~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~
The Coney Island and The Texas Lunch!
Both establishments were triangular in shape and were located at opposite corners of Broad Street's "Five Points", the town's main thoroughfare. Both served lunch daily to at least 100 people, but only had counter seating for 12 and 6 respectively. The hot dogs were literally passed out the doors to customers standing on the sidewalk, like buckets of water to a fire (while pending orders and money were shouted and passed up the line). "Two for a dollar (no tax, no change)", "with or without (meaning onions)", was all the information and only option patrons were given. Both of these two luncheonettes had sweltering, year-round internal temperatures and "sweaty" windows, caused by steam billowing off of their flat top grills. The similarities ended there. Those who ate at The Coney Island, NEVER ate at The Texas Lunch and vice versa. Don't ask me why. My family ate at The Texas Lunch. This folks, is an actual picture of my beloved Texas Lunch (taken shortly before they tore it down), which was supplied to me by my high school friend from Tamaqua, and current Managing Editor of Tamaqua's daily paper, The Times News... thank-you Donnie Serfass!
This photo of The Texas Lunch was shared with me by another Tamaqua Area High School graduate and resident, Lois Breiner. Lois took this photo herself with a Polaroid and the guy in the blue T-shirt is Dino (the owner) hard at work. As you can see, even when it was in full-swing, it wasn't much prettier to look at, but... it wasn't the atmosphere we were there for!
In the photo below, Fred De Stephanis found and shared this advertisement from a 1930 copy of TAHS's yearbook, The Sphinx. Thanks Fred for sharing this part of Tamaqua hot dog history with me:
Texas chili dogs are slathered with yellow mustard and topped with an ever-so-slightly chunky, to-the-tooth chewy, aromatic all-meat chili. You'd think they were from Texas, but they actually were the invention of an unnamed Greek gentlemen who owned and operated a small restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1924, he devised a chili sauce that drew upon flavors and spices of his heritage. Much like Cincinnati chili, a dish also created by Greek immigrants, Texas chili sauce included cloves as well as garlic and other spices. According to legend, because the chili was made with hand-ground steak, not store-bought ground beef, it earned the "Texas" part of its name!
Texas chili dogs quickly caught on and spread from Patterson into western Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up and fell in love with them at a very young age!
The following recipe, completely developed by me back in the late 1970's, was recognized in 2007 by America's Test Kitchen in Boston in their cookbook: America's Best Lost Recipes. (For those of you unfamiliar with who they are, they publish Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated magazines, along with many cookbooks and have the acclaimed PBS cooking show America's Test Kitchen.) My recipe, which appears on page 40 of the book, was chosen from over 2,800 to represent 121 slices (recipes) of Americana. So what did they consider a lost recipe and how did they choose? As per the Introduction of their book:
"Just like a short story, a lost recipe has to have a narrative. Like a book title, the recipe name has to hold out a promise, an expectation of something unusual. A lost recipe is served and that first taste, like the last line of a good O. Henry story, is a reawakening, a connection to another cook, perhaps a long time ago, who lived a very different sort of life. In a way, a good lost recipe is about tasting the past and, many times, that experience is more immediate and fulfilling than simply reading history."
I remember the day I told my son Jess that my recipe was chosen to appear in this book. He said something like, "of the hundreds and hundreds of recipes you've developed, why would you submit a recipe for a chili dog?" That too is a short story I must include in this post!
When I moved to State College back in 1974, one of the things I missed most about my hometown (I grew up in Hometown) was a weekly chili dog. Yes, I said weekly. You see, when I was growing up, grocery shopping day was Tuesday. No matter what, on Tuesdays, 52 a year, we ate chili dogs at the Texas Lunch. Sometimes we ate them for lunch and sometimes we ate them for dinner, but we ate them on Tuesdays before we shopped. I was shocked and appalled when I ordered my first chili dog in a downtown State College diner (which shall remain nameless). In my ignorance, I thought them to be idiots, not realizing that most people in general have no idea what a real Texas chili dog is supposed to taste like. In my stubborness, I refused "to cave" and eat an unworthy chili dog. So, hi-ho hi-ho, it was off to work I went:
Yes folks. Mel's Texas Chili Dog is the very first recipe I ever developed and it took me about a year to get it perfect. Since we visited my parents in Tamaqua often, many Texas Lunch chili dogs made the trip back to State College for me to taste side-by-side my experiments. So, back in 2006, when I read in Cook's Country magazine that they were looking for "lost recipes" (the criteria being the recipe had to be: #1) Original. #2) Prefaced by a short story/memory. #3) Not readily found in any other cookbook.), I stopped what I was doing that morning and sent the recipe in that afternoon. The moment I put the flag up on the mailbox, I was 100% confident my recipe was going in their book!
