“Mexican hotdogs! <3” – The reply came promptly! I was bouncing ideas off the smug, little face of one of my prettiest, little (self-proclaimed) fans and favorite wine writers, Anja over at mindifiwhine.dk. The lady was not in doubt, she wanted hotdogs! And, well, now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years on this earth, it is that – more often than not – it’s a pretty good idea to do what pretty blondes tell you!
Behold: The Sonoran-style or Mexican Hotdog: An American classic all dressed up in her South of the Border glory! Expert food styling once more provided by Malou from Klidmoster.dk
So, at the risk of angering all of the two readers who haven’t been constantly screaming for more, here is yet another installment in our Beginner’s Guides to Mexican Food series. This time all about Mexico’s spicy, greasy, perversely overloaded and incredibly over the top take on an all-American classic: The Sonoran Hotdog, aka the Mexican Hotdog.
Now, obviously, I know what you’re thinking… Hotdogs don’t sound very Mexican, Johan! And indeed, they’re not. They’re inherently American, or have at least become inherently American, but that hasn’t stopped the Mexicans from putting their own unique spin on this American junk food classic. The question is, then, how and where, did Mexicans start making hotdogs? And… Why? To explore these questions, we must travel to one of the most hotly debated border zones in the western world: the Mexican-American border!
You see, in the land between lands, the stretch of land that runs on either sides of the American-Mexican border, the land where things are neither entirely American nor exactly Mexican, lies a place affectionately referred to as Borderland! In Borderland – much to the dismay of the greatest modern disgrace to the American presidency – people, ideas, culture, thoughts and even food travel freely across the border. Thus creating not only a vibrant hotbed of culture, but also a popping culinary scene blending American, Mexican and even Middle- and Southern American elements into new and exciting dishes.
Nachos: A perfect example of borderland food in which two seemingly contrasting food cultures fall in love and have beautiful food babies.
A perfect example of this is the New World favorite, Tex-Mex, but this is far from the only culinary jumble that has taken place in Borderland. In much the same way that Mexican ingredients, dishes and culinary heritage have traveled across the border, creating the hybrid food known as Tex-Mex, unbeknownst to many, the same can be said about American foods and eating trends piling into Mexico: They travel south of the border, get a little drunk on tequila and spice, creating in the process what I suppose could better be described as Mex-Tex, a term I just coined all of two seconds ago.
A prime example of one such Mex-Tex would be the Sonoran Hotdog, Mexico’s very original take on the American hotdog. A hotdog that would at first glance appear re-imagined in ways in which you would think the original creator had been either a kid at playtime or an adult genuinely and irresponsibly stoned out of his mind:
A hotdog made by first rolling the sausage in bacon and stuffing it in an oversized loaf, then topping it with a spectacular array of toppings and condiments from both sides of the border, including but not limited to beans, onions, salsa, sour cream, mustard… Even chips! To name but a few!
In all honesty, it looks a bit of a messy clusterfuck of a frankendog, but goddamnit, it’s fucking beautiful to me – and for reasons that shall soon be apparent, a lot more thought through than its initial appearance might suggest. It is also an intriguing bastard child that is rapidly gaining popularity. Not only in or around Borderland, but in the entire continental US and around the world! If that’s not worthy of a post, I don’t know what is!
So, let’s then have a look at this wonder of a creation, starting with quite the obvious questions: how, why and where did such a beautifully monstrous creation come to be? Glad you should ask!
Mexican Hotdog: Origins and history of the Sonoran Hotdog
Culinary lore tells us that the Sonoran hotdog as a concept originated in Hermosillo, the capital city of Sonora sometimes in the late 80’s, clearly inspired by its humble and simple American counterpart. As with most origin stories, it’s quite unclear and greatly debated exactly when and how the humble American hotdog first stumbled across the border, but it’s generally accepted that it all started in a bit of a bender…
Hotdogs, you see, make great drunk people food, the sort of stuff that you chow down at 2 or 3 AM after a night of dancing, binge drinking or both. It would seem rather reasonable that a few bandidos on a cross-border jump to gringo-land would have observed this tradition and thought “Hey, we should do this at home! With spice! And fire!”
