Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Maligned Corn Dog

I generally try to be somewhat health conscious when I prepare meals for myself, even if half the time I'm just rationalizing why it's okay to see this or that (when I know perfectly well that I shouldn't eat it). I try to have a balanced meal that's nutritious and low-calorie, yet filling. Balance isn't usually that difficult; keeping the calories down is usually my bane.

But then there are times when I throw all that out the window. When even I can't rationalize why I should consume something. There simply is no justification for what I'm eating, except that I want to eat it.

In fact, such is the case almost any time I read one of Homesick Texan's blog posts, because she unashamedly writes, makes, and eats, foods that I absolutely love -- but cannot consider anything but unhealthy. Now, that's not always the case; I've learned a lot about misperceptions (such as about lard). But many times, I read a recipe in her blog and immediately want to make it, regardless of how healthy it may or may not be.



Such was the case today. I made corn dogs. (She calls them corny dogs, but I'm not from the south and can't pretend to be; I've known them as corn dogs all my life and so they will remain.) Corn dogs also held another appeal: I don't normally like them. So just as with mayonnaise, I had to try making them myself to see if it made a difference to my palate -- would it be better? Would I actually like homemade corn dogs, or would they be just as distasteful as the ones I've had just about everywhere else?

Granted, most of my corn dog experience comes from food court experiences -- you know, Hot Dog on a Stick -- and the occasional fair, and maybe a frozen version once or twice. With possibly one exception (and I don't even know where I had it now), they've always been rather disgusting to me. I like the thick, crispy outside part, but if it's too thick it gets really soggy/dry/cakey, which I don't like. And then there's the hot dog itself. I love hot dogs. Costco hot dogs might possibly be one of the best and cheapest treats anywhere ($1.50 for a dog and a soda!). I love making them at home. I eat them with just about every condiment except relish. Sometimes heaven on earth can be contained in a chili cheese dog that oozes chili when you take bites of it. So yeah, I'm no hot dog snob. But hot dogs that have been encased in that cornbread coating inevitably tastes weird to me, in a bad way. There's a strange aftertaste that I can't even really describe; all I know is that it's yucky, and I don't like it. And thus, I don't like corn dogs.

Jade postulated that maybe it was because I don't like the combination of sweet and savory when it comes to meat, which is true. I generally don't like sweet meat, where the sweetness overpowers the savory aspect (and I really don't like sweet and sour meat). Perhaps the cornbread part in combination with the meat ruined it for me.



So I was curious about making my own. I don't know what usually goes into the batter for the cornbread coating for corn dogs, whether or not there's actually sugar, but HT's recipe didn't call for any (according to her, true southern cornbread isn't sweet!). So would that make a difference? Would it make a difference if they were made from all-beef hot dogs that I had purchased myself (and usually like, when I make them plain on their own)? Would it make a difference if I baked them in my toaster oven -- my usual method for making hot dogs -- before I made them into corn dogs?

I experimented. I made two corn dogs as directed in HT's recipe, and made two of them after baking them for 10 minutes in my toaster oven on 350°F. The result was subtle, but there. The pre-cooked hot dog tasted better to me, and was warmer when eating (I like my food hot). The hot dog that I didn't pre-cook still tasted better as a corn dog than the corn dogs I've had elsewhere. The experiment was a success: It's not that I don't like corn dogs; it's that I don't like them unless they're homemade. Whether or not it helped that the batter didn't have sugar I don't know; it certainly didn't hurt.



Instead of using sticks made for candied apples as HT did (I couldn't find any, and I didn't feel like trekking all the way to a specialty store for them as I don't plan to make corn dogs very often), or wooden skewers, which would have been too long anyway (and unfortunately pointy on both ends), or my nice chopsticks, I ended up using extra take-away chopsticks that I had lying around. They were still a bit too long for my purpose, but better than my alternatives. I first sanded them down to get rid of splinters by rubbing two together vigorously for about 30 seconds (scraping one chopstick against the other, then alternating). The cooked hot dogs were a lot easier to skewer than the ones right out of the package, but that also meant that if I was slightly off on my centering, it was less easy to pull back and readjust.

I've reproduced HT's recipe for corn dogs below, with a couple of adjustments (she basically just copies her recipe for cornbread, but accidentally leaves in 2 tbsp of bacon drippings by mistake -- it would normally go toward greasing one's cast-iron pan).



Homesick Texan's Corn Dogs - adapted

Ingredients
  • 2 cups of yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup of flour plus more for dusting the hot dogs
  • 1 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • a package of hot dogs (around 8)
  • thin sticks with pointy ends
  • 1 quart of peanut oil

Method

  1. Depending on how many you're making, heat an oven or toaster oven to 350°F and line a tray with foil. Line up hot dogs on the foil so that they don't touch. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the skins have split. (I usually just stick them in when the oven is preheating, and then bake for required time when the oven is ready.)
  2. Mix the cornmeal, 1/2 cup of the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Beat the egg into the buttermilk and add mixture to dry ingredients.
  4. Pour the batter into a tall glass or quart-sized Mason jar.
  5. Heat peanut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven until it gets to 365°F. Or if you have one, use a deep fryer.
  6. Remove the hot dogs from the oven and carefully skewer the hot dogs until you've still got enough stick to serve as a handle. If you use disposable chopsticks, you may need to skewer them to the end, as the chopsticks are rather long.
  7. Put a couple of heaping tablespoons of flour on a flat plate and roll the hot dog in it until it's coated.
  8. Dip the hot dog into the batter, pulling out carefully so that you have a good thick coating of batter, then add it to the oil.
  9. Cook for three minutes, turning occasionally (if you're using a deep fryer, you can skip the turning). Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

HT also suggests altering the batter to your taste, adding chili peppers, etc. She also says that rolling the hot dogs in the flour helps the batter stick to them, but I'm not convinced of this. When I made them it seemed to do the opposite: the flour seemed to make the batter slide off more easily. I'll have to try again and see what works better.

The recipe calls for about 8 hot dogs, but honestly there's so much batter that you could probably make 3 times that many. And unless you've made a lot of corn dogs, you'll have batter left over. Use that to bake some corn bread, or add an egg, a jalapeno, and some extra cornmeal/flour, and make hush puppies!

I only had white cornmeal on hand, and other than the batter being white instead of yellow, you couldn't really tell in the final results -- especially in terms of taste, which is the important part!

2 comments:

A Happy Blogger said...

I love corn dogs, thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the not rolling in flour - have you ever watched them make corndogs at the state fair? They just dunk the plain hot dog in the batter - no flouring at all!