Memorial Day: a hot time for hot dogs

“A handful of old men walking down the village street

In worn, brushed uniforms, their gray heads high;

A faded flag above them, one drum to lift their feet —

Look again, O heart of mine, and see what passes by!

There’s a vast crowd swaying, there’s a wild band playing,

The streets are full of marching men, or tramping cavalry.

Alive and young and straight again, they ride to greet a mate again —

The gallant souls, the great souls that live eternally!”

from “Memorial Day”

by Theodosia Pickering Garrison

Memorial Day is mostly thought of as the beginning of our tourist season, but its real significance is as a time to remember our veterans, especially those who have given their lives for America. And nothing is more American than picnics and backyard gatherings with hot dogs, baked beans and lots of friends and family.

The hot dog has a somewhat cloudy history because it started as a sausage and ended up in a soft roll as a “dog.” In 1987 Frankfurt, Germany, celebrated the 500th birthday of the hot dog, but Germans don’t eat hot dogs as we know them today. They were transformed over time into one of America’s most popular foods — served in ball parks, backyards and off of hot dog trucks. Most hot dogs are consumed between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Perhaps the most important aspect of hot dog cookery is not the dogs but what goes on them and around them. Here are a few suggestions:

Chicago Dog

For 8 all-beef frankfurters (preferably skin on) and hot dog buns of your choice, prepare the following condiments: yellow ballpark mustard, chopped cucumber (remove seeds), chopped pepperoncini, chopped onion, chopped fresh tomato, celery salt and dill pickle spears. Grill the franks and toast the buns and then spoon on equal portions of condiments, placing the dill pickle on the side.

Grilled Hot Dogs with Texas Wiener Sauce

Start with 16 frankfurters of your choice with buns. Make the sauce by browning 1 pound of ground beef in a sautà pan. Pour off excess fat and stir in 1 can of tomato paste and 2 cups beef broth. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve over the grilled dogs with mustard and chopped fresh red onions.

Boiled Hot Dogs with Sweet Vidalia Onion Relish

For 8 hot dogs and buns of your choice. In a sautà pan heat 1 tablespoon canola oil and add 2 sliced Vidalia onions along with 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper and 1/2 cup diced green pepper. Sautà until soft and remove from the heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, 1 teaspoon honey and coarse salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the franks. Bring them back to a boil and remove. Place them in toasted buns and top with onion relish.

Brewed Bratwurst with Caraway Sauerkraut

Prepare a marinade by pouring 2 bottles of dark beer into a soup pot and adding 2 cups chopped onion, 1/2 cup mustard, 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, and 1 teaspoon ground coriander. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 12 bratwursts and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave bratwurst in liquid until service time.

For the sauerkraut, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sautà pan and add 1 cup chopped onion and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds. Cook until onion is soft and stir in 1 tablespoon mustard, 2 cups rinsed and drained sauerkraut and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

Drain the bratwurst and split lengthwise. Grill until brown on the chargrill. Toast kaiser or other rolls and coat them with mustard. Add a slice of Swiss cheese to each roll along with the bratwurst and kraut. Sprinkle chopped dill pickle on top and serve.

Fresh Polish Kielbasa

Purchase 2 pounds of fresh kielbasa (not smoked). Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and simmer kielbasa for 30 minutes. Drain, then cut sausage into 4-inch lengths and split lengthwise. Thinly slice half of a green pepper, half a red pepper, and 1 medium-sized onion. Heat a sautà pan, add 2 tablespoons canola oil and sautà onions and peppers until soft. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in one 6-ounce can tomato paste and 1 small can tomato sauce. Season with 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup chopped parsley and 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper. Grill the split kielbasa and place on toasted ciabatta rolls. Cover with sauce.

Serves 8.

Boston Baked Beans

Soak 2 pounds of dried navy beans overnight in 3 quarts cold water. Drain and rinse. Remove the rind and dice 8 ounces of salt pork. Brown in a Dutch oven and add 2 cups diced onions. Cook the onions until soft and add the beans along with 2 quarts water, 1 cup molasses, 1/4 cup mustard and 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil, cover and place in a 300-degree oven for 3 hours. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon cider vinegar and another 1/4 cup molasses if desired.

Serves 8.

Baked Lima Beans

Purchase 2 pounds of dried lima beans. Soak overnight in 3 quarts cold water. Drain and rinse. Dice 6 slices of bacon and brown in a Dutch oven. Add the lima beans, along with 1 tablespoon coarse salt and 1 whole peeled onion studded with 6 cloves. Add 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup dark rum, 1/2 cup mustard and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cover with 1 quart of water and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven and cook at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Check for seasoning and serve.

Serves 8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].