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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cincinnati Chili

On the way to work this morning I noticed FOX Neighborhood Grill was advertising Cincinnati Chili as their Thursday night special. For those of you not familiar, Cincinnati Chili was created by Greek immigrants in Cincinnati in the early 20th Century. This origin means it's spices are also Greek-influenced. It's also much thinner and less tomato-y than what we think of as chili and It's usually served over spaghetti or on coney dogs.

Chili five-ways (chili served over spaghetti and topped with chili, cheddar cheese, onions and beans) used to be one of my favorite easy-to-make dinners and I'm wondering if that's how FOX is going to be serving it and if they made it themselves or brought in a couple frozen batches of Skyline or Goldstar Chili.

Coincidentally, I was in the Cincinnati airport last Monday and saw cans of Skyline Chili at one of the newsstands and couldn't help but buy one since I'd been wanting to try the real thing for years after making my chili five-ways with everything from homemade chili to Hormel to Wendy's chili picked up in the drive-thru on the way home.

Tuesday afternoon I made chili four-ways for lunch since Skyline doesn't contain beans and I didn't have any canned kidney beans around. First I heated up the chili while the pasta water was boiling. It was immediately clear in a way I couldn't tell from the many Food Network spots about Cincinnati chili that I was dealing with something completely different.

It's very thin and the beef is so fine that much of it has dissolved into the chili. A quick taste confirmed the differences. It has a much more subtle flavor than tradition chili con carne. It's not hot spicy but I appreciated the more aromatic spices used in this chili. I detected cinnamon, cloves, allspice and maybe a little bitter chocolate (which I also use a little of when I'm making traditional chili). While I would consider it more of a meat gravy akin to Bolognese sauce I'm sure the 100+ chili parlors serving this stuff in Cincinnati would disagree.

To be more healthful I used some whole-grain spaghetti; something which has come a long way from it's gummy, gritty predecessors I used to try and eat years ago. I also used green onions since that's all I had. I tried to approximate the amount of cheese I've see on top of the dish on TV and on the web but I stopped at 4 oz. which still wasn't enough.

The key is eating from the bottom up so you get all four layers while allowing the cheese to melt into the rest. The chili was thin enough to seep into space between the noodles which was nice since I'd been used to having to stir the dish thoroughly to get the optimal blend of flavors.


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