Thursday, March 25, 2010
Capital Region Style Hot Dog Sauce. Mr. Dave's Recipe.
This is a topic that I am quite sure is going to cause a little controversy, people take our local mini-dogs, and all their accoutrement, very seriously. I discussed the Capital District Hot Dog Micro-region some time ago, and it has been a de rigueur topic on the local internets lately. If you are not familiar, the hot dog style we are discussing consists of a small hot dog sausage, on a correspondingly short bun, "meat sauce", mustard, and chopped (raw)onion. The 3 major Capital Region purveyors of this heavenly item that I believe best exemplify it are; Gus's Hotdogs in Watervliet, Famous Lunch in Troy, and Hot Dog Charlie's (various locations). For reference, here is a half dozen Hot Dog Charlie's bad boys that I recently purchased (read about this adventure across the river here).
In this post we will discuss the "meat sauce" or "chili sauce" which I believe to be the seminal item in this combination of flavors. The three establishments I mentioned above have variations on pretty much the same theme, they are all very different, but share some crucial similarities. The recipe I will share with you after the following short discussion is probably more akin to the Hot Dog Charlie's type sauce, but is not an attempt at imitation. It is simply my take on the recipe. A homage if you will.
The first thing I would do in attempting to understand hot dog "meat sauce" is to get the notion of "chili" out of your mind, even though the product may be referred to as "chili sauce". The stuff shares some superficial similarities to what most Americans will think of as "chili," it may contain chili powder, but it is in fact a very different animal. The most important of these differences is that there is no tomato product utilized. I repeat, no tomato. But you are thinking, "it is red, there must be tomato." No, no there isn't. The color comes from the spices. In flavor, the sauce should be primarily bitter and meaty, not sweet or sour. Spicy, but not overly so. There should not be a heavy "Mexican" type flavor.
OK, now here we go. Before we start, this may not be the exact way any of the restaurants actually make their meat sauces. This is how I do it, looking through the lens of what I think a meat sauce should be. I don't want to hear that I am doing something "wrong," save it for when you make your own version.
I guess the most important ingredient is probably the meat. I have seen a lot of "hot dog chili" recipes that call for lean meat. I don't think this is necessarily the right way to go. I think calling for lean meat comes from the tradition of some early sauces utilizing beef hearts, a lean item for sure (consult some recipes for Michigan Sauce). I believe a fattier cut of meat should be used, especially to produce the red grease common in the Hot Dog Charlie's version, that lends to the, ahem, laxative type effects of the dogs. I am using brisket this time.
I purchase a whole brisket early in cookout season because I use it as a component for my ground beef for burgers mix. I cut it into sections and freeze. I am using a little over a pound for my meat sauce.
Chunk it up a little. Look at that beautiful fat.
Now I do have a meat grinder, but I don't use it for this recipe. Texture is a very important part of the meat sauce. You don't want big pea-size chunks of beef going on, it should be smoother with a very fine texture. To achieve this I like to fairly obliterate the meat in a food processor. You end up with an almost emulsified blob of meat and fat.
The next step is to very finely chop a smallish onion. Set that to saute over fairly low heat in a small amount of vegetable oil. Throw in a teaspoon or so of garlic, I know it may sound weird, but I prefer the jarred, pre-chopped type stuff in this recipe. It adds a certain type of garlic punch that you won't necessarily get from fresh, don't ask me why I prefer this flavor.
You don't really want to caramelize or brown anything in this recipe, just saute until the onion and garlic are soft. At this point, add the beef. You want to keep almost constant going on here, chopping up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is a fairly unappetizing grey color (not brown).
Now it is time for the spices.
Notice that I am not using anything fancy here. These are all cheap, normal, everyday items that any inexpensive restaurant would have on hand. Resist the urge to use fancy things. No exotic, dried chili peppers that you butt-smuggled across the border from Mexico should be used here. These hot dogs were meant to be sold for a nickel when these sauces were formulated, hence no frills.
To start we are going to go with (all these are estimates) a tablespoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of sweet paprika, a teaspoon of hot paprika, salt and pepper to taste (don't be stingy), and just the barest shake of cinnamon, maybe a 1/4 teaspoon. A couple notes, you could probably use standard "paprika" that you find in the spice aisle, but I like a little more heat in my version, so I include the hot. The addition of cinnamon might seem strange to you, but I think it is very necessary. It speaks to the Greek origin of some of our local hot dog pioneers (Strates Fentekes, I'm looking at you).
Cook the spice a little with the meat, you start to see the deep color that is indicative of a good meat sauce.
I use good old fashioned water as my cooking liquid, I guess you could use broth or stock. I don't think it is necessary. Barely cover the meat mixture and put in a 250 degree oven for 2-3 hours covered. You could simmer on the stove top, but I find it comes out better from the oven. At the end of this time you should be left with a murky and deeply colored sauce. Taste it and correct the seasoning.
I like to throw the lot into the fridge overnight and then skim off the thick, red, congealed layer of grease that forms on the top. The sauce thickens and the flavor deepens after a good nights chilling. There you have it, Mr. Dave's version of Capital Region style hot dog meat sauce.
I am not saying this is the right way to make the stuff, or the most "authentic," but I find that this comes out pretty close to how it should. I know that the Hot Dog Charlie's bottled stuff is like 5 bucks, so go ahead and impress your friends by making your own. To reiterate, it should be served on a good quality sausage (Rolf's and Hembold's are good examples), with some yellow mustard, and chopped raw onion. Delicious. Thoughts or tricks regarding your own version of meat sauce are welcomed