The first time I tried re-creating a Chicago culinary icon outside the limits of the Windy City, I went into the process unprepared.
A lamb led to the slaughter, as it were.
Chicago-Style deep-dish pizza – how tough could it be?
As it turned out, it wasn't the pizza that was tough - it was the Chicagoland readers, who were, shall we say, vociferous in pointing out the multiple errors of my ways; mainly, the addition of cornmeal to the crust. Here's an example of one of the Chicago-style pizza blog comments:
"I am looking forward to trying the recipe but I see one thing right off the bat that I take issue with and that is the addition of cornmeal. None of the big-time Chicago deep dish establishments use cornmeal, and I personally find cornmeal in my crust to be gritty and unpleasant..."
A very long back-and-forth among Chicago-area readers ensued, focusing first on cornmeal (yay or nay – the debate still rages), then on the best place to get "authentic" Chicago deep-dish pizza.
That subject, too, remains unresolved.
Thankfully, nearly all the readers were polite; one of our tenets here at King Arthur Flour is to disagree agreeably, so I appreciate keeping the energy positive.
But I learned my lesson: if I'm going to tout any particular recipe as "Chicago," I'd best have all my ducks in a row.
Or, in the case of Chicago-style hot dogs – my sport peppers and pickle wedges ready to go.
Step #1: Sample a REAL Chicago-style hot dog.
Midway Airport, outside downtown Chicago: the crowd gathers at Gold Coast Dogs, which I'm assured is a "real" Chicago hot dog chain – despite, in this case, being far from the Loop.
"Voted Best Hot Dog in Chicago," trumpets the Gold Coast Dogs Web site.
Well, that sounds promising.
While waiting to make my way to the front of the line, I had plenty of time to contemplate the menu.
Jumbo Chicago, Jumbo Char, Char Polish, Cheddar Char... which was the "real" dog?
Susan Reid, our long-time Baking Sheet editor and test kitchen stalwart, wrote a piece detailing the Chicago dog in The Baking Sheet 10 years ago. Susan has lived in Chicago; and she knows her Windy City eats. Here's what she says:
"The Midwest has a number of culinary traditions, and when I lived in Chicago I discovered a few of them. One of the biggest surprises was hot dogs. People in Chicago are very, very serious about hot dogs. The number of toppings and the specific sequence of layering on the dog of your choice were practically mind-boggling.
"First of all, there was the Chicago Red Hot, 'dragged through the garden.' This meant a Vienna Beef Frank, topped with (in order, please) yellow mustard; sweet green pickle relish; chopped onion; chopped fresh tomato or tomato wedges; a kosher dill pickle spear; sport peppers (tiny pickled hot green peppers); and celery salt. This is the dog you'll find at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.
"Other vendors strayed off the trail somewhat, but in general a Chicago hot dog may have onions, sauerkraut, hot peppers, mustard, and the brightest neon green relish you've ever seen riding on top. Sometimes chili, sometimes cheese. Ketchup? Well, all right, if you really must; people in Chicago are way too polite to scoff at you, but you will have branded yourself a non-native at the least."
I'll take a "JUMBO Char Dog (Chicago Style)," please.
Wow, Susan was right about the neon-green relish. Not sure any natural-born cuke has ever worn THAT particular shade...
But color aside, the dog was fabulous. Really. Charred enough to snap when I bit it, it was the perfect salty base to the sweet relish, crunchy onions, tangy mustard, onions, tomatoes, and those mildly hot little sport peppers.
Oh, and the celery salt - little things do, indeed, mean a lot.
So your mission, should you choose to accept it: clone a Chicago-style hot dog.
In your own non-Chicago home.
Let's start with the bun, which Susan describes as follows:
"Needless to say, the carrier for this megalopolis had to be substantial: no undersized, spongy supermarket dog buns for this creation, no sir! In the Windy City you'll find a big, chewy poppy seed bun that has enough oomph to support the skyscraper constructions that Chicago natives depend on for a quick lunch. Here's our version."
