Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Truck stop hot dogs share the Hot Rollers with some cylindrical impostors: frankfurter-shaped hamburgers. Horrors!

One of the long-standing traditions of American Independence Day celebrations is the grilling of meats. Hamburgers and beefsteaks are popular choices, but the quintessential Fourth of July comestible is, of course, that most American of foods: the Hot Dog. And hot dog is so much more American-sounding than frankfurter sausage, a name that reveals the Germanic origins of this Cylindrical Meat-Food.

Hot dogs are just one of a vast family of sausages, concoctions consisting of meat, fat, spices (and sometimes non-meat components), packed into a casing and then cured or cooked. The original casings, of course, were animal intestines, which come in a convenient hollowed-out tubular form. Alas, many modern sausages have dispensed with the casing. But I submit that a frankfurter with a natural casing that pops when you bite into it is the only authentic kind.

Sausages! They are manifold, from the porky delights of the Italian salumeria to the garlicky kosher salamis that inspired the famous sign in Katz’s Delicatessen (site of the Fake Orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally): “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” Liverwurst. Bratwurst. Boudin. Cappicola. Sopressata. Knackwurst. The scary French Andouillette. And the humble Frankfurter, king of them all.

Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we had hot dogs frequently; they were an inexpensive source of protein and were easy to prepare, to boot. In school, nasty porky hot dogs would appear once a week, served on a (gak!) buttered bun. At home, hot dogs and beans were also regular menu items, except there we would have all-beef dogs. (Not that my notoriously nonobservant parents had any objection to pork, mind you. They just didn’t think it belonged in a hot dog... and, to this day, I agree.)

Frankfurters were generally not restaurant fare, with one notorious exception: the Big Bow Wow, the completely unhygienic source of the finest grilled hot dogs on Long Island’s south shore. And that brings me to the real point of this post.

How should you prepare a hot dog?

Some will steam them, others boil them. The now virtually defunct Lum’s chain used to steam them in beer. But me, I like ’em charcoal grilled.

Get hold of some good beef hot dogs, preferably dinner size. Kosher dogs, like those from Hebrew National, have a nice dense, salty, beefy, garlicky flavor and texture - everything else is an also-ran. Slash those dogs on the bias, then put them on a hot grill until they char; that’s how to do it. Whether you serve them minimalist-style with mustard only, or whether you pile on the sauerkraut and relish, that’s up to you. Chicago dog, with cucumber spears, fluorescent green relish, sport peppers, and celery salt? Be my guest. Ketchup? Be ashamed.

Kosher Beef Franks
The Real Thing: char-grilled Hebrew National beef franks. Yowza!

Bite into one of them - man bites dog! - and you are not simply having a meal. You’re having a bite of America.


BobG said...

Growing up I ate an uncounted number of hot dogs (the REAL ones, with natural casings) toasted over a fire on a stick. Best way of cooking that type, in my opinion.

Houston Steve said...

You left out the best one of all, that georgeous treat from Normandy, the Andouiette. I had my first (and only) experience with this work of art last summer in Rouen. Naturally I was assuming that if the cajuns of Louisiana can make that delightfully spicy Andouille sausage, then the country folk of Normandy must be able to provide great lessons in the art of making what I assumed would have been it's grandpere.

So Debby orders up Boeuf Tartar, and I proudly announce my intent to enjoy the true gastronomical delights of the Norman countryside.

The waiter, realizing that we were not locals, asks, "Is Madame aware that the beef is raw?" She smiles sweetly and replies that she is knows, and that it is one of her favorite dishes.

Shortly thereafter, the food arrives at the table. Debby's plate has one of the most enormous servings of beef tartar I have ever seen, along with a steaming pile of frites, and a lovely garden salad. The beef is perfect, the fries are crisp on the outside and so soft in the middle they are almost creamy. The salad is a marvel of simplicity - greens, tomato, and a light vinaigrette - all so fresh that they must have been picked just hours before.

And there is Houston Steve's plate. The same frites and salad, but then. . .

. . . imagine if you will, a perfectly grilled cyliner about 7 in(18 cm)long and about 1 1/2 in (4 cm) in diameter. A dark golden brown all over. This is going to be a real treat and a great lesson in the charcuteriere's art. Ah, the anticipation. I cut into it; the natural casing pops beautifully, and then. . .spirally bits and long smooth musclely bits slide out, along with the aroma of an unmucked barn. Undaunted, I bite into this wreckage thinking perhaps there is some redeeming value in the taste. . .wrong again. OMG! you think there is some kind of an awful mistake. . .mais, non! This is as it should be! The true Andouiette, as I later discovered, is a sausage made of very coursely chopped (not ground so that the contents would be unidentifiable) pig colon. Apparently, while the entrails may be vigorously washed and cleaned, they retain their somewhat distinctive odor throughout the process.

So, this of course raises the question - if the waiter was concerned enough to ask Debby if she was aware the beef in her dish was raw, would it have been so difficult to say, "Is Monsieur aware he will be eating sh*t?"

Now one may ask, does Houston Steve regret ordering the Andouiette? And the answer is, of course not! Part of the joy of being a foodie is the experience of all things. Some are home runs, others may give you the runs, but in the end (so to speak) one ends up with some fabulous war stories, if nothing else. And this is a war story, because gastronomically, there is nothing else to take from it.

Cappy said...

It's a sausagefest.

Fiona Kathleen Hogan said...

Oh. My. God.

I love sausages... LOVE love love sausages *drools* and these look absolutely scrumptious!!!

'mouse said...

The orgasm was FAKE?!!?