Citizens, there is zero doubt in my mind that outside of the legendary Icelandic hot dog (a recipe for which will one day grace these pages!), there is no higher exemplification of the tube steak than that found in Chicago!
As the imperial majesty of gastronomic authenticity, I will be visiting with several of my old high school buddies in Chicago in 2 weeks, where we shall have a blow-out Dungeons and Dragons and board gaming long weekend!
A Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago Dog, or Chicago Red Hot is – of course – an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun originating from the city of Chicago, Illinois.
The hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.
The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be “dragged through the garden” due to the many toppings. The method for cooking the hot dog itself varies depending on the vendor’s preference. Most often they are steamed, water-simmered, or less often grilled over charcoal (in which case they are referred to as “char-dogs”).
Ketchup is a travesty on a a Chicago dog and native Chicagoans wax furiously on this topic. They’re right.
As noted in an excellent article on Chicago hot dog history on thrillist.com:
By the end of the century the mass produced frankfurter was commonplace, but there was one essential ingredient of the Chicago dog that had yet to take hold.
It would take a second wave of immigration from Germany, this time Jewish, to introduce the all-beef hot dog. Coming from a poor socio-economic background, many Jewish immigrants took up jobs as street vendors and peddlers.
The hot dog cart itself became the lifeblood of immigrant communities. It was a low-barrier-to-entry job that allowed thousands of foreign entrepreneurs to support their families and make a living.
In a time of foul health standards in the meatpacking industry the Jewish kosher tradition also had a reputation as producing food that was safer and more pure. The tastier, spicier all-beef version of the frankfurter took off and Jewish immigrants became the new kings of the Chicago hot dog game.
It was this wave of new Chicagoans that gave birth to our most beloved hot dog brand. Although they were not the first to sell the sausage, two Jewish immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Samuel Ladany and Emil Reichl, recognized the profitable potential of hot dogs and opened their own business.
They made a big splash with their popular stand selling dogs on the street at the Columbian Exposition. They made so much money they used the proceeds to invest in a larger business and named it after the pinnacle of sausage cities, Vienna Beef.
To this day Vienna uses the original natural-casing, all-beef recipe developed by Jewish immigrants that gives the Chicago dog its distinctive flavor profile, snap, and texture.
One such enterprising individual was Sam Rosen. A Polish-born immigrant Rosen had first moved to Germany to learn the art of baking.
He first came to New York and opened a bakery at the unbelievable age of 16. Seeking better fortune only a few years later he came west to Chicago, buying a bakery and opening his eponymous business in 1909.
It was a huge success, not only on the strength of its rye bread beloved by the Germans and Poles of Chicago, but as the originator of the poppy-seed bun. It was another essential ingredient in the Chicago dog, introduced by an upstart, enterprising immigrant, tailored to the tastes of a diverse city.
By the 1920s Maxwell St on the West Side was the center of Chicago’s immigrant community. A bustling market where Jewish, Italian, Greek, and Polish traders would sell clothes, trinkets, and food.
Hot dogs were the dominant meal for the busy cost-conscious crowds that would fill the streets hawking their wares. Many of these vendors also owned vegetable stands, and they began to experiment with a wide range of toppings plucked fresh from the market.
Up until the ’20s traditional German/Jewish toppings like mustard and pickles had been how someone would take their dog. Now, according to Hot Dog historian Bruce Kraig, vendors began adding their own spicy and sour flavor profiles — from hot peppers, cabbage, and celery salt — that appealed to the tastes of the new ethnic groups.
The only problem was that even the lowly hot dog was often too expensive for such lean times. A down-on-his-luck former factory worker would often eat three or four to fill himself up. Things had to be stretched even more to make it both filling and affordable.
Maxwell vendors, being the practical people that they were, started piling dogs high with the vegetables sold all around them to transform a single hot dog into a more filling and nutritious meal.
The original Fluky’s stand on Maxwell claimed to be the first, with its famous “depression sandwiches” that they sold for a nickel in the ’30s, emblematic of how the ingenuity of small owners and the mixed immigrant community of western Chicago came together to shape the region’s food culture.
There were many different variations on being “dragged through the garden,” but it became apparent that the sacred combo of short peppers, mustard, pickle, relish, onion, tomato, and celery salt was the best of the bunch. The Chicago dog was born.
The Chicago Style hot dog relish is a very specific type of relish indeed. It is sweet and an incredible gamma-irradiated Hulk green. It used to be called ‘Atomic’ relish because it was ‘invented’ during the atomic bomb era and was considered to be glowing. Atomic does not refer to hot/spicy – it is not hot with pepper.
Citizens, finding a proper recipe for this most verdant of condiments is surprisingly difficult – allow me to steer you to what I consider the closest approximation to the legendary relish: my own version! 🙂
To make the neon green color, you will need to add some food coloring – but not green! You’ll be adding blue food coloring, which when combined with the yellow of the turmeric I’ve (optionally) added, gives you that magnificent green. I prefer Americolor Soft Gel Paste Food Color, Electric Blue – get it here.
Battle on – The Generalissimo