Many years ago, in our careless child-free days, the Critic and I played a lot of snooker. We even belonged to Paris' only snooker league and this necessitated getting up at what then seemed an ungodly hour on Sunday mornings. (Now, of course, 8 a.m. is considered a pretty good lie-in...how times have changed!) And being young(er) and child-free, we had usually indulged in an alcoholic session the evening before. So once a month would find us at nine a.m. scoffing bitter black coffee and croissants with a slightly jaundiced eye. And by noon we would be ready for something more substantial. There is something about a hangover that begs processed, salty, hot food. And this is how I became intimately acquainted with a phenomenon known as the Super Hot Dog (pronounced Soup-air Ott Dogg). You can find them across France in cheap cafés. It's the one dish that is served at any time of the day and mostly to students and manual workers. Although it would pain most tourists to eat something so "American", it is genuinely a part of the French food landscape. And I became totally addicted. Your basic saucisse frites (sausage and fries) is just that: a plate with a couple of hot dogs, some fries and a basket of bread on the side. But a super hot dog is encased in a crisp baguette, slathered with mustard so hot it makes your eyes water, topped with grated gruyère cheese and placed beneath a grill until the cheese is melted and crispy in places, the hot dog warmed through. It's greasy and salty and crunchy, the perfect fast food.
And then, one day, they were gone.
I'm not saying we quit playing snooker because café at the snooker club stopped serving them. The smoke was getting to us too, in those pre-smoke-free-Paris days. But really, once the Super Hot Dogs were off the menu, my motivation sadly faltered. And then we had children and our lives became full in new ways. I sometimes miss the snooker. But I no longer miss the Super Hot Dogs. Because I now have a boy who likes hot dogs for lunch. And armed with a baguette and a bit of cheese, I can make my own Super Hot Dog. I can even improve it (a little).
My first attempts to reproduce the Super Hot Dog exactly as it's made in cafés was not very successful. The toaster ovens they use are better adapted to holding a baguette at the correct angle so that the cheese is melted and browned before the edges of the baguette start burning. So you can see my compromise in the photo above: instead of piling the cheese directly on the hot dogs, in the slit in the baguette, I place the baguette flat side down on the tray and spread the cheese over the top. It tastes the same, is no more difficult to eat and works better in your basic oven. I also heat up the hot dogs in the microwave before constructing the sandwich because it's very difficult to heat the dog through without burning the outside otherwise. (Your less talented café cook will frequently serve you a cold dog in a hot baguette, a very sad dog indeed.) And my last innovation? Well, being from Chicago, I cannot resist popping a few pickled hot peppers between the dogs. Super-Duper Hot Dog.
To make your own Super Hot Dog, you will need:
2 all pork hot dogs
1 piece of baguette roughly the same length as a hot dog
1 Tbs very hot mustard
1 Tbs ketchup (optional and I know I'm being controversial here. But I like ketchup...)
3-4 pickled hot peppers
a handful of grated gruyère cheese (about 60-70g)
Split open the baguette and slather with the mustard and/or ketchup. Heat the hot dogs in the microwave for 30 seconds and then place them side by side in the baguette. Dot with hot peppers. Press closed and carefully sprinkle the cheese over the top. Place on a baking sheet and slide in the oven under the broiler or grill. Grill for 4-5 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the bread is crisp (but not burnt). Consume with great enthusiasm. The proper accompaniment is either a diet cola or fizzy water. And you'll need napkins...