I recently learned that our great nation is home to something called The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, and when I learned this, my heart swelled with so much pride and patriotism that I thought I might explode. A press release from this fine organization informed me that July is National Hot Dog Month, which caused tears to stream down my cheeks while a bald eagle swooped from the sky and landed on my shoulder. But then I actually read the release and learned that the NHDSC believes a New York–style hot dog is “topped with steamed onions and a pale, deli-style yellow mustard,” and I nearly dropped my laptop to the floor, appalled.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and as I established in this recipe for Knish Hot Dogs, I am somewhat of an expert on NYC-style dogs. Contrary to what the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council may believe, New Yorkers do not use yellow mustard—the only acceptable mustard is spicy brown, never yellow. Once you’ve applied the correct mustard to your hot dog, you then have your choice of two toppings: sauerkraut or a tomato-based onion sauce. Not steamed onions.
Anyway, if you don’t know New York City hot dog onions, the world’s most beautiful hot dog topping, you must rectify this at once. Most pushcarts and hot dog joints use a premade, tomato-paste-based onion sauce manufactured by Sabrett’s, which is damn tasty and worth picking up if you ever come across it. Alternatively, you can make the version below, which uses ingredients you probably already have in the house. Dare I say it? This stuff might be better than what I grew up with. This onion recipe is essential if you want to be a true hot dog expert. So go ahead, celebrate the remaining days of National Hot Dog Month like a true patriot. (Or at least a true New Yorker.)
Makes approximately one quart
- 3 medium yellow onions, thickly sliced
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 Tbsp. brown mustard
- 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
- Salt and pepper
Coat the bottom of a saute pan with cooking oil (like canola) and preheat over high heat until it begins to shimmer, about one minute. Add the thickly sliced onions, separating them into individual segments as you drop them into the pan, and sprinkle with a hefty pinch of kosher salt. Cook the onions until they’re soft and golden (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. (If any bits of onion get stuck to the bottom and start to burn, add a splash of water to the pan and scrape it up.)
In a measuring cup, stir together the water, ketchup, mustard, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and cinnamon. When the onions are ready, pour the mixture in the saute pan and stir well. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat, remove the lid from the pan, and let the onions cool for a few minutes. Give them a taste, then add salt and pepper as desired.