There's something about the Fourth of July that causes patriotic flutterings and flag-waving from even the most cynical. Maybe it's star-spangled salutes by the Marine Corps Band. Or the fireworks rockets' red glare over the Mall. Or the stars and stripes flapping from porches all over town.
And yet there is something about this all-American holiday that leaves us content to fall back on the same old store-bought picnic fare year after year. We go all-out on other festive days with stuffed turkey, exotic casseroles and elaborate desserts. And yet short-shrift the Fourth.
This year, resolve to declare your independence from Oscar Mayer, and start a new July tradition that's entirely homemade--hot dogs, buns and even the trimmings: pickles, mustard, ketchup and crisp marinated onions. It's easy to do and bound to give Thanksgiving oyster and chestnut dressing and Christmas fruit cake a run for their money.
These hot dogs--with or without casings, and made from lean pork, pork fat and a blend of spices--are reminiscent of those exceedingly plump sausages of yesteryear, bursting exuberantly when sizzled above the coals.
The golden all-American sesame seed rolls bear no resemblance to those "cotton ball" buns or those " . . . soggy rolls . . . of ground acorns, plaster-of-Paris, flecks of bath sponge and atmospheric air all compact" of which H.L. Mencken grumbled.
The accompaning mustard, ketchup and pickles may be done ahead or made while the bread dough rises and the sausage mixture chills. The mustard seeds and pickles can be soaking in their respective vinegar baths as the ketchup simmers. The onions are done at the last minute, as they only need to marinate for 30 minutes.
You don't need any special sausage-making equipment, just a food processor or meat grinder for chopping the meat. And if using casings, you'll need a sausage-horn attachment for the grinder or heavy duty mixer, such as a KitchenAid.
When you buy the fresh pork butt (this cut has the right proportion of meat to fat), ask the butcher to grind it for you, and then pure'e it in your own processor or blender.
Otherwise all you have to do is light the grill, sit back with a cool drink and bask in the triumph of an original Fourth of July cookout. HOMEMADE HOT DOGS (Makes 12 hot dogs) 3 pounds boneless pork butt, cubed (do not remove fat, as it adds succulence) 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/3 cup onion, chopped 5 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground mace 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon powdered bay leaf 3 teaspoons ground coriander 1/8 teaspoon cayenne 1/2 cup cold milk 1 extra large egg white 1 tablespoon light corn syrup 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
Chill cubed meat. Pure'e remaining ingredients in food processor. Combine half the pure'e with half the chilled meat in the processor. Process to a smooth paste. Repeat with other half. Chill the mixture overnight or in the freezer 45 minutes until well chilled.
At this point, rub oil on your hands and shape the meat into cylinders about 6-inches long (or if you prefer ease over tradition, into hamburger-size patties). The oil on your hands will help seal and smooth the meat into shape and prevent its sticking to the grill. Drop the hot dogs into a bowl of ice water with ice cubes. After 5 minutes, gently remove hot dogs from bowl with a skimmer. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with greased parchment paper and chill until firm. The hot dogs may also be frozen at this point for later use.
If you're using casings, buy natural sausage casings about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. The casings are packed in salt and will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. Cut off the amount of sausage casing you'll need in one long piece and soak in warm water while you're preparing the meat mixture. When ready to use, slip casing onto a smooth-tipped water faucet and thoroughly rinse with cold water for about 1 minute. Drain.
Tie knot in one end of casing. Slip open end of casing over stuffing horn (so knot is touching nozzle). Force meat through grinder and out into the casing, using hands to provide slight resistance so it will fill completely. Twist off at 6-inch intervals (the hot dogs will shrink during cooking). Put in a large pot of cold water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl of iced water to cool thoroughly and hang up to drip dry for 15 to 20 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to cook. (They may be frozen at this point.)
To grill: For best results, grill the homemade hot dogs in a mesh basket very slowly over a moderately hot bed of charcoal. JUNE'S SESAME SEED BUNS (Makes 18 buns) For the buns: 2 packages active dry yeast 2 1/2 cups warm water 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons melted butter 7 cups all-purpose flour Oil Sesame seeds For the glaze: 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1/2 cup cold water 1 cup boiling water
Combine yeast and sugar in the warm water and proof for 10 minutes (it should form bubbles on top). Add salt and butter. Stir to dissolve salt. Add flour, 2 cups at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Turn out on a floured board and knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Lightly oil the ball of dough and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place, about 40 minutes. Punch down and let rise 30 minutes more.
Make the glaze by combining cornstarch with cold water and stirring into the boiling water until thickened. Set aside to cool slightly.
Grease 2 cookie sheets and sprinkle them generously with sesame seeds. Knead the dough quickly 2 or 3 times and divide into 18 pieces. Form into buns about 5 inches long. Place the buns on the cookie sheets, rolling them gently from side to side to pick up some of the sesame seeds. Brush with the glaze and allow to rise in a warm place 1 1/2 hours. Very gently slash diagonal cuts in the top of each bun. Brush again with warmed glaze. Sprinkle with more sesame seeds and bake 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 15 minutes longer. Cool on wire racks. BILLY MILLS' BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLES (Makes about 6 pints) 8 to 10 pickling cucumbers, sliced 5 medium white onions, sliced 1 green pepper, chopped 1 sweet red pepper, chopped 1/4 cup kosher salt Ice cubes Pickling solution: 2 1/2 cups cider vinegar 2 1/2 cups sugar 1 tablespoon mustard seeds 1 teaspoon celery seeds 3/4 teaspoon turmeric 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine vegetables, salt and ice to cover in a bowl. Put in cool place and let stand for at least 3 hours. Drain. Mix pickling solution ingredients together until sugar is dissolved. Combine with drained vegetables in large pot or kettle. Bring mixture to boiling point, but do not boil. Remove from heat, allow to cool. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
If canning, bring vegetables to boiling point, then immediately remove vegetables to sterilized jars. Pour hot liquid over the pickles and seal. Process 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Adapted from "The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes," by Leonard L. Levinson COARSE COUNTRY MUSTARD (Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups) 1/4 cup robust red wine 1/3 cup red wine vinegar 1/3 cup mustard seeds Pinch each of ground allspice and ground mace 1/2 teaspoon honey 1/4 teaspoon bay leaf, powdered 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Combine first three ingredients and soak at least 3 hours.
Place this mixture and remaining ingredients in a blender and process until it is coarsely ground. If the mixture is not thick enough, heat briefly in a double boiler. HOMEMADE KETCHUP (Makes about 4 cups) 2 35-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, broken up, undrained 1 cup onion, minced 1/4 cup celery tops, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons green pepper, minced 3/4 cup cider vinegar 1 teaspoon mustard seeds 1 bay leaf 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns 1 whole clove 1 teaspoon whole coriander 1 tablespoon brown sugar, or more to taste Dash hot pepper sauce Pinch of celery seed Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel or enamel pan and simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Put through a food mill. Ketchup will thicken as it cools. Store in refrigerator. MARINATED ONION RINGS Sweet onions (bermuda or vidalia are good choices) Apple cider vinegar Water Ice cubes
Peel and thinly slice onions. Separate into rings. Put in a bowl and cover with equal amounts of vinegar and water. Add a few ice cubes and allow to marinate for 30 minutes before serving. Drain to serve.