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We’ve embarked on a quest to combine a bun of great flavor and holding capacities with one of the greatest of hot dog toppings: chili. It’s not a risky statement to say that there are as many styles of chili as there are chili makers, but several regions of the country have embraced distinctive recipes. To embellish our ultimate hot dog construction, we’ve chosen to go to Cincinnati.
Now, Cincinnati chili is famous in its own right. Forget about Texas (at least for the time being); Cincinnati chili is a whole ’nother story. A very smooth blend of meat, vegetables and spices, this chili is more a meat sauce than the robust, chunky dish you might be picturing in your mind. Depending on the number of added accompaniments, Cincinnati chili can be three-way (thick spaghetti topped with chili and cheese); four-way (add onions atop the chili, before the cheese); or even five-way (kidney or cannellini beans go over the onions, before the cheese).
When you’re talking hot dogs, though, this same chili plays a different roll… er, role. According to the American Museum of Natural History’s Web site, Cincinnati’s signature dog, the Cincinnati Cheese Coney (as in Coney Island, home of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs), features a Vienna Beef Frank topped with chili, cheddar cheese, diced onions, and a squiggle of yellow ballpark mustard. The chili ingredients may vary slightly, but most seem to include very finely ground beef (chuck is usually called for), tomato, a touch of vinegar, and grated unsweetened chocolate, with sweet spices like cinnamon and allspice in the background. All of these ingredients are simmered for three hours, to make a very subtle and balanced flavor.
Cincinnati’s chili is a fitting crowning glory for a fresh-baked hot dog bun and a nicely grilled hot dog. Here’s a recipe from the mother of one of my former students, an Ohio native and inveterate chili artiste.—S.R.
2 pounds ground chuck (ask the butcher to run it through the grinder a second time if you want your chili ultra-smooth)
6 cups water
1 bay leaf, 5 whole cloves, and 5 whole allspice, tied up in a piece of cheesecloth; or simply substitute 1 whole bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and ground allspice, and skip the cheesecloth
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate or 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 onions (8 1/2 ounces total), grated or very small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vinegar
16-ounce can tomato sauce
Brown the beef in a large pan, and drain the fat. Stir the water into the beef, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Add the cheesecloth bag with the spices, and all of the remaining ingredients (start with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt). Simmer the chili slowly, uncovered, for 2 hours, until it’s thick. Cover and continue cooking slowly for another hour. Adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt, ground black pepper or additional red pepper for extra kick, if you like. Discard the cheesecloth bag with the spices.
Serve atop hot dogs, or make it three-, four-, or five-way. Don’t forget plenty of napkins! Yield: 12 servings, when spooned over a hot dog.
Nutrition information per serving (a generous 1/3 cup, 240g): 231 cal, 17g fat, 14g protein, 6g complex carbohydrates, 2g dietary fiber, 56mg cholesterol, 569mg sodium, 410mg potassium, 67RE vitamin A, 7mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 28mg calcium, 131mg phosphorus, 2mg caffeine.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XIII, No. 5, Summer 2002 issue.