Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ode to Cincinnati Chili

Before ever trying Cincinnati style chili, I knew I'd love it. Tons of noodles, melt in your mouth ground beef, and copious amounts of bright orange extra sharp cheddar cheese. Oyster crackers are optional, yet essential in order to soak up that little pool of ethereal grease floating on top. 

The first time I had it wasn't in Cincinnati, but in my hometown of Milwaukee at Real Chili. It was not a good experience. Although they don't boast their recipe as being 'Cincinnati' style, that is basically what it is. I went there with my husband while I was pregnant, and needless to say I was very excited about what I was about to experience. When I witnessed the server pull up a heaping ladle of the stuff, without mixing in the grease slick on top, I knew I was in for trouble. My bowl consisted of noodles literally drowning in grease, with a bit of chili on the side. Not so good, and the little person that I was sharing my meal with had quite the acrobatic show to let me know that she wasn't having it. If only she had stirred the pot before filling my bowl! It would've been such a more enjoyable experience. I knew that despite the extremely off ratio of chili to grease, the chili was really good. Yet I needed a good home experience before I'd venture out for this kind of chili again.
So began my mission to find an easy yet authentic and genuinely good version of this chili with so much potential. I found a great one by Dax Phillips that I've slightly adapted, and it's truly dynamite. I serve it up a bit differently than true Cincinnati style that offers up to '5 Ways' to adorn the chili. Noodles are a given - I used orzo tossed with a touch of butter and a bit of freshly ground nutmeg that pairs amazingly well with the chili. And since I adore beans, I put them in the chili instead of on the side... and I may be insulting some people here, but black beans made their way in with the kidney beans. Although there wasn't much grease left for the oyster crackers to soak up due to the brilliant method of cooking the beef before adding the spices and other ingredients, they were a welcome addition. I've got a couple ways to enjoy the large amount you'll probably have leftover that I usually did with my Turkey and Soy-Rizo chili, such as Cheesy Chili Mac, which is always a huge hit in our house.


3 lbs ground beef, up to 90% lean
7 cups water
2 bay leaves
5 Tbsp chili powder
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp allspice
3 tsp adobo or 5 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
3 Tbsp Worcestershire 
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz can + 14 oz can salt free diced tomatoes OR
   8 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
cooked orzo pasta for serving, with lots of grated extra sharp cheddar and toppings of your choice

Set a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add the ground beef and water. Bring to a steady near boil and cook till nearly all the water is gone, about 45 minutes to an hour. While your beef is cooking, skim the fat and 'scum' off the top and discard. You may find it hard to believe at first, but your beef will end up looking like this at the end of the process-
Add the remaining ingredients all at once(!), except for the beans, noodles and toppings, of course. Give it a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer
After the chili has cooked for a bit, it should look a bit like this-
Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Once the chili is done, the tomatoes will have completely disintegrated in the chili and it will be a deep, rich brown color. Yum. Remove the bay leaves and discard.

Boil up enough orzo pasta to yield ~4 cups (nearly a pound) and toss with 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. Serve chili atop the orzo with finely chopped red onion, lots of grated extra sharp cheddar (preferably the neon orange variety) and oyster crackers.

The original recipe states that one should let the chili cool to room temp and store in the fridge overnight to develop the flavors as well as skim off any additional fat that rises to the top. I've tried this way once, and I didn't feel it was a necessary step since there was nearly no grease sitting on top of the chili. The flavors do develop a touch after a night in the fridge, but after smelling this chili cooking for a few hours, I doubt you'll be able to wait that long.

Recipe adapted from Dax Phillip's Cincinnati Chili

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