518, I present to you……
The Italian Hot Dog..
– You’re welcome.
If you’re from North Jersey you already know what I’m about to say.
But for those of you not blessed with
Italian -American Italian-North Jersey heritage I recommend you read on.
This past 4th of July, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 72 dogs in 10 minutes to win the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
We Americans love us our hotdogs.
After all, what’s more All-American than the hotdog?
That simple tube of sodium nitrite loaded, meat-product has quite a following.
Maybe it’s the dog’s versatility that adds to his popularity. (of course the hotdog is written in the masculine form).
There are a surprising number of ways to dress that simple dog.
Chicago dogs, chili-dogs, sauerkraut, relishes, and of course mustard (and yes, even ketchup).
We’re all familiar with the local favorite, the mini-dog covered in meat-sauce.
But today I change your world with a dog from North Jersey.
The Italian Hot Dog.
According to the internet (and many, many newspaper articles covering their walls),
James “Buff” Racioppi “invented” the Italian Hot Dog back in 1932.
His namesake “restaurant”, Jimmy Buff’s is still putting out these dogs today.
If you’re in West Orange, NJ it’s worth stopping to get the original, but until then, you can easily make your own.
I’ve been eating these things for over 50 years; as I child or now, if someone said “hotdogs for dinner” it was OK, but if someone said “Italian Hot Dogs” you smiled.
In simple terms the Italian Hot Dog is similar to the Italian sausage sandwich, but instead of an Italian sausage it’s a hotdog, and there are potatoes. Yes, potatoes.
Keep an open mind here. It all works well together.
Like most good food (yes, this is good food), the multiple flavors and textures work together, creating a balanced experience.
Before we make one ourselves it’s worth talking about the original.
Jimmy Buff’s is without pretension.
They know who they are, they know what they do.
They make Italian Hot Dogs, sure they do a few other things, but it’s really all about those dogs.
A very simple place, get in line, order your dogs, watch them assemble, pay, go eat.
There are big vats of hot oil involved, and allot of hotdogs.
Since we all don’t live near a Jimmy Buff’s let’s talk about making our own.
I may not have 85 years of experience but I still have a good deal of Italian Hot Dog experience.
Here’s what I recommend.
Let’s start with the dog. Not every dog is appropriate. You want a dog with sturdy flavor, it needs to maintain it’s presence against the other players.
Avoid anything of the “Oscar Mayer” or “Ballpark” variety. (actually you should ALWAYS avoid those).
My many years of testing has proven you want a Sabrett’s dog.
Sabrett dogs are usually my dog of choice, but for the Italian Hot Dog in particular, you want the “Skinless beef Frankfurter” .
You want the longer Sabrett, not the “Bun Size”.
There may be a desire to go local for your dog selection (maybe Chester’s or Rolf’s) but trust me here, get the Sabrett’s.
Next you want some fresh green peppers, red peppers, and a sweet onion (Vildalia or white).
You must use green and red peppers, no more colors, no less.
Potatoes should be a creamier, but sturdy spud, like a white or maybe some of those great fingerlings.
(avoid Reds here, Yukons or Russets would work ok)
Surprisingly I don’t think the roll selection is super important.
There are some characteristics that are critical but the bread is not the star here.
The roll is a humble carrier for your meal, it should quietly do it’s job. Keeping your meal together and your hands clean.
Jimmy Buff’s uses what my people of North Jersey call “Pizza Bread”.
It’s like the bastard child of a ciabatta and a pita. A pie-sized roll that is cut in half and opened to form a pocket.
We don’t have those around here.
Find a roll you like, that can hold up to some moisture but doesn’t bring much else to the party.
Not too crunchy, not too chewy, not too much flavor.
Let’s make some Italian Hot Dogs.
Clean out your peppers, cut them to size (about 1/2″ – 1″ strips)
Peel and slice your onions (1/2″ rings)
Slowly cook the vegetables until tender but not browned. It’s technically not saute, or frying but here’s what I do.
Add about a cup of water and a few tablespoons of oil in a pan with the peppers and onions.
Slowly cook, adding more water as necessary.
As the veggies soften let the water evaporate.
Season with salt, black pepper, and some garlic powder towards the end.
Potatoes should be cut into bite-sized little pieces.
Jimmy Buff’s uses large, thick round slices, I disagree with their approach.
Microwave your cut spuds in water for about 10 minutes.
Drain most of the water and add to a pan with a few tablespoons of oil.
Slowly cook in the water/oil mixture until the potatoes are soft.
Let the water evaporate and slightly brown the potatoes.
You want them soft, but with some caramelization .
Grill your dogs until they’re bout to split. No char please.
When cooked, cut your dogs lengthwise into two pieces.
Let everyone assemble their own but make certain they’re following these
Open up your roll and add spicy brown mustard directly to the roll. Don’t be shy here.
Gulden’s Brown or Kosciusko will do just fine.
Add three halves of a dog.
Add peppers and onions, then jam in/on some potatoes.
Now add some ketchup. Yes ketchup. If you’re palate is to fancy for ketchup I probably lost you a long time ago.
The ketchup completes the balance, it’s needed.
The potatoes will thank you.
Enjoy. (and you’re welcome)
I urge you to put aside that saucy-meat covered mindog for a moment and give this dog a try.
Maybe next time you’ll hear “Italian Hot Dogs for dinner” you’ll smile too.