Essentially, in that way, earning the humble American hotdog its shaky debut on the cerveza and tequila-fueled Sonoran nightlife scene, only reimagined in new and wonderful ways based on Mexican culinary tradition.
Tacos: The original, messy Mexican street food classic – and perhaps in some way a source of inspiration for the Mexican hotdog?
From its origin in Sonora where it was originally sold by street vendors known as dogueros, American fast food re-imagined in new fiery, zingy and zesty ways proved such a hit that it spread like wildfire across not only northern Mexico, but also back north across the border where it became a smash hit in border communities such as Tuscon, Arizona before starting its victory march across the country – and the world!
So, just what is it that makes this sandwich so great? Well, it’s probably got at little to do with coincidence, and a lot to do with two seemingly entirely different food cultures fusing together to create a strangely coherent whole.
While at first seemingly random, like something the child hand of God could have whipped together, there is a fair amount of method to the apparent madness that is the Mexican hotdog. It’s a hotdog first, foremost and unmistakably. But take a closer look at its relatively large bun and its traditional fillings of meat, avocado, tomatoes, onions (to name but a few) and the culinarily trained eye will probably spot some resemblance to a more classical Mexican sandwich, the Torta.
If we were to venture a guess as to what goes on here, we need only to look at other regional varieties and cross-over ethnic dishes like Greek-inspired Cincinnati chili, our Armenia-born Tacos al Pastor from a previous episode or even the British-born Chicken tikka masala. It would appear that our Mexican friends simply did like so many of us would have done if faced with a new culinary idea. They took that somewhat foreign concept of loading things onto the sausage-stuffed bun that is the hotdog, then coupled it with something familiar and well-known, creating in the process a sort of super food. It’s as if two classical sandwiches met up for a night of drunken debauchery in Borderland and a sweet, sweet, saucy junk food baby ensued.
That being said, though, there’s much more than just sheer luck going on here. The Mexican hotdog, in all its glory is, actually, a bit of a culinarily architectural masterpiece in which every ingredient plays a note in a perfect harmony. Don’t believe me? Let’s take the time to examine to components that make up a Sonoran hotdog and uncover why this culinary jumble is much more than just perfect stoner food.
Classic Components: Building the perfect Mexican hotdog
First things first, allow me to stress one cardinal rule for the paragraphs to follow: To build a perfect Mexican hotdog, we will have to use perfect building blocks. Anything else just plain doesn’t make sense!
On their own, each of these (save maybe the Coronas) could be a perfect topping for a Mexican Hotdog. Fun fact: Did you know that the tradition of placing chips and salsa on the tables of Mexican restaurants came not from Mexico, but from the US side of the border?
We may be dabbling in the realm of junk food here, but making junk food isn’t exactly the same as making crap food, so for the purpose of this post, we’re going to build our hotdog from the ground up using the best ingredients we can procure – or even make ourselves – starting from the bun up! Comprende? Muy bien, Amigas y Amigos!
Mexican Hotdog ingredients: It all starts with a quality bun!
Really? We’re going to make an issue out of hotdog buns, Johan? Why, yes, indeed we are! What is the most overlooked and least appreciated component of a hotdog, I ask of you? Probably the bun! The thing is, if you’ve never had a gourmet hotdog, you might not even know as you’ve never tasted the difference!
People generally know to use quality sausages for quality hotdogs, sometimes even quality condiments. But what of the buns? Hardly ever do they get any love or attention – and that’s a crying shame! What’s so special about a bun, you ask? Well, your average industry standard hotdog bun used in 90+ % of hotdogs sold or made worldwide offers (at best) texture and structural integrity for the load that follows. Quality hotdog buns, however, offer an element unbeknownst to many hotdog lovers: Flavor! Deep, subtle flavors brought forward by a combination of quality flour, yeast, real milk, butter and time… You know, the stuff that makes the bun more than just an anonymous, starchy delivery vessel. This type of flavor is one we generally wouldn’t miss unless we’ve gone out and had a quality hotdog, from which point it becomes a total game changer. So, if I could offer you but one piece of advice (in addition to the 117 other pieces of advice already strewn throughout this post) it is to use a quality hotdog bun for a quality hotdog! Please, listen to The Johan here!
