My status as a hot dog person has started to take on a life of its own these days. Total strangers send me text messages with pictures of obscure hot dog stands in Ohio, and anytime my friends go anywhere, they come back with some sort of regional food, or at least photos and menus.
When some friends recently came back from New Hampshire, I was expecting maybe a can of Moxie, but not a hot dog package complete with several brands of natural casing New England dogs (stowed in an ice packed cooler) along with a pack of top-split buns. Amazing.
As you can see these are pork and beef, natural casing dogs, and really really red with artificial color. We've touched on the subject of red dogs before; the supposed reasons behind it ranging from covering up bad meat during the great depression to marketing gimmicks. These days it's mostly just a regional tradition and preference, and as well as in New England, you'll find dogs dyed various shades of red and pink in the South and northern New York state.
I tried them first cooked slowly in an iron skillet, the closest you can get at home to the flat grill or "griddle" that many hot dog joints use, also useful for toasting the sides of the New England bun. The char brings out the flavor of these dogs, which are pretty tasty, not too mild with a nice porky flavor, great texture and snap from the casing. And terrific with an ice cold Moxie, a regional New England soda that tastes like a cross between Angostura Bitters and Dr Pepper.
Note the "dye ring" effect inside the dogs, with most of the color in the neon casing, the rest slowly soaking into the frankfurter.
And even though they taste really good grilled or griddled, steaming these dogs brings out the colors to psychedelic levels, and also noticably boosts the snap of the casing. Say what you want about boiled dogs, there's something really awesome about the simplicity here.
Add some yellow mustard and it's hard to believe this thing is real. The white-bread texture of a soft, untoasted bun is actually pretty good with the ridiculous snap of the dog, and sort of plays into to the whole unnatural food experience. Although I have to stress that Kayem, and other premium New England brands like Bean's, are much more flavorful than their cheapo, skinless neon red cousins in the south. You can order Kayem Reds, Split Top Buns, Moxie and all sorts of New England treats from Famousfoods.com.