I’m not sure how old I was the first time I ever ate a hot dog but I was probably about two or three. I seem to remember camping, my parents having a hibachi, a little camping trailer, firing beer cans filled with cement out of a mortar at a target in a field, trying to catch little fish in a cup, my brother nearly drowning, my father running, a German Shepard, (the last one I remember that didn’t want to bite me), and an 8 mm camera to prove it all really happened… and somewhere in that André Breton painting that seemed to be my childhood…there was a hot dog. If I had to guess what kind, I’d have to say… a charred one, in a natural casing.
I was probably in second or third grade and sitting looking confused in the school cafeteria. I remember bringing my tray back to the lunch lady. Which I never did unless is was to do my best Oliver impression…More, Please sir?! She asked what the matter was, and I asked… what was in the beans? She said weenies. I said they look like hot dogs. She said they are hot dogs…don’t you like hot dogs? I love hot dogs, but there’s something wrong with them. What’s wrong with them? They got no skin!
There are two types of people in this world. Discerning, good looking, intelligent people with excellent taste in all things who love their encased meats to be in natural casings…then there’s the “other” people. I never could understand people choosing to eat a hot dog that didn’t have natural casings. They taste fine and all but I always feel like they’re missing something. It’s kind of like eating a casserole and not having any of the crunchy, charred, tasty bits on top.
I’ve mentioned this story before but I think it bears repeating. My father loved hot dogs…the same kind of love he reserved for very few things including, but not limited to…being the first one to be able to read the Sunday paper (4:30 am), getting the Sunday paper (4am), thinking about getting the Sunday paper (probably started around 3am), donuts (gotten at the same time as the Sunday paper), and washing the cars and waking the rest of the family on a Sunday morning (5am) But hot dogs were right up there to the point he made them for mine and my brother’s breakfast before an early morning fishing trip.
It was four am on a Saturday morning and my brother and I were woken for a long promised fishing trip. Dad got out a cast iron skillet, then added butter and made some nice over easy eggs. He dropped some bread in the toaster and started to heat another fry pan. I was excited by this as I knew that meant breakfast meat of some kind…but which one?! I was personally hoping for bacon although kielbasa or some other kind of sausage would be perfectly acceptable as well. You could have knocked me over with a feather when dad added butter to the pan followed by three butterflied hot dogs.
My brother and I looked on as my father charred them on one side and then on the other causing a great amount of concern between my brother and I as to our fathers state of well-being not to mention a certain amount of smoke. Apparently we were not alone in this concern as my recently awake mother came into the kitchen to see what was “burning.” “I’m makin the kids breakfast sandwiches for fishin!” My mother stood blinking at what she surely must have though was a dream…”Are those hot dogs?!”
Indeed they were, and dad never replied but rather went about the business of adding cheese to the tops of the dogs. My brother and I both laugh about that to this day but I must admit I’m guilty of making them at least once a year. I go about the business at a late hour and in secret so as not to have any uninvited guests popping in and discovering a guilty pleasure from my youth.
Although I suppose in some respect I also do it for the taste of nostalgia. Otherwise I’d be doing it for the taste of heart failure because what dad buttered the toast with…was bacon grease. This was from the can that was always kept in the fridge until I was perhaps a sophomore in HS. It stopped then in favor of the obviously more healthful…margarine.*sigh*
Dad had a bit of shithouse rat craziness to him at times, and I remember him eating on occasion a cold hot dog wrapped in sliced American cheese and peanut butter. Not sure why, and at times like those it was always best not to ask… as I’m sure there was a good and viable, if not sane reason. Mostly he would sneak hot dogs direct from the package as a snack until mom started freezing them after visits to the grocery store. After that and undeterred, dad started sneaking bits of raw hamburger. This is when I discovered what tartare really was, and what raw hamburger wasn’t.
Dad was a purist and liked nearly nothing on his cooked hot dogs. If he was eating “upstreet” at “the hot dog man” (this guy was about 30 yrs. Ahead of the food truck curve) he would perhaps have a bit of mustard or bacon or celery salt. Oh yeah, not real bacon, but “bacon bits”…the processed soy ones with zero real bacon and you eat them at noon and belch them until midnight. These were served on a steamed New England style hot dog roll… which I never realized was a style until I tried to buy some in Texas when in my twenties.
