I’m not going to take it as far as Brian and assert that all people from Ohio are sub-human pig-men. Or women. Pig-people. Whatever. But still, chili over spaghetti? Color me confused.
Not that I’m any big fan of Ohio. I mean, I know some lovely people who made it out of Ohio and I’m sure there are more of you; leave me a comment and I’m happy to send you a bus ticket to a coast. But I’ve always found Ohio to be a downer. I’ve driven across it many times and as soon as you cross the Pennsylvania border, the sky darkens, the landscape goes barren and birds fall dead from the sky. Plus, y’all managed to set Lake Erie on fire.
And then there’s your chili.
I got a copy of More Best Recipes from the Cult of Kimball from my nephew for Christmas and decided to give it a go this week. After flipping through the book, which is full of serviceable but pretty basic recipes, I gave Brian a choice: mulligatawny, or Cincinnati chili? In a fit of contrarian pique, he went with the chili.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
For those who don’t know, Cincinnati chili is a thinnish meat-based chili flavored with an array of warm spices – cinnamon, allspice, cocoa – and then ruined. You can have it one of five ways:
- One Way: Chili only
- Two Way: Chili over spaghetti
- Three Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion
- Four Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion, kidney beans
- Five Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion, kidney beans, cheese
Sometimes people also put oyster crackers on top, presumably because since the chili-spaghetti combo makes no sense to begin with, you may as well add any other random shit you want. Jalapeños? Throw ‘em on! Olives? Sure! Gummy bears? Why not!
As though all of this wasn’t enough, the cooking process begins with blanching ground beef. Take that in for a minute.
You dump the ground beef into boiling salty water and stir so the meat separates into grayish beef strings that look either like little bits of brain or enormous maggots, depending on whether you take a macro or micro view.
The whole process only takes 30 seconds, a time precisely calculated by the America’s Test Kitchen Beef Blanching Drones. I bet that was a fun day in the test kitchen. It was probably a nice break from moving a pile of salt from one end of the kitchen to the other with tweezers.
Once the meat is blanched, you build the chili’s flavor base. First, sauteed onion and garlic. Next, toast the spices – chili powder, oregano, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne – until fragrant. Dump in chicken stock, tomato sauce and water, add a splash of cider vinegar and a few spoonfuls of brown sugar and toss in the meat maggots. Simmer for an hour or so, until a bit thickened.
In the last few minutes of the chili’s cooktime, I put up a pot of water for the spaghetti, heated a can of kidney beans and shredded cheddar.
And then you create this. I plated up a mound of it, following the model of Cincinnati chili I’ve seen on Unwrapped and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, two shows that serve as an unending source of culinary inspiration for me. Like I always say, FULL THROTTLE. I wasn’t exactly sure how to dig in, so I started twirling away.
Too late, a blogger friend who I had, until today, trusted, told me to cut up my spaghetti with the side of my fork. Cut up my spaghetti with a fork? STICK A KNIFE IN MY HEART. Oh wait, you don’t have to; my nonna ALREADY DID.
So here’s the thing about the Cincinnati chili: I don’t understand it. I differ with Brian, who found it vile and swore an oath to wipe the state of Ohio off the face of the earth; I was merely perplexed.
I liked the flavor of the chili and think it would be perfect on a hot dog or some fries. I like raw onion on my chili and would never turn away a pile of cheese. But spaghetti? Does not compute. And the beans: why can’t they go into the chili, where they can absorb some flavor? They were misfits on the plate.
On the upside, now I never have to actually go to Cincinnati.