By John Kass
A friend came over for lunch the other day. He wanted to talk about my future. Specifically, he wanted to talk about how I might make a meagre living as my own boss here at johnkassnews.com.
Because without a paycheck, I’m quite keen on paying my bills. And, as Don Barzini told us years ago it is acceptable to charge a fee for service because, he noted, “After all, we are not communists.”
So thrilled was I, to talk about paying my bills like an American, that I cooked him my latest delicious, grilled, go-to chicken recipe:
Two Bricks and a Chicken.
And fresh tomato salad with a pinch of Greek globe basil; corn on the cob, coffee with fresh berries for dessert. He looked at me and said: “Can I be honest with you?”
I hate it when people say that, but I said “Please do. Honesty is always preferred.”
He took a breath.
“Well, some guy told me your column lately is way too long. That’s just what some guy told me.”
Hmm. Some guy.
“But this chicken is absolutely fantastic,” he added taking another piece. “It’s really good, with the lemon and the garlic. It’s delicious. I think I might just have another piece.”
He’s a good man. And I was pleased that he liked the chicken and I put “some guy” away on a mental shelf, promising to keep Friday’s column short.
Isn’t that always the way? Everybody knows how to write a column. And everybody loves tasty food.
Now if, perchance, some guy led you to believe that I was about to offer up my killer recipe for Two Bricks and a Chicken, you are sadly mistaken. Blame the editor. This is not a chicken column. Nor is it a column on how best to grill whole fish over charcoal, preferably lavraki (what Italians call branzino) or the proper basting liquid for grilled vegetables. That’s for later.
Not yet, my friends. Not yet.
But what about hot dogs? Who doesn’t like hot dogs? Even commies like hot dogs. Don Barzini loved them, too.
Chicago is a hot dog town, not a hamburger town, despite the efforts of a stubborn few foreigners to make it a hamburger town. Ours is a hot dog culture. And have you seen the price of beef lately?
So, let us consider the noble hot dog, that relatively inexpensive but delicious meatish substance infused with various salts and fats and stuffed into a casing. Don’t ask what’s in them.
I love hot dog stands, from Fat Johnnie’s to Portillo’s to Gene & Jude’s and all the others. I don’t think I’ve ever met a hot dog stand I didn’t like. The first smell when you walk in the door. The neon green of the relish. The fries. The plump dogs.
But some of you don’t live in the Chicago area, or have moved to some bland place of no hot dog culture. Even if you’ve stayed around, what with gas prices rising and inflation growling, you’re thinking about controlling wasteful spending. How do you do this?
Hot dogs at home.
And with an easy trick, today, I’ll to teach to make perfect home hot dogs. Some people have lived many years, and have seen many things, yet still don’t know how to make a perfect hot dog.
No, you don’t boil them. You don’t stab them with forks and put them in a microwave to hear their piteous screams, unless you’re a serial killer.
The proper home dog must be treated with reverence and respect.
It all starts with the dog. My two favorites are Chicago’s famous Vienna Beef dogs (and polish sausages) which you can get most everywhere. And Daisy Brand dogs (skin on), made by the venerable Crawford Sausage Co., on the South Side at 2310 S. Pulaski Rd, Chicago.
You can usually find Daisy Brand hot dogs in real links at good butcher shops. We sold them at our family store. Your local butcher might make their own dogs.
My brother Nick, who left Chicago years ago for a fascinating career as a U.S. diplomat and who was a recent guest on The Chicago Way podcast, now lives in the bland food deserts of Northern Virginia. They have no hot dog culture.
As kids, we worked together in our butcher shop. He’d sometimes punch the beef in the cooler like “Rocky.” And in all the years since, he’s longed for Daisy Brand dogs, especially their garlic sausage. He absolutely pines for their Prasky.
“Prasky, good bread like Baltic Rye, a slice of white onion, the simplicity of it is just overwhelming,” Nick said. “But I live in the land without Prasky.”
So sad. I could hear the desperation in his voice, calling me from the land federal bureaucrats of no taste.
“These people don’t know about Prasky,” Nick said. “Here’s what it’s like. Dina was making a sauce and she sent me out to get some neck bones. At a high-end store, I asked a man at the meat counter—a mean wrapper, not a butcher, there are no real butchers here—I asked him for neck bones.
“‘What? Neck bones?’ said the guy. ‘Is that some Southern thing?’”
This explains the arrogance of the Northern Virginians.
“We’re in Virginia, and he thinks neck bones are a ‘Southern thing.’ He had no idea about Southern things. He’s oblivious to Virginia cooking or Southern cooking. And he doesn’t understand that neck bones can be used in a sauce for lasagna and pasta. He worked in a meat department, and he knows nothing. The extraordinary ignorance and lack of any interest was pathetic.”
But that’s pre-packaged modern cryovac culture for you. Northern Virginia, powerful in the administrative state yet pitiful in the food arts, has no hot dog culture. Neither does Florida, California, and probably Arizona. So, what do you do?
First you get good dogs. Ship them in if you must. Then get poppy seed buns. Let’s begin.
With a sharp knife, you score the dogs diagonally, slightly, no more than a quarter inch, not cutting too deep or they’ll fall apart on the grill or in the fry pan. Score it lightly, then flip it over and score the other side. You want to be fancy? Score it the other way too, and make it a crisscross dog.
Now put a small pot of water on to boil. Forget about the pot.
Heat up a frying pan on another burner on medium to medium high and toss in a tablespoon of butter. Yes, butter. Don’t tell your doctor, or mine.
Put the dogs in the pan. Two should do. You don’t need cast iron. Any no stick pan will work. Soon you will see the scored edges browning. That’s flavor. Fat means flavor dammit. Keep turning them. Don’t let them sit or they’ll burn. Don’t let the butter burn.
If you really want to go crazy, add a tablespoon of olive oil (to keep the butter from burning) and toss in a couple smashed cloves of garlic. Don’t let the garlic burn, either. Keep turning them slowly.
With the water boiling, get two wooden spoons and place them across the top of the pot. Open two hot dog buns and put the buns on top of the spoons. 30 seconds a side. This will steam the buns perfectly.
On the grill, drizzle with butter (again please don’t rat me out to my physician) and cook them indirectly, never right over the high heat. Place them just on the edge of the charcoal below. Watch them and turn them.
If you have a gas grill, well, I can’t help you.
When they’re to your liking, all browned and tasty, with the scored edges bursting with flavor, put the dogs in the steamed buns. Mustard, relish, sport peppers. Sprinkle celery salt. Whatever else you want. You’re the one eating it.
It won’t cost you much.
It’s just a hot dog. It’s July.
The simplicity of the perfect home dog can be overwhelming.
But you know that, don’t you? You’re thinking about having some right now.
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)