May 27, 2013

Bear Essentials:
Mitten Noms - Michigan Classics

( + Coney Dogs )

There's no denying that the Coney Dog is a hot mess of a dish.  You take a hot dog and top it with a spiced ground-beef-gravy sort of sauce.  And then you layer on the mustard.  And the onions.  And if you're a bit of an iconoclast, you toss on some shredded Cheddar.  I did.  And I don't regret it one bit.  But you're going to want to double up on the napkins. 

And since Detroit is pretty much the textbook definition of a hot mess, it seems only fitting to begin this week, dedicated to quintessentially Michigan foods, with the Coney Dog.

It's been a long couple of months since I've been able to post, and those months have been cluttered with illness, brushes with unemployment, travel, more illness, computer trouble, and a few faint hints of a future path that could lead us permanently to one side of the country or the other.  And because I am a creature of habit and hearth, I responded by eating.  And by eating comfort foods, the things we grew up on.  And by wondering if we'll lose those foods forever if we leave.

And for the first time, I realized that Michigan isn't quite the culinary wasteland that I've always thought it to be - that we have a few creations all our own that are worth sharing.  It had never occurred to me, for example, until I was driving through upstate New York, that most places don't have Coney Islands.  That you can't find, at least once a mile, a diner-style Greek restaurant where you can get rice pudding, chili fries, a coney dog and enormous gyros at 3:00 in the morning.

How do you cope, out-of-staters?  What do you do at midnight after prom when you need some grease and starch to help settle your stomach from all the - erm - flask-based hydrating you did on the limo ride home?  Where do you go when you need someone to set some cheese on fire?  Are you stuck with Denny's, you poor creatures, or do you have your own late-night ethnic traditions?

So this week I'm sharing some of the best of Michigan food traditions.  Foods you may be missing out on, and which we may find ourselves missing if we leave.  First up: the Coney Dog. 

Coney Dogs 
barely adapted from Malcolm Bedell
at From Away

If you're thinking that Coney Dogs look an awful lot like Chili Dogs, you'll feel right at home with the hundreds of people on the internet who have spent valuable time arguing over the difference between the two.  Some claim that they're two variations on a theme, while others seem personally offended by that idea.  General theory, however, tends to agree that a chili dog may include beans while a Coney Dog never will, and that a chili dog is more likely to contain traditional chili seasonings like chili powder and cumin.  Since every Coney Island restaurant has its own seasoning mix, however, the argument seems pretty moot.  This recipe bridges the gap nicely between Coney and Chili, giving a sauce with a touch of chili powder and tomato but the fine texture that's necessary for a Coney.  I loved it as is, but Mr. Bear found it a touch sweet for his taste.  Adjust as you see fit, and feel free to give the shredded cheddar a try.  It's not traditional, but it is stupid good.

Coney Sauce:
Ground Beef  [ 1 pound ]
Onion  [ 1, large, chopped ]
Garlic  [ 3 cloves, minced ]
Tomato Paste  [ 1  6-ounce can ]
Yellow Mustard  [ 1 tablespoon ]
Water  [ 2 cups ]
Light Brown Sugar  [ 2 teaspoons ]
Dried Onion Flakes  [ 1 tablespoon ]
Chili Powder  [ 2 teaspoons ]
Worcestershire Sauce  [ 1 teaspoon ]
Salt  [ 1 teaspoon ]
Celery Seed  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Cumin  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]
Ground Black Pepper  [ 1/2 teaspoon ]

Hot Dogs:
Hot Dog Buns  [ 8, warmed ]
Hot Dogs  [ 8, cooked - I prefer a beef/pork variety ]
Yellow Mustard  [ to taste ]
White Onion  [ raw, diced, to taste ]
Cheddar Cheese  optional - finely shredded, to taste ]

1.   In a large pan over Medium heat, cook Ground Beef until about half-cooked, breaking it up with a 
        potato masher or fork until as fine as possible.
2.  Add Onions; cook until onions are translucent.
3.   Add Garlic; cook 1 minute.   
4.   Add remaining Coney Sauce ingredients: Tomato Paste, Mustard, Water, Brown Sugar, Onion 
         Flakes, Chili Powder, Worcestershire, Salt, Celery Seed, Cumin, and Pepper.
5.   Simmer 15 minutes, or until Coney Sauce has thickened to your liking.
6.  Coney Sauce should be quite fine-textured.  If it still seems chunky at this point, pulse in a food 
         processor until larger chunks have been broken up.
7.   Place a cooked Hot Dog in a warmed Hot Dog Bun and cover with a generous scoop of Coney 
         Sauce.  Repeat for all dogs.
8.   Top with Mustard, Chopped Onions, and (if desired) Shredded Cheddar, to taste.

Serves 4-8, depending on how many hot dogs you can convince yourself are appropriate to eat in one sitting.  On a related note, will only feed 2 Mr. Bears.  And that's assuming he had a large breakfast.



  1. Oh how I miss Lafayette Coney. SIGH!!!

    1. Glad I could bring on some you'll just have to make some at home!