Cincinnati Chili!

from: Daniel Larkin
to: jamey 10:41 AM

I don’t know if you’re aware of my family’s obsession with Skyline Chili, the Cincinnati purveyors of heaven in soupy meat form.  They aren’t located in Tennessee, and as far as I know, the closest location to me is in Louisville, Kentucky.  Still, it’s worth the drive.

For all of their unwillingness to sprawl, two stores somehow ended up in South Florida.  When the Florida Marlins were created in 1993, my father and I would make regular trips to watch them get their asses beat up and down the inaugural calendar.  Our routine usually involved dinner at Skyline Chili on University Drive on the way out of town.  This was sometimes spiced up with other fun activities like flattening the tires of my sister’s fiance, who my father had nicknamed “shithead.”  Skyline Chili is a fantastic enough establishment by itself to constitute life-long loyalty, but the fact that it was such an integral part of that routine with my dad made it almost mythical.  (I now sport their logo tattooed on my left calf.)

Cincinnati Chili is unlike any other type of chili out there in that is has a sweet, cinnamon and chocolate flavor.  There are no chunks, but it’s a fairly loose mix of meat and tomato base.  Oh, it’s a beautiful thing.

Anyway, when you live in Tennessee, or Pennsylvania for that matter, you really only have three options for Skyline Chili.

1.) Drive to the nearest Skyline Chili location.  This will always be the best option.

2.) Search out the canned stuff from a grocery store.  I have mixed feelings on this, but it’ll do in a pinch.

3.) Make your own.  This was never a realistic choice, until about a year and a half ago.

It all started because I wanted Jenny to know the true gloriousness of Cincinnati chili, but she’s vegetarian.  The recipe, therefore, is for a vegetarian version of the chili – using TVP (texturized vegetable protein) instead of beef.  The flavor is still pretty spot on, but you can easily revert it back to ground beef if you want.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • One 12 oz. bag of Morningstar Crumble, or whatever type of TVP you prefer.  (The 12-oz. bags contain no fat drippings, so they roughly equal one pound of ground beef – browned and drained.
  • 1/2 Medium sized onion – chopped.
  • One clove garlic – minced.
  • One tablespoon each of brown sugar, chili powder and cider vinegar.
  • One teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • One (15 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • Two small pieces of dark chocolate – the snack size.  (We always have Dove Dark squares on hand)

1.) First, sauté the onion and garlic until translucent.  (This may be considered sacrilegious in some circles that believe the onion should be raw and added on top of the finished product.  In my opinion, though, the flavor requires cooked onion, and so powder would be a necessary substitute.  Skyline has no discernible chunks of garlic or onion, so I assume they use powder for both, but I prefer to use fresh when possible.  Plus, I HATE raw onion.)
2.) Next, toss in your meat (either frozen TVP or browned and drained beef)
3.) Mix in the liquids – tomato sauce, water and vinegar.
4.) Stir in the brown sugar, chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, cumin and salt.
5.) When the mix is nice and warm, reduce the heat and toss in the chocolate squares and stir until they’ve completely melted in and are mixed.
6.) Simmer for 30 minutes until thickened.

It may not smell like a final product while you’re cooking it, but it’ll all come together in the end.  I like to step outside for a few minutes to reset my olfactory senses while cooking this.  When I step back into the house, I get hit with a wall of Skyline Chili.

Now there are a few different ways to serve this, but there is one constant – the cheese.  Buy a block of good sharp cheddar and shred it as finely as you can, making the shreds as long as possible.  The goal is to have a heaping pile of room temperature cheese whose sharpness perfectly contrasts the sweet, cinnamon chili.  When you’re piling on the cheese, remember to put on an obscene amount, and then add some more.

To serve it on a hotdog, chose a neutral tasting dog that isn’t too big.  You want the chili to shine.  Lay the dog on a steamed bun laced with cheap yellow mustard, smother it with chili and toss on a grotesque amount of cheese.  This is where the raw onion would go too, if you were so inclined.

The other way to serve this is on a plate of spaghetti.  Blanket a plate of noodles with chili, and then add the obligatory heart attack of cheese.  When you do it this way, you need to supply everyone with a side bowl of oyster crackers for texture and extra salt.  Raw onions can also be added.  Blech!

Here’s a few photos on proper presentation and possible side effects.

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