Chili is a Texas dish, right? Texans made the first chili of record as well as the first pre-mixed spice for the dish. The most famous canned chili—Wolf Brand—was born on a Texas ranch and made here for years. For goodness sake, it’s our state food. So what can possibly be good about Cincinnati chili? Author Jim Jackson—er, Seamus McCree of fictional fame--sets us straight, provides a recipe, and even suggests dessert.
My name is Seamus McCree. My creator, James M Jackson, signed me up for this gig. Geez, he puts the words, “The quintessential Cincinnati eating experience is Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream,” into my mouth, and now he tells me I have to provide details for those who aren’t familiar with the cuisine.
Haute it is not. We’re talking fast food, and in Cincinnati the perfect place to experience it is on Ludlow Avenue in the Clifton area just north of the University of Cincinnati. That happens to be only a few blocks from where I “live.”
First the basics: Cincinnati chili is not your ordinary Tex-Mex. This chili is usually served over spaghetti (see below for details) and comes in three variations: three-way, four-way and five-way. Three way adds finely shredded Colby cheese on top (feel free to substitute Cheddar; I do that all the time). Four-way adds either diced onions or red kidney beans. A five-way includes everything. While you wait for your fast food, the staff will serve you oyster crackers (which some people—not I—will add to the top of their chili).
You can buy the sauce in cans or the whole thing frozen, but it’s not hard to prepare and the recipe is below. Here’s the Skyline website http://www.skylinechili.com/. I should mention that there are other brands of Cincinnati Chili – but for a Cliftonite like me, only Skyline counts.
And when you have finished your repast, a block and a half down Ludlow is Graeter’s Ice Cream (http://www.graeters.com/ ) for dessert. I figure the exercise of walking that distance justifies the calories of the ice cream. My favorite flavor is black raspberry chocolate chip. They drip the chocolate into the vats while they are making the ice cream, so sometimes you end up with chunks the size of a small candy bar with your ice cream. I haven’t found any flavor I don’t like. For those near Kroger food stores, I’m told even those in Savannah carry Graeter's.
Here’s the recipe for the Cincinnati chili sauce, which is better if you make it ahead of time.
2 lbs. ground beef
1 qt. water
4 small onions
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
5 whole cloves
1 tsp crushed red pepper
4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
2 large bay leaves
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
½ oz. bitter chocolate
1 generous tsp allspice
4 Tbsp chili powder (optional if you like it hot – I leave it out)
In blender, puree garlic and onions with a small amount of water. Add raw beef to 1 qt. COLD water. Crumble FINE as water comes to a boil. Add pureed mixture and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer for 3 hours. Refrigerate overnight. Skim fat and reheat to serve.Let each person add cheese, onions and red kidney beans to preference. The cheese should be finely grated. Onions minced. Beans (canned) drained and rinsed.
Caution: Do not wear your finest clothes eating Cincinnati Chili. Unless your napkin does a better job than mine, some of the sauce may end up on your front.Caution II: Savor the Graeter’s Ice Cream. Eating it too fast can cause brain freeze.
Thanks for having me,
James M. Jackson writes the Seamus McCree mysteries, Bad Policy (March 2013) and Cabin Fever (coming April 2014), published by Barking Rain Press. Bad Policy won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods and Georgia’s low country. Jim has also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge (Master Point Press 2012).
He regularly blogs at Writers Who Kill (http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/)