What bun, you ask? Well, Sonoran hotdogs are traditionally made using a Bollio-style bun – a large, crusty bun somewhat similar to the French baguette usually available at Mexican bakeries, meaning that, uh, outside of Borderland and large Hispanic communities you may have a bit of an issue as far as the procurement process goes… Just saying! So, what to do? Well, the hardcore amongst you may consider baking your own while the less dedicated may prefer to use small baguette, a brioche-style bun or any other artisan bun that will do the trick beautifully… We’ll be piling on a lot of stuff here so something with a bit of size, weight and structural integrity to it would do very nicely. Try seeking out a local baker for advice and if all else fails get something as far from industry standard, loosely packed air as possible. Promise? Good!
Mexican Hotdog ingredients: Quality sausages matter!
As opposed to buns, I don’t suppose I have to tell you that not all sausages are created equal. Sausages come in all shapes, forms and sizes and can be made of everything from pork over chicken and beef to (satan) seitan.
Sausages roasting on an open fire…
For the purposes of this post, we shall be using a, uh, sausage-shaped sausage of usual hotdog proportions, whether that to you means a frank or wiener… And for our protein of choice, I recommend beef. Not only is beef rather a traditional player in many US and Mexican hotdog applications, it also offers a nice contrast to not only the smoked bacon in which we will wrap it in a moment but also to the onslaught of condiments in which we shall be slathering our Mexican frankendog.
Once satisfied with the size and filling of our sausage (Stop giggling!), it’s time to contemplate a few more demands for our hotdog sausage needs: First and foremost, preferably, we’ll want to pick sausages that are made by skilled people from organic, free-range meat for the simple fact that well-treated, free-range meat tastes better – especially when handled by people who know what they’re doing. So, in case you were looking for an excuse, here’s another opportunity spend a few extra bucks on a project and to go see your friendly, neighborhood butcher if you must. Your expenditure will be rewarded! Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure that the sausages you do end up getting contain a fair bit of fat as fat equals flavor, texture and juiciness.
Other than that, we will want sausages with as high of a meat content as possible. Not only does a meaty sausage (I said stop giggling!) make for a much tastier, natural choice, it also makes for less space in which to fit random fillers like flour or ingredients that have little to no justification in the food we eat. Oh, speaking of natural, you’ll want to look for natural casing sausages. Now, if you don’t know what that means, you may be better off not asking and just trusting me on this one: natural casing sausages cook better and more evenly and they’re much better at delivering the hallmark sign of a great sausage: a perfectly good snap!
Mexican Hotdog ingredients: Not all bacon is created equal
Bacon is bacon, right? Wrong! Lengthy tales could be woven on the wonders of cured pork belly that bacon is (and I very well may have to). For now, though, you will need to know that quality bacon comes from a perfect combination of four things: quality of meat, proper curing, proper smoking and attention to detail during the production process.
Bacon? I f’ing dig that stuff!
To help ease your quest for quality bacon products, here are three very specific things to keep in mind when shopping bacon:
Dry cured bacon is better: When shopping for quality bacon, look for two very specific and very magical words: dry cured. Dry curing refers to the old-fashioned way of making bacon: applying salt to pork belly and leaving it to cure for days in order to not only salt the meat, but also draw moisture from the meat, developing a firm, wonderful texture and rich intensity of flavor. This is in stark opposition to the modern way of doing things, brining, in which the meat is either dumped in or pumped full of salty water which makes for bacon that is, well, salty but neither very intensely flavored nor particularly interesting in texture.
Less is more: Shopping for bacon may, in many ways, be easier than you think. You don’t have to go looking for bacon containing all sorts of spices, rubs, bells, whistles or jazz. In fact, the simpler the ingredient list on the package, the better. Ideally, you’ll want the list to contain only pork belly, salt and smoke – all lovingly seasoned with a bit of time and patience. That way you taste bacon incarnate – bacon as it should be. And not all sorts of spices, preservatives and who the hell knows what else.
