun to compare both side to side.
I made the Mast Brothers Cincinnati chili with Ghirardelli chocolate. Such travesty, I know. I now can find Mast Brothers chocolate at Whole Foods. Would it make this chili taste even better? I really don’t know. But it is damn good even with my friend Ghirardelli.
And while I was making this chili: Alex showed up. Alex, who in the span of less than 48 hours had his car fixed with carpooling from Mom, built a bed frame with help from Dad and stained it with help from Mom, and ransacked our home for art work and miscellaneous pots and pans. That Alex, who is now living in Vail, on Gore Creek, working at Matsuhisa, kept me from finishing this post. I should mention that if ransacking, fixing a car, and building a bed aren’t enough, he also bottled beer (Tricerahops) with his Dad until 12:30 AM Saturday morning in between running over to a shady part of town to buy an Iphone off of Craig’s List.
Luckily the Iphone the guy never showed, which was probably a good thing, since it was probably a too good to be true price. That Alex who also went to Costco to buy a microwave to take back to Vail, in between buying bottles to put the beer in and finishing the bed, thought he would be finished in 24 hours so he could ski with his buds on Saturday. Well, he didn’t leave until Saturday at 12:30 pm because he was too busy and so were we, which is why I didn’t send this post to you sooner.
Not that I minded. Alex has a way of making us both feel quite alive and the music is always going when he’s around, which is a good thing. Though it did feel AND look like a tornado had hit once he left, yes, that Alex Odie, kept me from finishing this post. And well, in the interim this Cincinnati chili just happened to show up today at Leite’s Culinaria, which just tells me that great minds think alike. Right?
More Chili Things:
And here’s one to pin for future chili days:
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I love to make chili in a Dutch oven. Though it is expensive, my very favorite pot is my Dutch oven from Le Creuset. Look for it on sale and think of it as an investment. I was lucky. My mother gave me one once as a gift and I think it’s the best gift she ever gave me!
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 1 medium, finely chopped onion
- 2 lbs ground beef (I used turkey)
- 1/4 c chili powder (I used 1 1/2T ancho and 1 1/2 T Mexican red)
- 1 t cumin
- 1 t allspice
- 1/2 t ground cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 t cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 c tomato puree
- 4 c beef stock
- 2 1/2 oz chopped dark chocolate
- 2 T sherry vinegar
- 2 pinches or to taste sea salt
- 2 grinds of black pepper
In a large pot, heat oil and saute onion over medium heat until translucent.
Add beef or turkey and cook until browned. Stir in chili powder, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, cayenne and tomato puree. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Add stock. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.
Add chocolate and vinegar. Stir until chocolate has melted in. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.
If you choose to serve this Cincinnati style you need to boil some spaghetti, chop some onion, grate some cheese. Beans if you want them. I serve it by putting a serving of spaghetti on a plate. I top that with a bit of grated cheddar. Then I add some chili. Then some beans. Then more cheddar. Then onions. Garnish with crackers. Or those little bitty oyster crackers. Stir it up. Eat it. And if you are lucky you might have a Tricerahops ready to go!
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