Whether you call it a frankfurter, frank, wiener, weenie, coney, red hot or hot dog, it’s National Hot Dog Month and time to celebrate one of America’s most iconic foods. Hot dogs are part of American culture and summer backyard celebrations.
I remember lunchtime when I was in elementary school, and we waited in line by the old station wagon with the wood-grain side panels where the street vendor served up boiled hot dogs topped with hot sauerkraut with spicy, brown mustard from the back hatch of the vehicle. This was the way wieners were served, at least in the New York City area.
Living not too far from the original Nathan’s on Coney Island, my parents would take me there to enjoy the famous dogs and french fries. Don’t we all have “hot-dog memories” and favorite brands and toppings? Each region of the country has its favorites, too. It seems that Hummel, founded in 1933 in New Haven, is the favored brand in this region of Connecticut.
No matter where you travel in the country, there is a local hot dog stand, pushcart, diner, deli or restaurant offering its version of the American classic, often with “secret” condiments topping off the dog.
Traveling this summer might not be on your agenda, so get yourself a copy of “The Great American Hot Dog Book: Recipes and Side Dishes from Across America” by Becky Mercuri (2007, Gibbs-Smith Publishing, $14.99) and you will be able to “visit” some well-known hot dog places from your own kitchen.
From the Coney Island Dog of New York to the Remoulade Dog in New Orleans to the tortilla-wrapped Bacon Burrito Dog at Pink’s in Los Angeles to the New York System Hot Wiener Sauce served at the famous Original New York System in Providence, R.I., the book takes you on a tour to reveal the inside story of how the hot dog has evolved and become even more firmly entrenched in America’s culinary traditions.
You’ll notice how the humble hot dog has stepped up a notch or two, dressed up in creative toppings. Mercuri begins with a bit of hot dog history and introduces entrepreneurs who’ve contributed to hot dog culture. The following chapters are devoted to various regions of the country. She then breaks down the chapter by state, including well-known establishments, back stories and recipes for the dogs, toppings and signature side dishes.
Recipes such as Hot Dog Parmesan and Philadelphia Surf and Turf (a grilled fish cake, mashed, that tops off a hot dog, with yellow mustard and chopped onions), I must admit, made me want to stick to the dogs I prefer, like those served from that old station wagon.
Celebrate the all-American food that has been served by presidents, enjoyed by astronauts on the moon and relished in backyards throughout the country. Here are a few recipes from the book for you to enjoy on your “tour.”
The headnote says, “This mild, delicious relish is a cousin to that served at Blackie’s. If more heat is desired, increase the amount of jalapeno peppers. The recipe is adapted from a formula for pear relish by the late Chef Chet Beckwith of Baton Rouge, La., and as Chet would say, ‘It will set your toes tapping.’”
Founded in 1928, Blackie’s, located in Cheshire, is a well-known establishment in Connecticut. They even make their own mustard. The author writes, “their spicy hot relish is a closely guarded secret, and fans are left speculating as to the formula for what appears to be a mixture of chopped green peppers, vinegar, and spices — including, perhaps a bit of cinnamon.”
Prepare and place, in 3 separate bowls, the pears, onions and all the peppers. Place pears in a colander and pour boiling water over them, drain well and place in a heavy medium pot. Repeat with the onions and then the peppers, adding both to the pot with the pears. Mix the pears and peppers together. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, spices and salt, and add the pear mixture. Add the vinegar and mix well. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Pour the hot relish into hot, sterilized jars and cover, following the manufacturer’s directions for preparation and safety. Place the jars of relish in a boiling hot water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from water and set the jars on kitchen towels to seal, this will be indicated by a popping noise. Makes about 4 12-ounce jars.
In a heavy, deep pot, heat the canola oil over high heat to 350 degrees. Deep-fry the hot dogs, a few at a time to the desired degree of doneness. Place the hot dogs on buns and top with mustard and pear-pepper relish. Serve immediately. Source: Hummel Brothers.
Rawley’s Drive-In located in Fairfield is another Connecticut favorite. The author writes, “Rawley’s is a busy place, often frequented by Meg Ryan or David Letterman. ... The bacon topping is so popular that Rawley’s fries up twenty pounds of it every day, and some folks order ‘heavy bacon,’ or double the amount.”
In a heavy, deep pot, heat the canola oil to 350 degrees. Deep-fry the hot dogs, a few at a time, until they are just beginning to blister. Meanwhile, heat a griddle. As the hot dogs are removed from the oil, transfer them to the griddle and cook until crispy and blistered. Open hot dog buns and lightly butter the inside; place on griddle to toast. Place the hot dogs in buns and top with mustard, sauerkraut, onions and bacon. Serve immediately.
The headnote says, “Some folks are partial to plain sauerkraut on their hot dogs, but this version, mild and favorable is truly a delicious topping.”
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a colander, rinse the sauerkraut under running water and drain well. In a deep, medium frying pan, melt butter over low heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add sauerkraut and mix well. Stir in beef broth and, over medium-high heat, bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the wine. Pour sauerkraut mixture into a 13-inch by-9-inch non-reactive baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove sauerkraut from oven, stir in remaining wine, reseal with foil and return to oven for 1 hour longer, or until sauerkraut is golden and most of the liquid is evaporated. Makes about 4 cups.
In a deep pot, heat oil to 375 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and dry mustard. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and shortening and add it to the flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Place the mixture in a deep pie pan. Dry hot dogs with paper towels. Dip hot dogs into batter to evenly coat and carefully place into hot oil, cooking two at a time. Deep-fry two to three minutes, or until golden brown, turning them carefully with tongs to brown all sides. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with the mustard. Serves 6.
Note: Wooden sticks may be inserted into the hot dogs before they are battered and deep-fried.
“Summer Saturdays”July 25 noon-4 p.m., participating New Haven restaurants will offer two-course prix-fixe lunch menus for $20 (excluding beverage, tax, and gratuity). Reservations are required. Other restaurants and cafes, including coffee shops and bakeries, offer 20 percent off an item. Local musicians will perform live at select spots throughout the city. Special parking rates are available. Participating restaurants and other retail shops at www.infonewhaven.com/new-haven-summer-saturdays.