Greetings! I come to you from the Upper Midwest of the States, where I am 33 miles from the nearest bowl of pho and 50 miles from the nearest takeout curry.
A veritable food desert, you might think, but no. There is absolutely no shortage of places where we can get our fats, proteins, and carbs on. It will be no surprise to those outside the States that what you may perceive as a lack of quality is more than made up in quantity.
In response to James May's vegan sausage video, where he spread margarine on his split hot dog roll (I did see that, didn't I?), I figured it may be interesting to show one and all how we eat frankfurters here in flyover country.
The sausage itself
Most American hot dogs are made of the less desirable parts of pigs, turkeys, or chickens. These are the most American hot dogs because they are cheaper to make and cheap to buy. Most kids prefer generic hot dogs. I certainly did.
These days however, I tend to go with a 100% beef frank such as my local favorite, Vienna Beef. These are almost always Kosher and I like some sort of oversight over my hot dog production. These have a natural casing that snaps and are mildly seasoned. Other nationally available brands include Hebrew National, Best's Kosher and Nathan's. Nathan's is a particularly spicy sausage.
Preparation of the perfect hot dog
James is correct in that the flat top is the preferred method of hot dog cooking. A flavorful char still preserves the natural casing, so each bite gives a satisfying snap, followed by juicy goodness.
If you cannot cook on a flat top surface, the next best thing is to boil the frank. You don't get the char but more importantly on a quality product, the casing remains intact so you still get the snap and the juices. Generic dogs tend to split during boiling. Heck, they split no matter what you do. Ju-u-u-ust wrap 'em with a slice of bacon...
Many Americans are utterly beholden to the grill, and I agree that for a steak or chop, the grill is the tool for the job. But although the grill provides the flavorful char, the hot tines puncture the casings, and most of your juices splatter on the coals, instead of in mah belly.
In future posts, I will rave about the deep fryer, the cooking tool of choice here in the Breadbasket of America. Today, though, no. Do not deep fry your hot dog. Unless it is breaded in cornmeal, then it is a corn dog. But that's another story for another day.
The Chicago Way
My sincere apologies to Sean Connery. Right, then.
Now you've cooked your frank completely made of cow, you're gonna top it. I hadn't even heard of "salad cream" before the other day. Also, James, we don't break apart the bun on purpose. In fact, if you're able to do so, if you break your bun, you dispose of it and try another one. What the hell...we'll bake up more.
The first topping scheme I will present is the "Chicago Dog". You will find it excessive. I find it excessive. But the Chicago Dog is common to the point of ubiquitousness. People eat these by the millions. It didn't used to be this way. It was only a few purveyors who made these monstrosities. But you gotta understand that in Chicago the big complaints are the murders, the cold, and the fact that New York is more famous. So when something pops up that might be unique to us, we shove it in everyone's face. That's what happened to the meat casseroles known to all as 'deep dish pizza'. And Al Capone. And Oprah.
A Chicago Dog consists of the following:
- a frankfurter
- a bun. You will note it is covered with poppy seeds. You may not notice the bun is not necessarily steamed, but is stored in a warm, moist place until ready to serve.
- cheap, bright yellow mustard
- 2 tomato wedges
- diced raw onions. Don't cook 'em, no, no.
- neon green relish. This specific relish is diced pickled cucumber, treated with some extremely bright green food coloring, along with more than a dab of high fructose corn syrup, which is 'Murrican for liquid sugar.
- several 'sport peppers': small chili peppers with a Scoville index of 300-500, or somewhere between a peppercini and a jalapeno. Personally I find them to be nasty, and I typically pick them off. (Don't tell anyone; they'll come and take away my 'Fat' card)
- a pickle spear
- celery salt. Yes, you read this right.
- not a speck of ketchup. There are establishments where you will be refused service if you ask for it.
There you have it, generally sold from anywhere to $2.50 to $3.50. Compared to the simple handfuls that James fed his electrician buddies, this screams American Excess. This is the 700HP Dodge Demon of hot dogs, totally unnecessary and frankly, gluttonous.
The Coney Dog
The second type of dog near and dear to our hearts is the Coney Dog.
Although it's named after Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, for some reason the areas around Lake Erie specialize in this tasty treat. Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and all points within the states of Michigan and Ohio can and will whip up a Coney for you. Like the Chicago dog, these are shining examples of American excess. But at least these came about more honestly.
Greek and Macedonian immigrants started hot dog stands all over the Lake Erie area. They topped their dogs with a somewhat sweet sauce of meat and onion that I guess resembles a papprikash that has been hit with an immersion blender. Locals ate it up, but being our typical culturally self-centered selves, decided this was based on Texas Chili. In fact, this sauce has been co-opted by the entire city of Cincinnatti as 'Cincy Chili', and they pour it over pasta, cover it with onions, recover the onions with cheddar cheese, and claim it as a civic identity. What I just described is '4-way chili', and if you eat it in the heat of a brutal Cincinatti summer in order to soak up some day drinking, the resulting reverse peristalsis is simply horrifying.
Anyway, back on track...this paprika sauce is ladled on top of a hot dog, and topped with a comparatively tasteful selection of onions, mustard and cheese.
Note the ersatz Coney dog, above. Some proud American decided to make Texas chili (with beans) and pour it on top of the dog. They also used red onion, which is an abomination in and of itself. I even see some bell pepper pieces. If someone serves me one of these, I instantly know they don't know what the hell they're doing.
If you did have some Texas chili with beans and wanted to make some honest Coney dogs, just hit it with the immersion blender until the beans are smashed and it more resembles the true Coney sauce shown above.
Wrap this up, already...
My favorite hot dog takes me back to my childhood, walking to my seat in Wrigley Field in Chicago. Vendors would be grilling hot dogs and bratwursts with onions on flat tops right by the entrances, and the aroma wafted for several city blocks. The one above has some bacon wrapped around it, which as James' mom would say, is 'a bit unnecessary'. Not saying I wouldn't eat it, though. A nice kosher dog topped with mustard, grilled onions, and a little bit of that neon green relish, just for sh*ts and grins. No 'salad cream', and no damn ketchup. I'm a grown ass man.
Hope you enjoyed my foray into Midwestern excess. If you want more, I'll give you some more.