I can still vividly remember days at my grandparents' pool. Picking raspberries off the bushes that surrounded it, splashing around with my cousins, trying to see who could come up with the most inventive leap off the diving board. I can also remember lunch. I remember the crinkle of wax paper bags, soaked with grease, out of which would emerge the Chicago Hot Dog.
|My grandma and grandpa with my cousins as babies.|
You see my grandparents, Norm and Bernice, they lived in a northwest suburb of Chicago. It's where I was born and lived until the ripe, old, age of four, before New England became my home. Even after we moved, we'd spent summers and holidays back in Illinois, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We'd all (both the Kleins and the Virzis) would end up eventually at Ma and Pa Klein's backyard pool in Arlington Heights. Just down the street from the house they lived in for decades was a place called Luke's. That's where the grease soaked bags would come from. They were filled to the brim with fries and a Chicago Dog.
|The homemade hot dog|
If you know hot dogs, you know what a Chicago Dog is. It's often referred to as being "dragged through the garden". What you see above, it's not a true Chicago hot dog because I grilled it (my preference). More often, they're steamed or boiled, topped with neon green relish, mustard, fresh tomatoes, sport peppers, chopped onions, a pickle, dash of celery salt, all on a poppy seed bun. It's how I remember the hot dog. Even now, when we go back to the Chicagoland area to visit family, a stop must be made at a hot dog joint (most often Portillo's) for a Chicago dog.
|I survived stuffing the hot dogs.|
So when hot dogs were among are choices for this month's Charcutepalooza challenge, I knew I had to pay homage to the hot dog of my youth. The hot dog is an emulsified sausage basically. It means that the fat and the meat combine in perfect harmony to fill a casing. In other words, unlike sausage, you're not going to see bits of fat or meat when you break the casing.
|They behaved well on the grill|
The version of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman that I possess apparently is an earlier version. The recipe for hot dogs is based on using all beef short rib meat. I'm down with that. I love short ribs. Actual, quality hot dogs should be made of all-beef anyway. No mystery meat here, just beef and seasonings. I will say making an emulsified sausage is work. Grind through the meat not once, but twice, and then combine in a food processor to bring it all together at the end. Then you smoke these babies over, in my case, hickory chips. It's messy, it requires a lot of clean-up, but since it's been a few days since I did this, I'm looking back on it fondly. I even elected to make a batch of refrigerator pickles to go on this special dog.
|Heck yeah! Emulsification!|
I don't know why I was shocked when I loaded up that hot dog and took a bite. It tasted not only like a hot dog, but the best hot dog I have ever eaten. Maybe it was the heart and soul that went into making it, but it was fabulous.
|My grandparents, younger, at their daughter's wedding.|
It brought me back to my grandparents' pool, the all-beef Vienna hot dogs, and summers as they once were. Grandma Klein has since passed on, I miss her every single day. I talk to her all of the time. Not long after Grandma passed away, my Grandpa started showing the signs of Alzheimer's. He has glimmers of recognition of all of us here and there. If you sit with him long enough, he'll show you a picture of Grandma, talking about her with a love not even death could conquer. He's healthy and he's happy. I love him. Food, even the most simple, can be the ultimate thread that weaves itself through our memories.
The Chicago Hot Dog
I have to give a nod to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Me. They raised the cows that gave me the beautiful short ribs. I'm not going to kid you. This process takes time and a lot of patience. It's worth it, I believe. I'd probably tackle it once a year in a large batch.
1 all-beef hot dog (extra points if it's homemade)
1 poppy-seed hot dog bun (I couldn't find those around here, but they're fabulous)
dash of celery salt
1 dill pickle spear