Friday, July 22, 2011
The Very Long Hot Dog Blog
Don't worry: It's the dog, not the blog, that is long. Way long.
Surely one of the highlights of the two years that Mary and I spent peddling our bread in the Saint Paul Farmers Market system was getting to know the Wemeier family of Bar 5 Meat and Poultry. John and Laura Wemeier and family (Liz, Mik, Jake, and Jess) are the kind of people who make you love farmers markets, and meat. The Bar 5 motto--"Everything from Feet to Feathers"--may be literally accurate but hardly describes the glorious variety of their products. The beef, pork, and chicken are all excellent, but I really love that Bar 5 also has rabbit and duck on a regular basis. And then there are the cured and smoked meats, poultry, and sausage--this may be what really sets Bar 5 apart. Their smoked chicken is great, but the smoked duck is beyond--put a few thin slices of this stuff, just warmed in the oven, and a bit of the skin, crisped in a fry pan, on a plate with a few leaves of, I don't know, endive, or some tiny green beans barely steamed, and a drizzle of light vinaigrette on the vegetables, and you'd think you were in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
But I came here to talk hot dogs. Well, I just have to say that a couple of my other favorite Bar 5 products are the Hungarian bacon and Grandpa's Sausages. And also, I must quickly add that the Wemeiers are some of the swellest people I know--warm, welcoming, funny, kind of rowdy. It doesn't come close to describing them to say that they are salt of the earth, but they are that, and more--pepper of the earth, and zesty Hungarian spices of the earth, and probably still more.
I'm coming to the hot dogs. Just before the Fourth of July, Bar 5 "tweeted" that they were making foot-long hot dogs, the one time each year they do it. But we were in Wisconsin, an hour and a half from the Saint Paul market. I called my friends Fred and Kim to see if they were going to the market, and they were, and they scored me a pack of the attenuated weiners, and I was stoked.
But I was also presented with a challenge. As a bread guy, I've always contended that the most important part of a sandwich is the bread--well, as important as any other ingredient, anyway. I knew I wasn't going to be able to find top quality foot-long hot dog buns. I would have to make my own. I pondered the formula. Le Bun is a great hamburger vehicle, but a bit dense as a hot dog bun. I would use less cornmeal, and maybe skip the honey. And then, this wasn't any hot dog, but a foot-long one, which puts it in a different category. In France they serve longish sausages on a section of baguette opened the long way--that is indeed the Gallic homage to le hot dog. I make a fine baguette, but I thought it would be too crusty for comfortable eating. A little milk and butter would soften things somewhat, while still maintaining a crunch to the crust.
I wound up making it a naturally leavened (sourdough) bread, because I had a nice bubbly sponge going for another batch of bread. I would not say that this is the perfect foot-long bun, but it was damn good. It is an excellent piece of bread with just enough "bunniness" to fulfill its functional role.
The Bar 5 hot dogs are all all-beef old-fashioned frankfurters, and they are superb. I usually prefer a pork-beef frank, but I cannot fault this dog, not at all. Great snap to the skin, beautiful level of spice, an utterly appealing meatiness to the whole thing. I believe it's the same formula as the normal-length dogs, available each week at the Saint Paul and Minneapolis farmers markets. Tell them Brett and Mary said hi.
On my dog I like mustard, ketchup, onions, and kraut. Some hot dog purists will sneer at the 'chup, and go right ahead. I've just made a batch of sour dill pickles, and we're having foot-longs again this weekend, and I will chop some of those to add to mine. Can't wait.
Foot Long Buns
2 cups very well refreshed liquid starter (400 grams)
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon salt
3 ounces melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
unbleached all-purpose flour
Combine everything but the AP flour, then start adding the AP. Add a couple of cups and mix well. Continue adding flour a half cup at a time until the dough is difficult to stir--sorry, I just never measure the main flour in any dough. Dump the dough on your work surface and knead it for a minute or two, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking, until you have a soft but manageable dough. Leave it alone for at least 15 minutes. Knead again for a couple of minutes, return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temp until doubled in volume--at least four hours. Alternately, proof it in the fridge overnight, take it out in the morning, and let it come to room temp.
For the foot-long buns I portioned out five-ounce pieces--I also made a bunch of regular-size buns, three-ounce portions. Work the foot-long doughs into very long, skinny ropes, at least a foot long. Arrange the dough on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap, and let proof at least an hour, probably more, until they are noticeably risen--my first baking was actually a little under-proofed; the second one, proofed an extra half-hour, was much better.
Bake at 400 for 18 to 20 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned. If you have a baking stone, carefully slide the parchment and buns off the baking sheet and onto the stone for the final two to three minutes of baking to nicely brown the bottoms, too.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw