Although Detroit coneys are described as a form of chili dog, it is somewhat of a misnomer - it is a thicker, more viscous sauce than chili. Chili typically involves a base of ground meat, tomatoes, and a stock of some sort. The consistency of coney sauce is totally different, it is much thicker, closer to an Italian Bolognese sauce and has a different flavor profile than your typical chili. I had attempted to replicate coney sauce a few years ago in my Chicago days to satisfy a coney craving; it was a miserable failure and I swore off making coney sauce ever again. I was all set to break down and mail order some National Coney Island coney sauce online, until I stumbled across a thread on the RoadFood forums where a recipe claiming to be legit Detroit coney sauce was getting rave reviews.
|cheatsheet for the uninitiated|
Once I read the recipe, the lightbulb went off and the mystery of Detroit coney sauce had been unlocked – it is not a chili at all, it is a gravy. It turns out that Detroit coney sauce starts with making a roux by cooking flour in melted butter – the same way you make gravy at Thanksgiving. This made total sense and it’s so obvious that I’m ashamed I couldn’t come up with it.
The process starts with browning some ground beef* in a large Dutch oven. I then removed the browned beef, leaving some nice browned bits on the bottom of the pan to scrape up when making the roux. Then I tossed in the butter and let it melt (being careful to not burn the butter) and then dropped in the flour and stirred frequently until the mixture gives off a nice nutty aroma and the color turns light brown.
* The conventional wisdom seems to be that beef heart is used along with ground beef in most coney islands around town. I couldn’t find any on short notice so I went with ground chuck. I’m guessing chicken livers would be a decent substitute to up the offal factor that beef heart would provide.
Next, slowly stir in some stock, followed by all of the spices. Once the spices are incorporated, add back the browned beef and reduce until it is to a texture of your liking – it should be just thick enough to where it won’t run all over the plate when you spoon it onto your dog.
As far as the dogs, I went with the Koegel’s natural casing dogs. You are free to get whatever brand you want, but they must be natural casing – what’s the point of having a hot dog if you don’t get that nice snap when you bite into it? I had planned on smoking the hot dogs, but the traditionalist in me decided to keep it simple this time around, so I grilled them slowly over moderate heat, trying to prevent them from bursting open.
The Chicago dog preparation is much more straightforward: pickle spear, onions, yellow mustard, atomic green relish, sport peppers, tomato slices, celery salt. Not nearly as fun as hacking the coney sauce, but a fine way to dress up a hot dog nonetheless.
Detroit Coney Sauce Recipe:
½ LBs ground beef heart
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
2 tomatoes (~8 oz. of canned crushed or diced tomatoes)
24 oz of beef or chicken stock
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp yellow mustard
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
1. Brown the beef in a large Dutch oven, use beef suet or lard to brown the meat if you can find it.
2. Remove the beef from the pot, melt butter, whisk in flour to create a roux. Whisk constantly and maintain a medium heat so that the flour and butter do not burn.
3. Once the roux turns light brown and gives off a nutty aroma, slowly pour in the stock and whisk constantly. Pour in all of the spices and tomatoes and stir to incorporate. Add the beef back to the bowl.
4. Simmer the pot uncovered until it is reduced to a thicker consistency.
5. Grill or steam up some natural casing dogs. Top with mustard, diced onions and coney sauce.