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Cincinnati Five Way Chili

King-Federal, and the Queen City's Claim to Fast Food Fame
Cincinnati Five Way Chili

by Ron Williams
December 2001

(OK, so I lied about waiting till March to write another column! This is my gift to the readers for the Holiday Season. Truly! I was going to retire off of this recipe. I can't believe I'm giving this one out! If any of y'all even THINK about opening a restaurant with this recipe, I'm coming after you - and I'll be talking to you by hand! This is for adult personal use only by consenting couples within the privacy of their own dwelling.)

Is Cincinnati a Southern City? It's in Ohio - and Ohio monuments to their blue coated varmints who participated in The War of Northern Aggression are littered around Chattanooga (Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob, Missionary Ridge, Chickamauga - ) But Cincinnati is also the home of the now departed King-Federal Record Label, whose artists spanned the heights of great Southern music from Charlie Feathers to Young Jesse to James Brown to Tiny Bradshaw to the Dominoes, to so many other seminal artists.

Important: If you've never heard any of Young Jesse's recordings: Stop immediately what you are doing. Do not wipe, or pass "Go", but head directly for one of them 'Net CD retailers (Amazon, Hepcat, whoever) and buy a collection of his greatest "hits." You will be transformed and will be so grateful to me, you'll send money! It's better than any Ernest Angley prayer cloths. Listening to Young Jesse cures cancer, arthritis, and is the ultimate no-fail diet plan ("Boogie" your weight off!!"); it's non-denominational ('cept you need a waiver from the Southern Baptist Church if you're a member of that cult), guaranteed redemption, salvation, and will blow a hole in your soul big enough to drive the double-wide through!

Of course, my very favorite King-Federal recording is the original "Train Kept A-Rollin'" by Tiny Bradshaw. It rates a 10 on the Sex-ometer. Or "Big Ten Inch Record" - which rates off the scale, or..Damn! There's too many. And that's not even considering all the James Brown recordings -

Anyway, as James would say, "Think - about your good thang!" and here's a recipe for a Good Thang!

Cincinnati Five Way Chili is not anything like a Texas Bowl o' Red. It's really a spaghetti sauce more than anything. It was created by Greek immigrants and is only available in and around Cincinnati and Indianapolis. In Cincinnati, the number of Skyline, Dixie, Gold Star, and Empress drive-in Chili parlors exceed all the chain hamburger fast food restaurants. There are over 200 Cincinnati Chili fast food drive-ins in the greater Cincinnati area. I don't know of any other city that has a local fast food creation that blows away the McDonalds, Hardees, KFC's, and all the rest of your national franchises! For a casual visitor driving through the Queen City who's never known of their peculiar chili jones, it must be rather bizarre.

Five way chili can also be served four way, three way, two way, or one way. The chili (by itself is "one-way") is spooned over very thick, soft (beyond 'al dente') spaghetti (two way), smothered with a mound of finely grated cheddar cheese (three way), or with intervening layers of chopped raw onion (four way), and plain canned kidney beans (five way), all presented on an oval plate. Almost better to me is that the chili makes the world's absolute best CHILI DOG! Hands down!

Like everything else these days, the Cincinnati chili franchises have canned their chili and have it available for sale over the internet. The canned version is a bit too watery for my preference, but offers a fairly authentic taste of the local icon. The web sites for Skyline, Gold Star, and Dixie all make a big fuss about their closely guarded family recipe of secret spices and herbs; but the main big secret is the same 'secret' in Mexican mole: CHOCOLATE! Yep, chocolate chili! Only in America - ..


1) Take off all your clothes - (optional) - Step one is actually go to
the grocery and buy all these spices you may never have kept in the
pantry! You probably ought to find some place (like an Indian market or
some other ethnic grocery which sells spices in bulk inexpensively!)

2) Mix up the spice mixture:
a. 1 Tablespoon EACH of: chili powder and paprika
b. 1 / 2 teaspoon each of: ground cumin, turmeric, ground marjoram,
allspice, cinnamon,
c. 1 / 4 teaspoon each of: nutmeg, ground cloves, cardamom, ground
coriander, mace
d. 1 / 2 of a bay leaf (crumbled up)
e. 1 / 2 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate grated (or chopped up
fine enough to melt easily)
f. 1 Teaspoon of salt and black pepper

3) Brown 1 lb of ground beef in a large cast iron skillet (14 inch) or Dutch oven. Have your butcher grind the meat TWICE so it's finer than your normal ground beef (if possible)

4) Add to the ground beef (while it's browning), 2 small to medium onions, finely chopped (I go ahead and run the onions through a food processor so they are around 1/16 inch dice) along with 2 cloves of garlic minced fine.

5) After the meat, onions, and garlic are browned nicely, drain off the excess grease.

6) Add to the meat/onions/garlic in the skillet: One 8 oz can of tomato sauce, 2 Tablespoons of Catsup, 1 cup of beer, 1 Tablespoon of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, 1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 Teaspoon of molasses (or honey) 1/8 cup of Madeira (or Port) and bring to a boil

7) Add the spice mixture.

8) Partially cover and simmer (adding water if it starts getting too dry) for an hour or so. You want the consistency to be that of school cafeteria spaghetti sauce!

Putting it Together:

1) Cook 1 lb of the thickest spaghetti you can find - sort of "over cook" them so it's soft enough to cut with a fork easily.
2) Put a serving of spaghetti in an oval plate, and cover with the chili.
3) (optional) Add a thin layer of cooked canned kidney beans (like Bush's)
4) (optional) Put a layer of chopped raw onions on next
5) While it's all still hot, cover everything with a mound of very finely grated yellow cheddar cheese - so it starts to melt - you'll need to buy about 1 lb of cheese for four servings!

Say grace quickly ("Dear-Lord-make-this-food-a-strength-to-thy-service-and-a-blessing-to-our-bodies-amen"), pour a cold beer, and dig in! After dinner, drink one ounce of Peychaud Bitters to ease the gastric juices. Belch and fart -

Go ahead and make 2 or 3 or more batches. You'll love it for the chili dogs, I'm telling you!

"Work with me, Annie!"

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