Not me, I was for a time in my youth the king of condiments. I loved Ketchup, mustard, horseradish, piccalilli, cheese, chili, celery salt, sauerkraut, onion, relish, pickles, bacon, mayo or whatever else I could get on there. It was all about the flavors, it was about the possibilities and the excitement of making it taste different every time. Then at about ten years old mom and dad took my brother and I to our first Red Sox game. I’ll never forget coming out of the piss riddled darkness that is the underbelly of Fenway Park, and seeing what must be the greenest grass on planet earth.
My brother and I watched as run after run was scored and we sat there waiting for foul balls to come somewhere near our open and waiting gloves. I remember several things about that particular game that have changed me to this day and most of those things are in no particular order. There is no greener grass on the planet, after watching the Sox lose 13-0 I became a Yankee’s fan and have been happy ever since, peeing in troths filled with ice makes no sense. Probably the biggest, most important thing I learned that day was that a hot dog’s flavor is the single most important thing about a hot dog.
I found this out begrudgingly when the vendor selling “Fenway Franks” came around and my dad was able to buy one for each of us without a gov’t bailout because it cost more than the space shuttle. Keep in mind this is when the Sox had Rice, Lynn, Tiant, Fisk and Yaz just to name a few. Now I don’t know half of the players and getting a beer and hot dog is akin to taking your wallet out and throwing it in the pee troth, and just as tasty…but I digress.
That Fenway Frank of my youth was hot (something it never is now) and plain on a bun, which I did not know. So after opening it and finding no condiments I was shocked…after visually searching for the now vanished vendor I decided to try the frank sans condiments. Now it is a “skinless” hot dog but I figured they called it a frank so I wouldn’t argue the point. It was magical in flavor if not in texture. The genius was its simplicity and I realized for the first time….it’s about the hot dog stupid!
Now I’m an adult and have had Hot dogs from all over the world and nearly everywhere in the United States… that one fact still holds true. It’s all about the dog but most styles tend to bury it in toppings. That being said, I appreciated all the styles… be it the slaw or scrambled dog of the southeast, Sonoran of the southwest, Chicago dog of…well come on, or the dirty water dog of NYC… I love them all. They all have their value and merit and there’s only one hard and fast rule for me when it comes to hot dog toppings.
Don’t ever tell me what I can and can’t have on one. Anyone who knows me knows that nothing will piss me off faster than a definitive when it comes to food. This not only applies to hot dogs but any food. We’ve all heard this guy …“We don’t let our customers use ketchup on our hot dogs.” Or “The only thing a hot dog should have on it is maybe mustard or a bit of sauerkraut.” Really?! Its food people…and food…is a celebration of life. Hell, it’s why we usually eat in groups of people. We celebrate food and its life giving sustenance often surrounded by loved ones and friends…the exception of course being Thanksgiving. If you want to have rules try this one on for size…Don’t be an A-Hole. I know it sounds simple, but you seem to be struggling with it my friend!
Opinions are like nipples, most everybody has one and some have a couple. But the thing I find that’s great about opinions is that they’re free, and unless they’re mine… almost never right. I’m sure most of you find them the same way. So if you think shredded brussel sprouts, raspberry jam and Asian pear in balsamic reduction would make a great topping on a hot dog, go ahead and take that rocket ship to planet freak! It’s your hot dog! As for me, I’ll have a natural casing hot dog on a steamed Martin’s Potato Bun with Benton’s or North Country Apple wood smoked bacon and a simple Asian inspired slaw to cut the fatty smokiness and add a touch of heat…or if I’m in a hurry…just pass the friggin ketchup, and Dirty Harry…you can kiss my ass…uh…sir.
ASIAN SLAW RECIPE
4 cups napa or cabbage sliced fine
1 cup matchstick carrots
½ red bell pepper finely julienned
1 serrano chili seeded and veined minced fine
1 green onion cut thin on a bias
2 tbs cilantro chopped
5 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs sesame oil
2 tsp peanut butter
¼ tsp fresh grated ginger
Juice from half a lime
Combine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut butter, lime juice and grated ginger. Mix well then toss well with other ingredients to taste. Let sit for at least an hour before serving.