Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Last week someone decided we should have hot dogs as a special treat. You know how warped that idea can be: “Well, you don’t do it every day, but once in a while, why not?”
I didn’t say anything because they seemed serious about it and I didn’t want to spoil their fun. But really, hot dogs? A treat?
We went to the supermarket to buy the raw ingredients, but my expert friends weren’t happy with what was available. I picked up a pack of white rolls, so flimsy they almost floated off the shelf, and said, “This is the sort of crap, isn’t it?”
They were offended. The hot dog connoisseur apparently knows good crap from bad. We went to another supermarket. Same story. They bought the best they could find and I smuggled a small pack of crusty wholemeal rolls into the basket.
They bought a packet of the sort of sausages that have “hot dog sausages” printed on the wrapper to stop the shelf-fillers from putting them in the hardware department with the rawlplugs and tubes of filler. We went home.
Half an hour later I was presented with two hot dogs, grudgingly served in my fancy wholemeal whatevers, laden with chopped carrot, raw onions and arty squiggles of mayonnaise, sweet American mustard and ketchup.
Looked interesting, tasted okay and didn’t trouble the digestive system along the way, because there was nothing to report. No real fibre, a bit of protein, a smudge of concealed fat. My stomach waved it through, just as my taste buds had.
It got me thinking, though. Are the sort of hot dogs that are peddled at sporting events etc. like they are just because it’s the cheapest way of doing them? Did they start off that way or have they been dumbed down and progressively humiliated to their current status as the cheapest, blandest fast food known to man?
How about taking the basic idea – a sausage in a bun – and giving it a bit of style, class, flavor, texture – self respect?
Long buns (rolls). The world is full of decent rolls. They can be soft or crusty, wholemeal or white. They may have seeds inside or on the outside. You could even use French bread: a baguette cut into six-inch pieces would do very well.
Sausages. Again, the world is full of good ones. If you want to be “traditional”, get the best frankfurters you can find. But if you value flavor over sentiment, just use your favourite sausages. Toulouse sausages have a pungent, leeky, garlicy edge – recipes vary, but they all tend to be robust in flavor. Every country in the world produces sausages, so just find one you like and use that.
Condiments. Mustard (Dijon, grainy Dijon, hot English, honeyed stuff if you must). Ketchup. Relish – tomato-based, chunkier than ketchup and also spicier and livelier. Or you might find another kind of relish that’s fruity, vegetably and interesting, possibly with a bit of a kick but not a deadly one. If heat is what you want, use a chilli sauce such as Tabasco (that’s just the brand name of the most famous one, by the way).
Vegetables. Chopped onions, chopped sweet pepper, corn. As another way of adding a kick, you could also slice up some pickled banana peppers.
Cook the sausages (or warm them up if they’re already cooked, like frankfurters). Warm the bread.
Place a sausage in a piece of bread and add the toppings.
It’s entirely up to you. Just give it a bit of something, make it worth having. Give it a posh name: Bayswater hot dogs, Monte Carlo dogs. Princess Diana dogs. James Bond’s donger dogs.
For what it’s worth, my ideal combination is this:
Soft wholemeal rolls, Toulouse sausages, Dijon mustard, chopped onions, medium-hot tomato relish and a good sprinkling of coarsely ground black pepper.