In Praise of the Slider

I recently made these delectable treats and the aroma and taste of the sauce conjured up all sorts of memories. The following text is a reprint from Buffalo Spree Magazine.

It’s common knowledge that fried chicken wings (a.k.a. Buffalo wings) are indigenous to Western New York. But it is unfortunate, I think, how they have overshadowed other local favorites. What about beef-on-weck, for example? Theses tasty sandwiches are no doubt a testament to the large German heritage that our city boasts. The sandwich takes its name from kümmelweck, the fluffy salt-and-caraway seeded rolls on which the beef is served: kümmel is the German word for caraway. Popular local beverages include loganberry “pop” and the ice pick cocktail, more commonly referred to simply as vodka-and-tea (have you ever tried to order one of these drinks outside of Western New York?).

No local food, though, can compare to the texas red hot. An underdog (pun intended) in the restaurant scene, it is, in this cook’s opinion, a true culinary creation. Chuckle at first you may, but give me a minute. First let’s get a few of the slang out of the way: slider, scummers, scum dogs, sloppy canoes. These are just some of them (and the more pleasant ones at that).

I have to admit that I am somewhat biased when talking about texas hots, because unlike many chefs who wax romantically over their externships at this fancy restaurant or that, I began my professional cooking career as a short order cook in a restaurant that specialized in hotdogs; my father was a short order cook before me. And in retrospect the skills that I learned “slinging dogs” were the very foundation for my later studies. The speed and multi-task at which a short order cook works, parallels an efficient line cook in any caliber restaurant. Working a busy grill late night or at peak breakfast time taught me both the economy of time and motion: the ability to cook many different things all at the same time.

Now let’s look at the anatomy of a texas red hot. First, of course, is the hotdog, and a good hotdog alone is worthy of praise. It’s based on a German sausage recipe. The name apparently comes from the elongated canine, the dachshund, because of their shape. And depending who you talk to, the sausage is said to have originated in the city of Frankfort (Frankfurter) or Vienna (Wiener). And any texas hot joint worth its grain of salt serves only Sahlen’s hotdogs, another area favorite (according to their website the company was founded in 1869, is in its fourth generation of ownership, and is still headquartered in Buffalo). But this is about as far as the German influence goes, from here on we tip our toques to the Greeks

A hotdog is just a hotdog without all the accompaniments. To make it a texas red hot it has to be served on a steamed bun (not toasted), and topped with yellow mustard, chopped raw onions, and the special sauce. What it all boils down to, really, is the sauce. Sauce recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant and their spice blends are guarded secrets. Some restaurants claim to simmer their sauces for eight hours. This is a far cry from fast food.

Unlike chicken wings that have a known origin, the history of texas hots is a little more nebulous. There seems to be nothing actually “Texan” about texas hots, other than that the sauce somewhat resembles chili con carne (in appearance, not flavor). The culinary historian in me says that the sauce actually has more in common with ancient Greek or Roman cooking than it does Texas (the meat is not sautéed or fried, it’s boiled with spices and thickened with breadcrumbs instead).

One story I had come across some time ago is that they were first concocted at a downtown Greek diner that was located opposite a Deco restaurant. At the time Deco was offering a 25¢ wiener-and-beans dinner that was luring customers away from the diner. In order to stay competitive the diner owner offered a hot dog special with his secret sauce on it and called it a texas red hot after its resemblance to chili. I’m not sure if this is true, or if the marketing ploy saved his restaurant, but it’s a nice story anyway. But one thing is for sure, whether you like them or not, or however they originated: texas red hots are pure Buffalo.

The author working the grill in 1979  
Texas Hot Sauce

Yield: 3 quarts
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    3 cups minced onions
    2 tablespoons minced garlic
    2 quarts water
    2 pounds ground beef
  1/2 cup chili powder
  1/3 cup paprika
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
    2 tablespoons oregano
    1 tablespoon ground allspice
    1 tablespoon salt
    2 teaspoons dry mustard
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
  1-2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce (optional)

Combine the oil, onions and garlic in a heavy-bottomed saucepot and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes or until dark golden brown. Stir often to avoid scorching. Add the water and bring it to a boil. Add the beef and stir to break apart any lumps of meat. Return the sauce to a boil and stir in the chili powder, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, allspice, salt, mustard, cayenne pepper and black pepper; stir to remove any lumps. Lower the heat to a low simmer and cook the sauce for 1 hour, stir frequently and skim any excess fat (there will be a fair amount of fat from the beef). Stir in the breadcrumbs and simmer over low heat for 30-60 minutes. Stir the sauce frequently to avoid scorching. If the sauce is not thick enough for your liking, add more breadcrumbs, if it is too thick, dilute it with water.