Coney Island hot dog

In the old days, before COVID-19 disrupted everything, this would be the time of year when we’d all be going to fairs, festivals, and exhibitions, chowing down on carney food.

All the carnivals are cancelled this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make carney food at home. I’ve joined CNE lover Michael Laxer, who routinely blogs about his delicious food creations on The Left Chapter, to a carney sandwich cook off.

He’s made a fried chicken waffle sandwich with buffalo wing sauce—and it looks amazing. Total carney sandwich right there.

Read about it on his blog here.

For my carney sandwich, I’m going more old school with a Coney Island hot dog.

Now I’ve never eaten a Coney Island hot dog before and, like all of the sandwiches I’ve built this year, I did a lot of research before deciding how to make it. And I’ve got to tell ya, Coney Island hot dog recipes suck. Like, some of them are just gross. One recipe has you grinding up raw hot dogs to add to the meat sauce. Most recipes simply have you pouring in a pouch of chili powder, hot sauce, chili pepper flakes—all heat, no balance. All of them feature ground beef drowning in a watery sauce consisting of things like ketchup, mustard, water.

When I watched the video of a woman cooking hamburger in a vat of water as the first step in her recipe, I seriously questioned whether I wanted to make, and eat, a Coney Island hot dog at all. So I took matters into my own hands. I left all of those lacklustre recipes behind and created my own.

The inspiration for my Coney Island sauce is the history of the Coney Island hot dog. It was developed by immigrants from Greece and Macedonia who settled in the U.S. in the early 1900s. I’m making a greek meat sauce that is so good, you’ll want to feature it in a moussaka, which is what I did with the leftovers.

Everything in my sauce is going to be super fresh, starting with tomatoes. Craig’s been growing San Marzano tomatoes and they’re ready to be put into action. I’m also adding two Ontario beefsteak tomatoes—they’re juicier than San Marzanos and will contribute to the liquidy sauce. Look at these beauts.

The tomatoes are going into a pot of boiling water for several minutes until they split.

Then they immediately go into an ice bath.

When they’re cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Juicy, fresh poached tomatoes, ready to puree.

Here’s my sauce mise en place: Those tomatoes will get pureed, producing 2 cups of tomato sauce. Use half for this recipe and put the other half in a jar for other use. Dice one white onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. We’ll add 1 tbsp of tomato paste and half a cup of red wine. Now for the spices: combine 1 tbsp of dried oregano, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg, and 3 ground cloves.

Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large pot on medium-high heat and get those onions sizzling. After a few minutes, add ground beef, garlic, and the spices.

Once the beef is browned, add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Time to add the wine. Let that reduce for about a minute, then add the pureed tomatoes and one cup of water. Season with salt and pepper. Let that concoction bubble away on medium-low heat for a couple of hours, adding a half cup of water every once in a while to ensure it’s saucy.

The sauce is ready and those spices have perfumed the place. Time to get ready for the hot dogs. Most Coney Island hot dog recipes call for a steamed wiener and a steamed bun. I much prefer BBQ hot dogs and so they’re going on the grill. I’ve never steamed hot dog buns but we’ll give that a whirl.

First, I fire up the grill and give those hot dogs a bit of a char.

Once they’re ready, it’s back inside to steam those buns for just about a minute.

While I’ve been prepping the food, Craig has been getting crafty: he’s constructing carnival-style hot dog trays out of hanging file folders. He’s clever and handy.

Buns go down on parchment-lined trays—we’re gonna need those trays to contain this messy sandwich. Aren’t they cute?

Dogs go down. I drizzle yellow mustard on the dogs and then we’re ready for the sauce.

Typically, the Coney Island dog gets topped with diced white onion and a drizzle of mustard. You could add shredded cheese but, like, how much is enough? Oh, Craig says he wants cheese on his, so there you have it. Coney Island hot dogs, two ways.

For someone who was apprehensive about making this carney sandwich, I’ve gotta say: I adore this sandwich; my version anyway.

Here’s to all the festivals and fun that we’re missing this year. At least we can bring some of that fun into our kitchen.

— Trish Hennessy

Published by TrishHennessy

Social justice advocate by day, sandwich maker by night.

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