Sunday, November 3, 2013

Special Edition: Sky-like Chili

Sky-like Chili
contributed by Dr. Bobb, Sharpsburg, MD
Much as I enjoy digging up disgusting mid-century recipes with which to torment Dr. Husband, the realities of today's economy dictate that I occasionally make something that won't immediately be sent down the garbage disposal. As it's a lovely, crisp fall day outside the historic test kitchen, I've decided to share with you my man-pleasing chili recipe.


If you grew up in the kitsch triangle of Ohio-Indiana-Northern Kentucky (or, oddly, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) you may have enjoyed the regional delights of Skyline Chili, also known variously as Empress Chili, Gold Star Chili, or the all-encompassing Cincinnati-style. I myself, although an Ohio native with ties to Cincinnati (well, my great-great grandfather owned a whorehouse there in the 1800's, does that count as "ties"?) never heard of it until well into my college years, but then I was hooked.  If you find yourself geographically isolated you can find the real article, occasionally, in the freezer section of your local grocery, but my version is better, and I've found enough ways to cut corners that you can have it assembled and warming on the stove with enough time to swig down a couple of cocktails before husband gets home from the office.

The dish originated in the 1920's in Cincinnati's Greek immigrant community, and retains a decidedly Mediterranean spice combination. The soupy concoction is traditionally served either over spaghetti or on hot dogs, topped with mounds of cheddar cheese, and if you happen into an authentic Cincinnati Chili restaurant, you'll find suggestive menu options like the basic Three Way (noodles, chili and cheese); Four Way (all of the above plus either chopped onions or beans); and for the adventurous, the Five Way (the whole kit and caboodle.)  A word of caution: Steak 'n Shake restaurants have menu items called Three Way, etc., but their chili is definitely NOT exotically-spiced in the Cincinnati way, and if you've ever had that version thinking that's all there is, then think again.

So, here's the recipe, perfected with trial and error by me:

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 medium Vidalia onion, chopped and divided*
2 garlic cloves, minced**
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce plus 1 can water
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, grated***
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. each cumin, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cardamom
9 ounces spaghetti
1 15-ounce can kidney beans (optional)
1 pound cheddar cheese, finely shredded ****
Oyster crackers for garnish
Tabasco sauce (optional)

In a large skillet, brown the meat with the garlic and 3/4 of the chopped onion, storing and breaking up the meat as it cooks. Drain fat from pan. Add the tomato sauce and water and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chocolate, salt, and spices. If time allows, add the spices one at a time, while talking to yourself and looking at the splash guard behind the stove as if you're doing a cooking demonstration on the Food Network. Cover and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, while you read a magazine or watch a story on tv, cocktail in hand.

When husband gets home, cook the spaghetti and heat the kidney beans, if desired.

To make each serving, start with a layer of spaghetti; top with hot chili, warm beans and/or chopped onions. Pat on shredded cheese so that it starts to melt. Garnish with oyster crackers and hot sauce.

*Use yellow onions if you must, but I use Vidalias in every instance where onions are called for. Maybe I've been spoiled by living in the south for a while, but they seem to be available year-round.

**I feel no shame in admitting that I use pre-minced garlic out of a jar. Also, 2 cloves is a general guess. I've never met a dish that suffered by having "too much" garlic added.

***You can grate your own chocolate if you're especially ambitious, but I gave up the effort long ago. I usually use a tablespoon of cocoa powder, but this evening I didn't happen to have any in the house, so I used a couple of mini Hershey bars leftover from Halloween. In past pinches I've used chocolate morsels, Swiss Miss cocoa mix, and chocolate pudding. Do what you need to do, ladies, but the chocolate is essential.

****I suppose, at this point, I need not advise you to buy pre-shredded cheese.

No rating this week, as I know that dishes like this are how I keep my marriage stable, but I WILL show you the proper assembly method:


  1. In the end of September I drove through OH and KY on my pilgrimage to Graceland and I SOOOOOOOOO wanted to hit up the Skyline, but I know that they wouldn't have anything for my mum to eat (she has Celiac's). I have worked with the Skyline in a can.
    I think I'd really like to give your recipe a shot.

  2. "I've never met a dish that suffered by having "too much" garlic added." It's so true. I must confess that I don't love Skyline chili, but I'm inspired to give it another shot with this recipe.