Price fucking matters: Granted, a decent slap of dry-cured bacon made with attention to detail and quality of ingredients will cost you a fair bit more than your supermarket bag of smoked, briney mush. The reality of this may seem imposing to those used to inferior bacon but such is the nature of natural and well-crafted products. Quality comes at a price but the difference is like that between night and day: Once you’ve tried artisan bacon once, you’ll never go back. This I promise. Once you find your perfect brand of bacon, you’ll want to fall in love, settle down, get married and not really want anybody else.
My darling love on the subject of bacon, for example, would be that made by a small local operation called Ømands bacon who offer just the right combination of meatiness, salt and smoke for my taste buds, without the addition of any compromising elements. The depth of flavor and intensity of their offerings come entirely from their choices of meat, be they organic Danish pork or acorn-fed Tuscan pigs, and the way in which it is treated during processing. It’s smoky, porky bliss and nothing more, and this makes me happy.
This… This is life!
This is not a sponsored statement, this is just me being head over heels in love speaking here. If I could offer you one qualified suggest for your bacon needs, Ømands would be it.
If you’re not from around these parts, check with your local butcher, farmer’s market or even the great, big, wide web for a quality, artisan alternative and in doing so, remember that bacon is nothing but dry-cured quality sourced pork that has been given a fair bit of tender, loving care and a great smoke profile from a master of the trade, who knows what he’s doing. Don’t be afraid to state your demands when shopping. The bacon nirvana that awaits will easily be worth the extra buck or two.
Now, with bare necessities out of the way, let’s have a look at what makes a Mexican hotdog, well, particularly Mexican: the toppings! … Of which the Sonoran style hotdog can indeed sport a few!
Mexican Hotdog Toppings: A definitive guide!
From a canonical standpoint, it is generally accepted that a Mexican hotdog contains at least a bacon-wrapped sausage, onions, tomatoes and various toppings, usually also including mayo, mustard and salsa.
But, believe you me, it can get way crazier than that. Mexican hotdogs, unlike say Chicago hotdogs or Danish hotdogs, is not an institutionalized and clearly defined food standard. It exists in many ways, shapes and forms, depending on the moods and preferences of the individual hotdogger (noun: person producing hotdogs, as opposed to the hotdoggee, the person consuming said hotdog). In short, the topping game is a bit of a free for all, but here now is a look at my preferred Mexican hotdog toppings, of which you can pick and mix and match your favorites or even add your own as you see fit. Some of these items may indeed sound a bit strange and unfamiliar in a hotdog setting, so I’ve included a brief explanation and justification for each inclusion in an effort to put some method behind the Mexican madness. For the sake of the sanity of our readers, we will be starting from the familiar and going into the somewhat exotic territory.
My perfect Mexican hotdog contains:
Mustard: Ah, a classic American hotdog element here. Mustard is perhaps the most prototypical of hotdog elements and with good reason. Its pungent sharpness and acidic bite helps cut the fattiness and intensity of the sausage as well as the relative monotony of the bread. Keeping a Mexican-American spin on things, I suggest using a classical American mustard and, quite frankly, the industry giant French’s work well here.
Raw onion: Another classic favorite in hotdogs around the world, raw onions do not need much explanation or justification in a junk food context. They are included for their crunch, crispness and a sharp bite which stands in stark contrast to the soft and fatty textures of many usual junk food suspects. So, naturally, we’ll be wanting a bit of raw onion in our Mexican hotdog adventure, but we’ll spice things up a bit for our trip south of the border. While the hotdog onion of choice is usually the humble, yellow onion – or Vidalia in some parts of the world – I propose, in the spirit of keeping things Mexican, that we use finely chopped white onions for our Mexican hotdog. They’re not only milder and crisper in flavor, they’re, well, absolutely traditional in Mexican cuisine.
Salsa Roja… One of life’s little miracles! Get the recipe here!
Salsa: In many ways, salsa is the Mexican equivalent of ketchup and just like a classic hotdog without ketchup would be sacrilege to anyone but Chicagoans… Chicagoers… Chi… People from Chicago, so would a Mexican hotdog without salsa to anyone in Borderland. Often a fresh salsa called pico de gallo (and yes, that does mean beak of the rooster) would be used for the purpose, but since I live in a part of the world where tomatoes are in season about two days per year and I crave hotdogs like a person on Skid Row craves cigarettes and alcohol, I’ll usually reach for my trusty homemade salsa roja instead and have come to love the roasted, spicy elements it provides.
