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Monday, April 11, 2011

Lunch Box: Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

The post you thought you'd never see:

I wrote this post last week and I liked it so much that I have to post it, even though I've got a delicious salmon (salad) sandwich still on my lips and on my mind. It goes without saying that the shadowy threat of a possible government shut-down ignited fears as well as appetites last week. Even my candy jar had been all but wiped clean by lunch time. On my way to the Metro Thursday night I noticed a food truck, that usually clogs the courtyard at lunch time, was poised for sale at four-fifty in the afternoon. Since I was hungry, I slowed down just to catch a glimpse of the smiling vendor squeezing mustard onto a naked pink hot dog as his customer clawed through a basket of bagged chips and pretzels. I quickened my pace.

As a child I understood the magic that held a hot-dog together and gave it that remarkable texture. It never failed me. I always picked a hot dog when we cooked out, and cherished the cracked, charred surface slathered in mustard and onions or covered in coleslaw or, more traditionally, mustard, ketchup and relish. I even remember a fellow student exclaiming at lunch one day, "ew, you put boogers on your hot dog," in the fourth grade. That sort of killed the relish fetish for me for a good five or six years.

As I grew up I became less enchanted and more eerily aware of the hot dog and its place in society, the refrigerated section and my lower GI. My aversion to boiled hot dogs was already strong thanks to my Mother. I seem to be a minority, however, here in the states, and especially in the hungry working cities like the Nation's capital where food carts abound, drawing workers like flies. That wasn't quite the imagine I was hoping to conjure, but so be it. Still, I'm not surprised, really. Hot dogs are cheap, quick and easy to eat - either while driving or navigating your blackberry - and inherently satisfactory to the American psyche. College students and single young adults rely just as heavily on the hot dog as the rest of us at lunch time. But, that doesn't mean you have to settle for that insipid dog with the pert squeeze of mustard and not much else just for the sake of convenience.

A recent article in the Washington Post's "Express"showcased a variety of hot dog carts and diners in the Metro area. My own campus back out west had a local grease pit that had been around since the tertiary period, serving up heinous dogs, burgers and grilled cheese for dastardly cheap prices. I went once, maybe twice, just to be indoctrinated. I was disgusted with myself and the institution that little hole in the wall had become. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to taking my children there one day. But this article, with the artistic combinations and brilliant photos, reignited a little bit of the magic that marked the end of cold, rainy days and the beginning of a long, if sweltering, spring and summer.

I was especially intrigued by the Chicago style dogs with their menagerie of veggies - just never ketchup. And while I couldn't bring myself to make a special trip to downtown (read: to actually eat the mysterious cart hot dog regardless of its toppings), I also couldn't help but want to try the hallmark Chicago flavors - I had missed my chance in the Windy City a year ago. And as fate would have it a trip home last weekend would break my five year hot dog hiatus. Originally, I wanted to make make a rudimentary slaw of sorts, using all the same Chicago flavors. But, in the end, a Chicago-style hot dog is easy enough to make for your lunch box that making a "slaw" of your toppings would probably pan out being more trouble than its worth. Granted, the recipe below is more of a guide line than an actual recipe so don't say I took any credit. In my opinion the cheddar cheese was the best addition, as was the crisp dill pickle spear, but the preparation of your dog is what really makes or breaks your frank. I, personally, like mine grilled - if it's raining we've been known to split our franks in half and saute them in a dry pan to simulate the same crisp, grilled outside. But, whether you boil or microwave your hot dogs just do it to your taste.

Notes: I really don't want to know too much about hot dogs. But, the truth of the matter is no one really does. If you want some questions answered, or a little inspiration, check out the links below. Also, forgive my photos, but they were taken via iPod and lack a certain... level of clarity. You get the idea. How about those paper plates?!

All about hot dog toppings, sales and famous joints: LINK
For the "Express" Article that inspired this post check out this link: DOGS

How to lunch box your Chicago Style Hot Dog:
-Grill, boil or pan fry your dog the night before
-Wrap your bun in a paper towel and wrap in plastic wrap
-Layer your toppings in a Tupperware container and refrigerate

@ work:
-Simply reheat your hot dog and bun (still wrapped in paper towel) top and serve

Chicago Style Hot Dogs
From the books

Cheddar Cheese, shredded (not strictly traditional)
Hot Salad Peppers
Dill pickle spears
Onions, diced
Mustard, plain
Tomatoes, chopped
Poppy seeds, or poppy seed hot dog buns

Hot dogs

1. Cook your dog according to your preference.
2. Warm your bun in the microwave wrapped in a barely damp paper towel to steam it for 10 seconds.
3. Top your dog with cheese and the remaining toppings. Serve immediately. Sprinkle with poppy seeds to finish.

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