~ Happy Valley PA's Pop's Mexi-Hots Hot Dog Sauce ~
Yesterday was a big day. During a stop at Meyer's Dairy, I got my first taste of a Pop's Mexi-Hot hot dog, complete with Pop's ground-beef-based and chili-powder-laced sauce, ballpark mustard and diced onion. Considering what I always tell my friends, "I was a hot dog in a past life", I can't believe I've lived in Happy Valley forty-two years and never tried one. What I knew about State College's iconic Pop's Mexi-Hots yesterday was zero. Today, after the fact, it's a different story.
Mexi-Hots is a Pennsylvania, registered, fictitiously-named business, originally filed on February 4, 1948 (the company will celebrate it 70th birthday on February 4th, 2018). The filing status is active. The company's principal address, originally on the the corner of College Avenue and Pugh Street in downtown State College and owned by the Carelas family, is currently located at 2390 South Atherton Street -- Pop's Mexi-Hots are now made by and sold at Meyer's Dairy.
Meet Meyer Dairy. Founded in 1970 by two brothers and located just four short miles from my kitchen door, I have been buying milk and ice cream from these folks since the day I moved to Happy Valley in 1974. Joseph Meyer, the owner explains, "We're farmers, so we produce our own milk. We put in a drop tank to bring it up from the farm to process and bottle it in our shop." Over the years they added many varieties of ice-cream, and the flavors change daily. Besides one of their generous cones of the creamy-dreamy stuff, there's plenty of room to sit down and enjoy a Mexi-Hot or a hamburger too. They sell lots of other local and PA based products too: grilled stickies from The College Diner, apple butter from the Lions Club and Middleswarth potato chips.
After pondering, calculating, weighing, measuring & testing...
My copycat version evolved by combining two vintage recipes (given to me by girlfriends Elaine and Karen), in conjunction with taste testing my experiments alongside Meyer's Mexi-Hots in my kitchen (I brought a six-pack home with me yesterday). Many vintage recipes claim to be the original -- the two shared with me were no exception. That said, even if a recipe is indeed the original (few are handed out freely and most go rogue via disgruntled ex-chefs or former employees), the rightful-owner of the original will almost never confirm it, and, the point is not worth argument. Their standard retort is, "the secret ingredient is missing". I can tell you with certainty: my version is pretty damned close. Dang close.
2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 quart water
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound yellow or sweet onion, cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 2, medium-large onions)
1/2 pound celery, cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 5 large ribs)
8 ounces green bell pepper, white rib sections removed and cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 2 large green bell peppers)
1 tablespoon paprika
6 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon celery salt
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
~ Step 1. Let's get crazy over with first. Place the ground meat in a large bowl and add 1-quart of water and 1/4 cup white vinegar. Using your hands, squish this all together until a soupy, unappetizing, mess-of-a-mixture forms. As strange, weird and appalling as this will seem, "back in the day" this was the common treatment for ground meat used in long-simmered, slow-simmered chili-type sauces (and various soup recipes too) -- it kept the texture of the beef soft and steamy, and, the bits of meat separate (as opposed to quickly sautéing it which yields a drier, chunkier, lumpier mixture).
~Step 2. In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, place the vegetable oil. In work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the chunked onions. Using a series of 18-20 rapid on-off pulses mince the onion. Transfer the minced onion to the stockpot. Add celery and green pepper to processor. Using a series of 18-20 rapid on-off pulses, mince the celery and bell pepper together. Transfer them to the stockpot with the minced onion.
Note: The alternative is to take the time to mince (mince -- not fine-dice) the vegetables by hand, transferring them to the stockpot as you work. The food processor is a huge time-saver.
~Step 3. Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, sweat the vegetables until steaming and soft, 5-6 minutes. Add and stir in the spices (the paprika, chili powder, celery salt, sea salt and black pepper). Cook for 1 minute. Add the soupy meat. Bring to a rapid simmer, reduce heat to a gentle, steady simmer, then, continue to cook, stirring every 10-15 minutes, for 2 hours. For best results, place the pot in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat prior to serving or freezing.
Would you like a side of mac 'n cheese with that?
Special Equipment List: 4-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid; large spoon
Cook's Note: In the 1950's, 60's and 70's my hometown of Tamaqua had two hot spots to eat hot dogs: The Texas Lunch and The Coney Island. Trust me when I tell you, Texas-style chili sauce for hot dogs and Mexi-hot-style chili sauce for hot dogs, while similar in appearance, are two entirely different products. To learn more, and get my recipe, click here: ~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)