Guacamole: Transcending the realm of weird here, guacamole on a hotdog is probably a new concept to most people. Avocado is a traditional ingredient on Mexican hotdogs and what is guacamole but a glorified state of avocado? From a flavor and mouthfeel perspective it works out beautifully as well: The tangy creaminess works in stark contrast to the crunchier elements like the sausage and the onions and the avocado itself adds a distinct Mexican spin on things. In many ways, guacamole is the hotdog component you didn’t know you were missing until you try it.
Sour cream: Sour cream (or it’s thinner Mexican counterpart crema) is a traditional element of many Mexican dishes, so why not on a Mexican hotdog? Once again, this may sound entirely weird to the uninitiated, but stick with me, my story gets better! As with mustard, sour cream creates contrast, taming the spiciness of other ingredients and creating a richer, creamier mouthfeel. If you can get your hands on a bit crema, by all means, use it as a topping, otherwise a bit of sour cream or crème fraiche thinned with a bit of lime juice makes for an excellent alternative.
Cheese: While cheese on hotdogs is not a particularly new idea, it’s an idea seldom done right. You need only look to the chili dogs of Coney Island, Michigan or Cincinnati to find cheddar-like cheese sprinkled generously across sloppy dogs in more or less appetizing ways. We are, however, not making Tex Mex dogs here, dawg, we’re making Mexican hotdogs and Mexican hotdogs call for the use of Meixcan cheeses! Cotija cheese In particular. This fresh, semi-soft Mexican cheese provides not only a much better mouthfeel and ease of eating than mountains of cheddar, but also a much better, more tangy and complex flavor.
Granted, as discussed in a previous post, such divine cheesy goodness may be hard to come by for those of us not living in or near Mexican communities, in which case a tangy, crumbly feta-style cheese made from cow’s milk will provide a perfectly reasonable substitute. Just, please, leave the cheddar for burgers, okay friend?
I love few things more in life than homemade Guacamole, aka glorified avocado!
Tortilla chips: Tortilla chips on hotdog? No, I haven’t completely lost my mind or started smoking a certain herb native to the hills of Mexico. I am proposing, in full earnestness, that we add a layer of crumbled tortilla chips to our Mexican hotdog creation. Aside from adding an additional layer of Mexican flair and a prototypical masa/corn flavor, chips add crunch to the stunning array of toppings, offering some much-needed change in textural department of the otherwise soft-on-soft pillow of creamy goodness covering our gourmet hotdog.
And that about wraps it up for my take on the Mexican hotdog in all its splendor of toppings and condiments glory.
But what of the beans, the attentive reader asks? Well, I’m sorry, bean lovers, I’m with you in most cases. I do love a good serving of refried beans, but to me, beans on a hotdog simply gets a little too bulky and starchy when paired with the bread and everything else. Just saying.
The choice is yours, however, If you want to go all-in, you probably couldn’t do better than with this recipe for refried pinto beans and scoop a small layer under every other ingredient. It is traditional. I am a heathen. I’m sorry. Let’s get on with the recipe!
Sonoran hotdog aka Mexican Hotdog
The Sonoran Hotdog, AKA Mexican Hotdog is Mexico's original take on the all-american hotdog. This easy, basic recipe lets you create the Perfect Mexican hotdog at home.
- 4 Bollilo buns can substitute other oblong bun or large hotdog buns
- 4 beef frankfurter sausages
- 4 strips of thin-cut bacon
- 4 tablespoons Salsa roja
- 4 tablespoons Guacamole
- 2 tablespoons Sour
- 1/2 lime juiced
- Mayo to taste
- French’s Classic Yellow Mustard to taste
- 4 teaspoons white onion chopped
- 1 handful tortilla chips crumbled
- 50 grams Cotija cheese can substitute feta-style cheese
- Cilantro for garnish
- In a small bowl combine sour cream and lime juice until texture is slightly runny but not thin, add a little more lime juice if needed.
