03 | Jul | 12

Richard Johnson

Haute Dogs

There’s something inherently funny about hot dogs. Sellers like to give them silly names, whether it’s The Notorious P I G, The Snoop Dog, or (“What do get when you cross a chili, a shovel, and a daschund?”) The Hot, Diggety Dog. But it’s time to take hot dogs seriously. With Wieners on the menu at The Delaunay, and Franks on the menu at Mishkins, times are changing. Welcome to the world of ‘haute dogs’.

When John Candy’s character ordered hot dogs in The Great Outdoors, Dan Aykroyd’s character laughed. “You know what they’re made of, Chet?” he asked. “Lips and Assholes.” They had a PR problem. Then there was the matter of the sodium nitrate. And the MSG. If you ever stopped to think about what you were eating, you would never go near a hot dog.

But ‘haute dogs’ are different. They’re made from quality cuts, stuffed into all-natural casings – and they don’t come out of a can. The bratwursts from Babushkas (above) are made, to their own recipe, by W H Frosts in Chorlton. They’ve got a kick of fresh marjoram, and the meat – 85% pork and beef – comes from farms in Oldham. But the most surprising feature of the Babushka brat is its lack of fat.

Last year, Paula Stavrinos and Amy Cook, the team behind Babushkas, went to see a nutritionist for advice about their IBS. They were sent away with a long list of banned foods. “Stuff like tomatoes and brassicas” says Amy. “Then she prescribed hundreds of supplements. We thought, ‘Hang on – everything in the bottles is what we’ve been banned from eating’. So we decided just to eat healthily.” Even healthy bratwursts.

But it wasn’t the healthy menu that got them a top pitch on a business park in Cheadle. “They liked us because we’re dinky” says Amy. “Plus we don’t have a generator, so we’re not noisy. And our van is beautiful.” Babushkas don’t even pay rent. “We keep worrying the business park owners are going to turn round one day and say ‘I’m afraid there appears to have been a mistake…..’.”

Their client base is expanding – literally. “We get a lot of overweight customers” says Amy. “We’ve got one woman who’s at Slimming World, so we steer her away from our bratwurst stew. And we’ve got one lad who comes every day who’s obsessed with our BLTs. I’m beginning to get uncomfortable. Soon I’ll be like ‘Try this instead’. I’ll do it nicely, with the banter. You can do anything with the banter.”

Abiye Cole of London’s Big Apple Hot Dogs is the master of the banter. That’s why it’s his dogs that are named on the menu at Mishkin’s. They deserve it. When I first tried a Big Apple Dog, standing by Abiye’s lovingly-polished stall on the Old Street roundabout, a jet of hot red grease shot onto my blue jacket. “You’ve just been anointed” said Abiye. That’s how it felt. To this day, it’s the best dog I’ve ever tasted.

There was something about the natural casing, with a “snap” on every bite, and the roll, stuffed with onions fried in in butter and thyme. But it was the dog’s seriously meaty texture that really did it for me. Cooper Deville, who runs The Dogfather – London’s other haute dog stall – likes 100% kosher beef dogs for that reason. They don’t have that slurry of mechanically-recovered meat. They taste proper.

Cooper won’t say which butcher makes them for him. All he’ll say is it’s just “some Jewish guy”. Abiye is the same. “The quality of the sausages is driving my business, so it’s not in my interest to shout from the rooftops where I get them from.” Yianni Papoutsis never let on about his suppliers when he ran the Meatwagon – he knew his sources needed protecting. And they all know a little bit of mystique goes a long way.

Babushkas’ Eastern European Bratwurst Stew — for four people.

2 large white onions thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic sliced
four large bratwurst sausages sliced into half inch rounds
3 red bell peppers roughly chopped
1 heaped tablespoon wholegrain mustard
1 heaped tablespoon sundried tomato paste
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
2 teaspoons smoked, sweet paprika
500ml organic chicken stock
400 grams chopped tomatoes
1 tin of chickpeas
fresh chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

Fry the bratwurst in a little vegetable oil till browned then remove from pan
Fry the onions in vegetable oil until soft and sweet
Add the garlic and the peppers and continue to fry for a further 5 mins
Add the bratwursts and stir for 1 min
Add the mustard, sundried tomato paste and flour and stir together until all the ingredients are coated
Pour in the chicken stock and stir well.
Allow the stew to start to bubble then add the chopped tomatoes.
Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 mins whilst adding the paprika
Add the chickpeas and cook for a further 10 mins

It is best served with warm crusty bread or crushed new potatoes and garnished with fresh parsley. Sauerkraut is a good side dish too.