Cleveland Indians Chili

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Last week, I went on a business trip to Cleveland, and be it as it may, I spent all of my time in the Independence, Ohio suburbs wailing away on a computer keyboard or on long conference calls, stuck inside an office park, in crappy cold, overcast and rainy weather. My meals consisted of multiple group outings to Zoup! and Aladdin’s at the nearby strip mall, and a one-off visit to Famous Gyro George. I did not get a chance to take advantage of some of the great local ethnic cuisine, and for this I feel ashamed (note: If you somehow end up in Cleveland, I urge you to read Laura Taxel’s book Cleveland Ethnic Eats). And as a punishment for not taking advantage of the city’s great food, the Cleveland Indians utterly destroyed the New York Yankees in the MLB playoffs, the baseball team that my family has put on an altar of worship for multiple generations.

To lift the curse, I must repent. I must offer to the Indian spirits of Cleveland and the great state of Ohio a grand offering so that the Yankees may again return with a Pennant and World Series victory next year.

One of the places I did manage to visit in Cleveland was Skyline Chili. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept but never actually visited a Skyline location until recently. The idea of a layered, heavy cinnamon laced chili over spaghetti with modular condiments did sound appealing.

Eat a Chili worthy of a true Cleveland Indians fan. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Unfortunately, the implementation sucked. The spaghetti was overcooked and not properly drained, the cheese was of a low quality, and I found the chili lacking the assertive spicing characteristics that it was supposed to have in the first place. And forget about their signature “coney” dogs, which were like 3 inches long and were composed of some icky processed pork meat product. Ohio-style chili and chili dogs, it seems, have fallen on bad times.

To add insult to injury, the chili that is served in Cleveland isn’t even from Cleveland. It’s from Cincinnati. So I think it’s time for that city to have a chili it can call its own. As soon as I got home, I decided to re-formulate the entire Skyline concept into something even a foodie would eat, and that a Cleveland Indians fan would be proud of.

The key to this recipe is to get the freshest possible spices you can find. Don’t reach for the stuff in the back of your spice rack that’s been sitting there for God knows how long. Go to your local spice merchant (Indian and Latino groceries are also good, as are online sources such as Penzey’s and Kalustyan’s) and pick up fresh, ground, potent spices.

Rather than the standard “chili powder” stuff that Skyline uses, I decided to opt for actual ground Mexican chiles. For starters, I wanted the “Indians” or “Native American” theme to be present in the chili, more like the characteristics of a Mole sauce. Dried and fresh ground Morita Chipotle and Guajillo chiles were used, but you could also use Chile de Arbol, Pasilla, Ancho, or a mixture of all of these. I wanted the smokiness to come out more than a processed Chili flavor.

Cleveland Indians Chili

2 tbsp oil
2-1/2 pounds ground beef (or use a combination of ground Beef, Pork, and Lamb, or Turkey)
1 quart cold water
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 12-14oz can of crushed or whole San Marzano DOP, RedPack or Ro-Tel tomatoes
2 large onions (diced)
1-1/2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 tbsp Freshly ground dried Mexican chiles (we used Morita Chipotle and Guajillo we got from Kalustyans)
5 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
Salt & pepper to taste

Condiments: Chopped white and green onions, fresh chopped cilantro, small red kidney beans, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, hot sauce

Method: Brown your ground meat in a large pot in the oil. Drain grease. Add all the other ingredients. Bring to boil, mix well. Simmer for 3 hours. Use immersion blender to break up everything into a fine consistency — end product should be more of a “sauce” than a Texas style chili. Let cool, put into plastic containers, refrigerate and re-heat the next day, or even better, two days later. Spoon off excess oil floating at the top.

Chili Assembly:

Cook pasta to slightly more than Al Dente. I used an enriched whole wheat sphagetti.

Spoon over a generous amount of sauce.

Apply chopped onion.

Apply grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Apply cooked small kidney beans. We used Goya. But you could also use a mixture of gourmet beans, such as Rancho Gordo (which you can get at Whole Foods)

Allow cheese to melt. Toss in plate, and eat. Add hot sauce and fresh chopped cilantro if desired.

Alternative serving suggestion: NJ-style Texas Wiener (footlong 1/4lb hot dog) with Onions, Chili, Cheese, Mustard

11 Responses to Cleveland Indians Chili

  1. Steve says:

    I have a client in Cincinnati. The first time I went there two years ago, we went to Skyline Chili, as it is the local delicatessy. I considered it spaghetti & meat sauce. Worst heartburn ever! Once was enough.

  2. Xenos says:

    Is eating chili over pasta a Cleveland thing? I’ve never heard of it being consumed that way. My father is a chili enthusiast (both the dish and hot peppers in general) and I can’t ever remember him making it that way or mentioning it.

  3. The style originated from Cincinnati at the Skyline Chili chain, but it is eaten all over Ohio and other parts of the midwest that way.

  4. Scott says:

    We actually have a few locations here in South Florida. I went there years ago with a friend of mine from Cleveland and I thought it was gross.

  5. Nancy says:

    Jason – I wish we’d known you were in town – we would have gotten you out for at least one good meal! The spaghetti-chili thing is a southern Ohio thing, but as Skyline has grown as a franchise, it has spread in all directions. Your version looks much more appealing!

    Do look us up if business brings you back to Cleveland.

  6. Derek says:

    The different chili style is from the Greek immigrants in Cincinnati that originate it, however I got horrible food poisoning from the 4-way at Skyline in Cincinnati. I know locals there swear by it, but now even the thought of that cinnamon-laced chili makes me green.

  7. Suzanne F says:

    How does this chili compare to the stuff they use in Detroit for a Coney Island? I’ve been trying to recreate that for 30 years. If your version works, I will bless your name.

  8. I have no idea. I think the style is very similar to what is eaten in Cincinatti, although this is somewhat spicier since we are using real ground chiles as opposed to the standard McCormick’s chili powder crap. Head over to Kalustyan’s and pick up a few bags of ground morita chipotle and guajillo. This chili has a distinctly smokier flavor and I think it goes great on hot dogs. If you combined it with beans, like a nice Rancho Gordo blend, it would be really good on cornbread as well.

  9. […] I’ve also created my own recipe for hot dog chili similar to Texas Weiner sauce called “Cleveland Indians Chili”, with a smoked chili […]

  10. hahnak says:

    hi jason, thanks for sharing your recipe. i am a cincinnati chili fan. i love the cocoa/cinnamon/chili mix in my meat and i serve it five way at my house. ill give your version a try (and ill try it with real ground chiles, even though we are okay with standard chili powder crap).

  11. hahnak says:

    err, i meant “cleveland indians chili”, not “cincinnati”, hahaha

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