What she said.
Without further ado, let's make Chicago "Red Hot" Poppy Seed Buns.
Place the following in a bowl:
3 cups (361g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3 tablespoons (21g) King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver or Baker's Special Dry Milk, optional, but helpful for shaping buns
4 tablespoons (57g) butter or 1/4 cup (50g) vegetable oil
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup (227g) lukewarm water
1 large egg yolk, white reserved for topping
Can you make these buns with whole wheat flour? It'll change their texture and flavor, but sure. Start by substituting 2/3 cup whole wheat flour for 2/3 cup of the all-purpose flour. If you like the result, substitute a greater amount of whole wheat next time. And remember: they may be fiber-friendly, but whole wheat hot dog buns will disqualify you from this mission – authentic Chicago-style hot dogs.
Mix and knead – by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle – until the dough is smooth and satiny.
Put the dough in a greased bowl (or a greased 8-cup measure, as I've done here).
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it's close to doubled, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 10 pieces; if you have a scale, they'll weigh about 72g each.
Shape each piece into a rough 3" log, and let the logs rest, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten it, and fold it in half lengthwise, sealing the seam. Repeat: flatten, fold, and seal. (If you've ever shaped baguettes, this is the same technique.)
By the second flatten/fold/seal, the log will have elongated a bit; flatten it one more time, making a 6" oval that's as even as you can get it.
Lay the bun on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, laying the buns about 3/4" from one another, for soft-sided buns; or farther apart for buns with crust all around.
Cover the buns lightly with greased plastic wrap, and let them rise until they're noticeably puffy but not doubled, about 1 hour.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Mix the reserved egg white with 2 teaspoons cold water, and brush the mixture over the top of the risen buns. Sprinkle heavily with poppy seeds.
Can you substitute another type of seeds for poppy seeds? Or leave the seeds off entirely? Of course; you just won't have an authentic Chicago hot dog bun.
Bake the buns for about 18 minutes, until they're golden brown. They may seem slightly "damp." That's OK; that means they'll stay nice and soft as they cool.
Remove the buns from the oven, and let them rest briefly on the pan.
Then place them on a rack to cool.
Ah, now that's exactly the effect I wanted: pull-apart buns that are close enough to stay moist, but distant enough to keep their shape.
There: mission accomplished! Well, at least the first leg.
Let's tackle the second challenge: what goes inside the bun.
Well, look at that – I actually found sport peppers! Not at my local supermarket, but at a salvage-type discount store.
The Claussen dill halves are readily available at our groceries here in New England; and recommended by another of my online guides, hotdogchicagostyle.com.
As for the rest of the stuff: yellow mustard, onions, tomatoes, and celery salt are easy. But the neon relish? All I could find was bright green. I tried, Chicagolanders, I really did!
Since Vienna Beef dogs aren't available here in northern New England, I settled for Oscar Mayer Bun-Length Beef Franks. Grilled.
Split the bun lengthwise, and nestle the grilled dog right in the center.
Add the following, in order: mustard, relish, and onions.
Next, let's hear what Kevin, Mitch, and Matt from hotdogchicago.com advise:
Two tomato wedges: The tomatoes should be placed along the crevice between the top of the bun and the hot dog.
Pickle spear or slice: The pickle should be placed in the crevice between the bottom of the bun and the hot dog.
Whoops, looks like I mixed up top and bottom. Do what they say, not what I did!
Next, 2 sport peppers, laid lengthwise down the middle.
And finally, a sprinkle of celery salt.
Are you ready to enjoy a REAL Chicago-style hot dog?
If you build it...
...they will come!
It's messy, and half the stuff falls out after the first bite, but hey - the same thing happened with my dog at Midway Airport, so that must be part of the authentic experience.
Chicagoans: chime in here, please. Have I nailed it?
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Chicago "Red Hot" Poppy Seed Buns.