It made me smile, when living outside the US, to hear impressions of Chicago. Some envisioned gangsters on most street corners and wind so fierce it would blow you off your feet. In fact, Al Capone is long gone (and good riddance as he was a nasty sort), and many natives would say that the “Windy City” is named after the “windy” politicians rather than the weather. The “windy” politicians, I’m sorry to say, are still here (but at least the now internationally-famous “Blago” is gone).
In fact, Chicago is a beautiful city. I say that without bias as I am not a native and have seen my share of cities (having lived in three countries and traveled to more cities than I can count). I was reminded of Chicago’s beauty on a visit this week when our first spring weather was permeating the air. It was too early for spring flowers, but the day and the City were still glorious.
As I walked down one of Chicago’s many river and lakefront walks, I noticed a sign for the famous Chicago Hotdog – not haute cuisine, I realize, but a cultural and culinary icon for Chicago if there ever was one.
When I was growing up, I usually had hotdogs with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut (indicative of my Belarus ancestry) and, later in life, found a hotdog-on-a-bun a bit boring by comparison. But then I moved to Chicago and discovered Chicago Hotdogs. If you can make a culinary masterpiece out of a hotdog, Chicago has done it. There is even a clever Chicago Hotdog website that rates the plethora of restaurants serving these long skinny delights.
If the Chicago Hotdog didn’t fully convince me of the virtues of the hotdog, my children were determined to complete the picture. They LOVED hotdogs – any time and, generally, any style. This was particularly true of our youngest, Nick, who hated most everything except hotdogs, pizza and kiwis (go figure). I finally acquiesced and decided that, rather than have him starve (he was frighteningly skinny), I would serve hotdogs on a regular basis. He preferred them mustard-only as the Chicago Hotdog has accoutrements that could be loosely classified as vegetables. (Yikes!) So, hotdogs-with-mustard it was. His record in one seating was nine hotdogs – bun and all. And, yes, he did survive to adulthood despite a diet of hotdogs, pizza and no vegetables.
Now back to the Chicago hotdog. How fitting that a city nick-named “the hog butcher for the world” (Chicago by Carl Sandburg, 1916) has the hotdog as its culinary icon. It all works, doesn’t it?
Before I provide the recipe, I must tell you that both ingredients and quantity are important here. For example, you can’t use just any kind of pepper; you must use spicy, green “sport” peppers — and one will not do as you must use two. This is the same for other components. The pickle spear must be a dill pickle — and one spear only. I think you get the picture. A true Chicago Hotdog does not allow for culinary creativity.
You may choose your hotdog, however. I prefer a good Chicago beef hotdog for the meat portion. My choice is Bobak’s – a long-time Polish butcher/grocer in Chicago. If you are not near Chicago, any hotdog (beef or pork) will work, but the best quality available is advised. No sense building on a bad foundation.
Once you have your hotdogs, these are your toppings:
Hotdog – Chicago Style
Recipe By: City of Chicago – “Hog Butcher for the World” (Carl Sandburg, 1916)
hotdog buns, poppy seed
relish, pickle, sweet
pickle, dill, cut in spears
tomato, fresh, sliced
celery salt (or celery seed and a bit salt)
1. Cook your hotdogs. I prefer mine simmered in water, but grilled is nice also. Have ready a poppy-seed hotdog bun.
2. Place your hot hotdog on a bun. Spread yellow mustard on one side of the hotdog. Spread chopped onion along the other edge and pickle relish down the middle.
3. Top with two sport peppers (whole, not chopped), two tomato slices (halves), a dill pickle spear and sprinkle with celery salt. I think celery seed without salt would be best, but, in the interest of tradition, it should have the salt.
4. Enjoy your tasty Chicago “dog”. Don’t be surprised if you make a bit of a mess; they are inherently difficult to eat.