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Top dog

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Luke Mackay on how to turn the humble hot dog into a thing of wonder—starting by making your own sausages

We’re a bit sniffy about hot dogs in this country. They’re a bit coarse, slightly brash, too loud and so unashamedly American that if Donald Trump were a food stuff he would almost certainly be a hot dog. They are the classic fast food of the baseball park—cheap ‘meat’ lying in warm bacteria-laden water slapped into pappy bread and doused in fluorescent mustard. Maybe a slew of anaemic or burnt onions and, of course, ketchup.

It seems though that the time is right for hot dogs to enjoy a ‘burger’ style makeover in this country—don’t forget that 15 years ago it was all but impossible to get a decent burger in London. Now though we can take our pick from some of the best in the world, made from fantastic British ingredients—proper aged meat, freshly baked buns, tangy pickles and even homemade burger cheese adorn fantastically artisanal products—a far cry from the grey protein and gherkin abomination of yesteryear.

Starts with the sausage
Now, I love a hot dog, but it all has to start with the sausage (I can’t and won’t call them ‘dogs’). Almost every civilisation and food culture in recorded history has their own version of a sausage from Chinese wind dried sausages to South African boerewors to Spanish chorizo, but aside from our British banger (plain pork, lots of salt and pepper, fat, juicy), my favourite is the mighty merguez of north Africa. Traditionally made with minced lamb and harissa and pungent with garlic, cumin and coriander, this is a sausage that demands attention.

If you haven’t already, then you should make a sausage in your lifetime. Put it on your bucket list—it is one of the most satisfying things that you can do. I make merguez with mutton, as the slightly stronger, gamier flavour stands up well to the spices, but you can also use lamb or as a slightly left field option goat, which works amazingly well too.

The mighty merguez
Mix together 1kg minced mutton shoulder (or lamb or kid), 1 tbsp harissa, 1 tbsp ground star anise, 2 tbsp salt, ½ tbsp crushed coriander seeds, ½ tbsp caraway, 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint (or dried) and 4 cloves of minced garlic. Try to keep everything as cold as possible, then refrigerate for half an hour. Feed through a sausage-making machine into your sausage casings (or lamb intestine if you can find one!). Fry, grill or bake until the skin blisters and starts to blacken.

So… you have you ‘dog’ (urgh). Now you need some toppings and a bun. For merguez, I’d probably want something with a bit more ‘chew’ than the fancy brioche bun that the trendies like nowadays—baguette works fine. I would slow cook a load of shallots, until dark and sweet and stir in some harissa at the last minute. Then a scatter of mint and pomegranate seeds or for a ‘dirty’ brunch I think I’d fancy a soft fried egg, yolk oozing through the shallots and lubricating each delicious bite of spicy sausage, sweet shallot and bread.