A corndog renaissance

March 16, 2012

This year marks the 20th anniversary of National Corndog Day, a movable feast celebrated not on a specific date, but the first Saturday of March Madness—which refers to college basketball, for those who don't follow that religion. It might seem strange to devote a winter day to an iconic food of summer state and county fairs (and it almost feels like it out there), until you realize that most corndogs now are pre-made, frozen, and season-less. That is, until a recent corndog renaissance led locally by one man: Gus Paschalis, who is Wiener and Still Champion.

But let's back up here. Corndog crafting is more complicated than it might seem. There's the batter, usually from a pre-made mix too, as well as the hot dog to consider. We might like the snap of natural casing in our Chicago-style dogs, but that resistance is undesirable with a delicately cornbread encased dog. Then there's the à la minute dipping and whole-length, temperature-sensitive, time-consuming frying. At Squire's Dog Haus, which appears annually at the Lake County Fair, they've mastered corndog crafting over generations.

Gus began his corndog quest in 2006. As former food technologist for a spice company, he tested a series of both hot dogs and housemade cornmeal batters on willing subjects from our friends at LTH Forum. He calls his corndogs Dippin' Dogs, to emphasize the fact that they're dipped and fried to order, and that they're eminently dippable in classic condiments, as well as his weekly changing dipping sauces.

And he continues to experiment, but not everything makes it to the menu, as with his Luther Burger, which is only available by special request off the secret menu. One item that's earned its place is the Dippin' Dog Deluxe: a corndog smothered in chili and Merkt's cheese.

My friend Catherine Lambrecht was one of the original taste testers back in 2006. I just discovered that in 2010 she sampled a fishcake corndog at H Mart, which she ruled "OK". I was thunderstruck. When I was in Japan recently, I took a kamaboko (fishcake) making class, of which one of the items was fire-roasted kamaboko on a stick. Who knows, perhaps you'll see this on a menu as a corndog of the future.