Now, if my Texas Lunch story weren't enough authentic commentary for you, one of my best friends in and from high school, Gary Sassaman, who started blogging about eight years ago, blogged about the Texas Lunch back in 2005. Gary and I graduated in 1973 and Gary's blog, Innocent Bystander, has been keeping me entertained for years. Gary's encouragement is pretty much solely responsible for my starting my own blog! To read Gary's own extrememly humorous commentary on and remembrances of the Texas Lunch, check out: http://innocentbystander.typepad.com/innocent_bystander/2005/05/tales_of_the_te.html
Finally..... it's time for me to show you how to make some real-deal Texas-style chili dogs!!!
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 pound London broil (sometimes labeled as bottom round steak), no subsitutions
8 ounces yellow or sweet onion (8 ounces after trimming and peeling)
4 ounces celery stalks
1 garlic clove (about 1 teaspoon minced garlic)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons yellow mustard, no substitutions
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
*For 22 cups of Texas Chili Sauce (enough to freeze in 2- or 4-cup containers), which the making of is pictured below:
3/4 cup corn oil
6 pounds London broil (sometimes labeled as bottom round steak), no substitutions
3 pounds yellow or sweet onion (3 pounds after trimming and peeling)
1 1/2 pounds celery stalks
8 large garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons minced garlic)
3 cups ketchup
3 cups chili sauce (3, 12-ounce bottles)
3/4 cup yellow mustard, no substitutions
3/4 cup cayenne pepper sauce
6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
*Note: This recipe is ideal for making a large quantity and freezing. I make a big batch of it once a year. For a quick, weeknight meal, I just microwave a container of the sauce while I broil the hot dogs. All Summer long, it is on hand in the freezer waiting for an impromptu picnic or barbeque. During the Fall, my tailgate group, 40 strong, always requests my Texas chili dogs to be served at one of the games... in a snap I thaw some sauce, take it to the stadium and reheat it while grilling the hot dogs!
PLEASE do not substitute ground beef in this recipe! Even America's test kitchen comments on this in their book, stating: Processing the steak gave it an almost shredded texture, making it much better than just using ground beef.
This is one of the things that makes this recipe so authentic!
Note: My food processor does this in 2, 3-pound batches, which takes less than 2 minutes! The number of batches and pulses will be determined by the size and brand of your food processor.
~ Step 3. Coarsely chop the onions into large, 2"+ chunks and pieces. Place them and the garlic cloves the work bowl of processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of on-off pulses, finely mince the onion. My processor did all 3 pounds of onion in one batch and 30 on-off pulses. In this instance, you want the onion to be as finely minced as possible without pureeing it or becoming soupy.
~ Step 4. Coarsely chop the celery stalks into large, 2"+ pieces and place them in processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of on-off pulses, finely mince the celery. My processor minced all of the celery in one batch using 20 on-off pulses. In this instance (just like the onion), you want the celery to be minced as finely as possible without pureeing it or becoming soupy.
~ Step 5. Before you process the meat and vegetables, place your stockpot on the stove and add the corn oil. If you are making just 4 cups of Texas chile sauce, use a 4-quart stockpot. Today, I'm using a 16" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides to prepare 22 cups of chili sauce. As you process the meat and vegetables, add them to the pot as you work. Using a large spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients, and:
~ Step 6. Over medium- medium-high heat, cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the meat has lost all of its red color and is steamed through. Keep your heat adjusted so that at no time, no browning occurs. Continue to cook until almost no moisture/liquid remains in the bottom of pot. For the large quantity, this takes about 50-60 minutes. For 4 cups, this will take as little as 10-12 minutes.
~ Step 7. In a measuring container or mixing bowl, combine the ketchup, chili sauce, yellow mustard, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcertershire sauce, chili powder and ground cloves. Stir until smooth and uniform in color. You can do this while the meat is cooking.
When almost all of the moisture/liquid has evaporated from the meat, stir the sauce mixture into the meat mixture.
~ Step 8. Adjust heat to a very gentle simmer. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. For the large quantity, this takes about 30-40 minutes. For the 4-cup batch, this takes about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, partially cover the pot and allow the mixture to steep and cool, 1-2 hours, to allow all of the great flavors to marry.
You now have Texas Chili Sauce!
Potato hot dog rolls, Hebrew National all-beef 1/4 pound franks (broiled), Mel's Texas Chili Sauce, French's yellow mustard, minced red onion, salt and pepper!
Top w/chili sauce, ballpark mustard & diced onion:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 12-quart stockpot w/lid or 16" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid(or a stockpot/pan sized appropriately for how much sauce is being made); large spoon; 2-4-cup size food storage containers, preferably glass (optional); aluminum foil sheets (optional)
Cook's Note: I freeze my chili sauce in 2-cup size containers, which is enough to top 8 hot dogs. For an added treat, as you are assembling your hot dogs: while the dogs and the sauce are still hot, wrap each chili dog, fully topped/assembled, in a piece of aluminum foil and set aside for 2-3 minutes, to allow the buns to steam! Yum!!!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie (Maliniak) Preschutti, TAHS '73
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)