All-American hot dogs for the Fourth of July

July 4, 2012 

The Fourth of July is a national celebration that calls to our patriotism; we gather together and remember the Declaration of Independence, which bravely announced to the world the dissolution of our political bonds with Great Britain.

Not only is it a time to show our patriotic pride, the Fourth of July is also a great holiday for going to the beach, watching parades and fireworks.

It also is a food-centric holiday.

Unlike other holidays, where we sit at a table loaded with food, we more often than not celebrate the Fourth of July outside, and so foods that can be held in the hand are in order. Of all the good things we enjoy on this day nothing stands up to the all-American hot dog.

But how American is the hot dog?

The most obvious link with the American hot dog is the sausage, a food that has been around for hundreds of years. The frankfurter is most likely the predecessor of our hot dog and, of course, came from Frankfort, Germany. The Germans have been placing a sausage on a small bun since the 13th century, and it is most likely that German immigrants brought this great food idea to the United States in the late 1800s. But it was American ingenuity that took this simple dish to heights the Germans never dreamed of.

First we should consider the heart of the matter, the hot dog itself. There are dozens of types

of hot dogs available in every grocery store, but the truth of the matter is that only a few have earned national acclaim. A cheap dog might be OK for a kid's lunch, but if you want to do your culinary best, a top-quality hot dog is the only answer.

Those that I find acceptable include Hebrew National, Nathan's and Ball Park Angus Franks, but a locally made option should not be ignored, even if it is not a traditional hot dog. The best way to cook a hot dog is to grill it. Boiling does not develop the flavors the way a gas, wood or charcoal fire will. If you just can't face the heat outside, use a ridged grill pan with a small amount of good olive oil.

There is an almost endless variety of toppings to put on a hot dog, but here are a few of the most famous variations. The Chicago hot dog features sport peppers, relish, tomato wedges, onions, mustard, pickles and celery salt and is served on a sesame seed bun.

The German inspired hot dog has mustard and sauerkraut. An American classic is the chili dog, served with a variety of condiments.

If there is any controversy over hot dogs at all it is over the type of bun to serve it on. I hold the commercially available soft bun in low esteem and would rather use slices of wheat bread than that completely unassertive bread. It has no flavor or texture and falls apart if you add too many condiments. A French loaf is much better, but might require you to remove some of the soft bread at its center. Visit your local baker and see what they have to offer.

MEXICAN DOG

2 hot dogs per person

2 slices white sharp cheddar cheese per dog

2 ripe avocados

1/4 cup chopped red onion

Juice of 2 limes

1 chopped jalapeno

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup green salsa (homemade is best)

Hotdog buns, po-boy rolls or locally made French bread

Pre-heat the grill to high. Combine the chopped avocados, red onion, lime juice, jalapeno and cilantro leaves for the guacamole; taste and season as necessary. It is best if you can refrigerate the sauce for an hour or two before using.

Buy the best quality salsa verde that you can find (some local Mexican restaurants might sell you a jar of theirs if it's homemade) or if you are energetic make your own.

Grill the hot dogs, turning often, until they are uniformly browned. Place all of the dogs in their buns and top with cheese allowing the heat of the dog to melt the cheese before adding the guacamole and salsa.

Top with the sauces and serve immediately.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE DOG

1 sausage per person

2 red bell peppers

2 green bell peppers

2-3 ripe, locally grown tomatoes

Gruyère or Emmental cheese

Hearty buns

1-2 craft beers

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil as desired

Grill the peppers over an open flame and when charred put in a brown paper sack and allow to finish cooking by residual heat. When they are ready peel the charred skins off (running water helps). Cut into strips, season and toss in a little olive oil (a little Italian seasoning can be added at this point).

Slice the tomatoes and season as you like and add them to the sliced peppers.

Simmer the sausages in the beer until firm and then finish them on the grill. Avoid at all costs puncturing the sausages and allowing the juice to run out.

Place the sausage on the bun, add the cheese and as before allow to melt before adding the peppers and tomatoes.

Chopped jalapeno peppers can be added to the salsa if you like it spicy.

Spoon on the pepper and tomato mixture liberally.

This dog begs to be eaten alongside a cold craft beer.

Julian Glenn Brunt, who has been a Mississippi Gulf Coast resident for more than 20 years, has a deep and abiding interest in art, culture and the culinary heritage of the South. You can contact him at living@sunherald.com.

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