I recently had the opportunity to chat with Chef Nick about the hot dogs and the upcoming competition. Here's what he had to say…
How long does it take to make the hot dogs?
We could do it all in one day if we had the time and the kitchen space. The grinding was all done in one day, and the mixing actually was done that day, too. Yesterday we pumped them into casings, and then today all we had to do was rinse them and make the links, so they're all ready to go! They'll be on ice until the competition.
What goes into the making of The FCI hot dog?
There's your basic sort of ground sausages, like pork ground sausage, and a hot dog is an emulsified sausage, a very fine grind, an emulsion almost like a hollandaise. Fat and protein suspended together—so it's very crucial that you get the emulsion done right just like you would a hollandaise or a mayonaise. If you don't do it right, it could break, and you get a grainy and a greasy texture at the same time. It's really disgusting.
Beef hot dogs are made with beef and pork fat. It all has to be ground very fine, and it all has to be kept extremely cold the entire time. The meat and fat have to be almost frozen while you're grinding them to keep from melting. I have made hot dogs in the past in the Italian kitchen, which has good air conditioning, but we made the ones for this year downstairs in the main kitchen. It works down here as long as you keep the ingredients in the freezer and then pull them out right before you grind them up.
So there's a few steps. You have to grind everything and then you have to grind it again, this time very fine. Then once they are ground, you make your emulsion. You grind the meat and fat separately and then you emulsify the fat into the meat.
The funny thing about hot dogs is that actually when you make them on a small scale it's so much harder than making them on a large scale. On a large scale they have huge enormous machines that can do all these processes. Basically you pour meat and your seasonings in the top and hot dogs come out the bottom. It's funny because it's a very pedestrian sausage, but it's quite labor intensive to make.
In years past, we've had a really hard time getting it right. I've had to make them twice one year. Something went wrong down the line, and when we tried to cook a test one, it was so mushy we just had to throw them all out. I think we've got the system pretty streamlined now. This year is definitely the easiest it's ever been so far. Chef Jeff has put a lot of work into this, a lot of research and a lot of testing.
How many dogs did you make this year?
We have the competition dogs, which are 30" long, those are for the race, and we have I think 35 of those. And then for the recipe testing, you know the condiment competition, we have small tasting dogs, I didn't even count but we probably have close to a hundred, maybe more.
Are you planning on entering the competition?
I am not. I'm not a terribly fast eater. I don't know a whole lot about competitive eating, and I haven't paid attention to the Nathan's competition on Coney Island. I know there are different schools of thinking: some people eat the buns together with the dog. Kobayashi, I think, breaks the dog up—takes the dog apart. A 30-inch dog is basically like four regular, four ballpark, hot dogs. So I could definitely eat that much, but I'm not that fast.
Do you have a favorite hot dog or condiment?
I recently had a Chicago-style dog. The Chicago dog has all kinds of vegetables on it, like pickles, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes. They call it "drag it through the garden", and it's vegged out. I know that's sort of the New York versus Chicago, and I've always lived in New York, so I've always been a ketchup, mustard, saurkraut kind of guy. But then I went to Chicago and I had a Chicago dog with the vegetables on it, and I have to say it was pretty decent. When I'm walking down the street and I'm hungry, I'll usually get a few dogs with ketchup, musturd, and 'kraut. That's my sort of traditional street meat dog. But I've got to put a little shout out to the Chicago-style dog.
Jason Myers is a first level Classic Culinary Arts student, who hopes that by level six he'll have a better idea of what kind of culinary career he is going to pursue. He also believes that nothing is better on a hot dog than home fries and bacon.