So as promised I went ahead to challenge my fears in the forbidden land of ketchup on a hot dog (don’t tell a soul in Chicago). Although I felt as though I might be struck by lightning, I didn’t die and actually found that combined with mustard it wasn’t half-bad. Still it is not to my own particular taste (chalk it up to Chi-town brainwashing) but I do understand why people like it, why once upon a time I liked it. Ketchup has a predominantly fruity sweet quality that especially as kids we all came to love.
Condiments each have a quality of their own and if you like them individually, there tends to be a chance that you will like it on a lot of things... on anything, even a hot dog. Then it can become, is it more about the ketchup, the hot dog or that particular combination? I’ll venture to guess that the first craving is for the hot dog then your preference of condiments comes next. Without the desired condiments though you might run into trouble. I always crave for fries but if there is no ketchup around (except for a few exceptions, like duck fat fries) I feel shortchanged on the experience.
I find that if one has a liking for certain seasoning or condiment it will predominate in what they add to their food, be it salt, pepper, soy sauce, hot sauce or…ketchup. I’m kinda like that with Tabasco, it’s not so much the heat anymore as it is the flavor of it that I have become addicted to. I put it on a lot of things and even use it as seasoning in a few sophisticated sauces but I must admit that in some ways I use it indiscriminately without regard to how it overpowers what I'm putting it on.
In serious food composition it becomes the combination of flavors that bring a higher degree of complexity to a food experience. One of my former chefs, Grant Achatz, who now owns the world acclaimed of Alinea restaurant in Chicago, first introduced me to the concept of the “deconstruction” of flavors. (funny story: I once describe it as a “decomposition” technique to a food critic review us, opps!). So in deconstruction you look at traditional flavor compositions say like… a hot dog and ketchup and break apart the components of the dish to discover the base flavor/textures that are coming together. We have bread (flour, yeast), hot dog (seasoned protein/fat) and then a phletora or not of condiments which will represent characters of sweet, picante, sour, bitterness, fruit, salt/brine, spice, pungency, acidity, etc. How do these qualities all work together really becomes a science of understanding basic taste profiles. So with a little knowledge one can learn why certain things taste good together and perhaps then expand their taste horizons to explore the high realms of cuisine ala hot dog.
So in my aimless postulations I guessed that since that credit for the hot dog in America is mostly accredited to Europeans immigrants, mustard was their condiment of choice. Looking at the composition of hot dogs, the more acidic and picante characteristics of mustard have the ability to cut nicely through the high protein and fat qualities of a hot dog. Ketchup on the otherhand is more cloying and lays with the flavors without defined contrast. Howz that for some good food BS!
But enough of that stuff, really, your mouth doesn’t care, it likes what it likes but at least I got to state my case. So you know, in Chicago, children are given in an indiscriminant age of 9 or 13 to lose their affinity for ketchup on hot dogs. When that occurs, adulthood is attained in the Windy City food culture. So before you visit.... grow up!