Chicago chef ups the ante with homemade hot dogs

September 7, 2012 8:35:28 PM PDT
Most of the Chicago dogs you've had over the years come from the enormous Vienna Beef plant on the Near North Side. But now a couple of places have decided to tackle the herculean task of making them on their own, leading to some seriously delicious dogs.

It's not every day a Michelin-starred chef can be seen grilling hot dogs, but Kevin Hickey has carved out a unique niche, probably because the Chicago native has decided to up the ante when it comes to hot dogs, putting them front-and-center on the menu at Allium, inside the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel.

"We're like the house that the hot dog built. It's become a phenomenon to say the least," said Hickey.

Hickey combines his love of the iconic food with his skill as a chef, and makes everything from scratch. It's not easy.

First, you've got to grind up beef shoulder and fat, passing it through a grinder a couple of times until the blend is fully incorporated.

Then there's the issue of seasoning: salt, of course, but also garlic, dried mustard, cumin and some other ingredients he keeps a secret. At this point, time to emulsify the blend, whipping it into what can only be described as a meaty paste. Then they have to encase the meat into a thin, sheer, translucent hog casing, again, doing everything by hand with a crank, old school.

After encasing, time to smoke the dogs over hard wood, giving them a depth of flavor, then boiling them in hot water to finish cooking the interior. The final step before plating is the grill, where Hickey chars the outside of the dog.

"If you're going to make a hot dog and you make it from great ingredients, you make it from scratch, you make it yourself, then it elevates it to a level of anything else that you might be doing," Hickey said.

Part of that elevation is the presentation. In typical Four Seasons style, Hickey makes every condiment from scratch: the relish and mustard arrive in tiny squeezable bottles; the tomato, onion and sport peppers are all top-notch, and even the ketchup - for the hand-cut fries only of course - is made in-house. Who would have ever thought a humble hot dog could outsell that other icon.

"So for the first time in my 20 years in hotels, 17 years in Four Seasons, it had outsold the hamburger. The hamburger was always the best seller at any hotel in the world. The hot dog, for us, symbolizes what the new food movement's all about, which is kind of a democratization of all food," he said.

And Publican quality meats in the West Loop also makes homemade hot dogs, but they're sold from a deli case, so you'll have to prepare them at home.

Four Seasons Restaurant
120 E. Delaware Pl.
(312) 280-8800
www.fourseasons.com/chicagofs/dining

Publican Quality Meats
825 W. Fulton Market St.
(312) 445-8977
publicanqualitymeats.com


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