- Put a pan over medium-low heat.
- While pan is heating, wrap bacon around the franks, using a toothpick to fasten the strips at both ends of the sausage.
- Put the bacon-wrapped sausages on the dry, heated pan and fry for about 10-15 minutes until bacon is browned and crispy and sausages are heated through. It’s best to do this slowly and steadily as to not cause the casings to crack.
- Toast buns for a few minutes then carefully cut deep slices in each bun and nestle them open.
- Carefully smear each bun with a bit of mayo, then prop down the bacon-wrapped sausage
- Top each dog with a generous amount each of salsa and sour cream.
Dust each hotdog with a shower of raw, chopped onion followed with a shower of crumbled cotija cheese.
- Using a squirt bottle, drizzle mustard and sour cream over dogs in a Jackson Pollock-like pattern.
- Finally, dust each dog with raw, crumbled tortilla chips and a few well-placed cilantro leaves for garnish.
- Serve with plenty of napkins, plenty of beer and Cholula hot sauce on the side for those who like it hot.
Mexican Hotdogs: Perfect party food
Where do you serve these things? Well, I’ve got a mighty fine suggestion for you, hombre! Do a simple word count on this post (I know you won’t!), and the only words you’ll find as frequently as the word hotdog are the words “beer” and “drunk”.
Time for a close-up: It’s a beautiful, beautiful mess…
Hotdogs and beer, after all, go hand in and, so why not let them! If you’re looking for the perfect party food, hotdogs are probably it and if Mexican themed parties are your thing and my taco party ideas have already been successfully attempted or even exhausted, why not throw a Mexican hotdog party? Better yet, why not save some labor and up the fun factor by making it a build your own hotdog party? Heat some buns, grill some bacon-wrapped sausages, set out some traditional and less-traditional condiments and let people go crazy building their own dream creations. A few six-pack of Coronas in, you’ll be amazed at the kind of creations that people come up with…
And the mess they’ve made in the process, but that’s another story! And speaking of another story, here’s one I promised another pretty blonde I know…
Bonus knowledge: Why is it called a hotdog in the first place?
“Why have you never, in ALL your many words and rambling, told the story of why a hotdog is called a hotdog?” said my friend Tina accusingly one night over homemade hotdog dinner. “Johan… Mustard… Whoops,” her adorable toddler daughter chimed in, thoughtfully and somewhat nonsensically.
Two theories prevail here, none of which carry any significant amount of documentation or proof:
The perhaps most romantic version details that famed cartoonist T. A. “Tad” Dorgan drew a picture of a scene of vendors pushing their carts at the New York Polo Grounds one cold April of 1901-ish, screaming for people to “get their red hots, get them while they were hot”. In his drawing, he supposedly likened the long, thin, German-style sausages to another creature linked with Germans, namely their curiously, adorably elongated dachshunds. His drawing, legend tells, became one of happy-looking steaming German dachshunds wrapped in hotdog buns.
A Danish warm dachshund with an obligatory side of beer!
Knowing not how to spell dachshund, he simply captioned his drawing “hot dogs” – and the rest, they claim is history. Charming story, really, and plausible, too, were it not for the fact that no records of the drawing actually exists, despite Dorgan being somewhat of a celebrated artist with a reasonably large, well-documented body of work to his name. Culinary folklore, perhaps? Quite possibly, but charming folklore at that.
Another, entirely less romantic theory states simply that the term hotdog refers to the questionable quality of meat used in hotdogs in the early days of hotdog creation… Or in some cases today, for that matter… The meat, some argued, was of such bad quality it may as well have been dog meat…
Which theory holds true? The romantic and somewhat amusing, or the more down to earth yet entirely less than appealing thought? You be the judge, I don’t know! And, in the immortal words of Carey Grant: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
Maybe it’s time we stop arguing and just accept that regardless of etymology of the name, hotdogs are delicious… Maybe it’s time we stopped worrying and started making and consuming more Mexican hotdogs… Yeah, let’s go with that… Let’s not worry, let’s eat some Mexican hotdogs and drink some beer… Here’s to the weekend!