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Linking up with sausages.

More than one carnivore has pronounced sausages the biggest obstacle between them and vegetarianism. Great flavor, convenience, ease of cooking, and versatility all may be reasons why sausages have traditionally been a popular food option in America. Eaten in every region of the country, they figure into thousands of dishes from almost every ethnic cuisine, and comprise one of those specialty food categories in which the domestic varieties, although sometimes different, are every bit as good as the imports. Sausages, in all their forms and flavors, sit at the very heart of the deli or specialty food business. Indeed, not much is more appealing or appetizing than rows of sausages hanging from racks, greeting you as you enter a food operation. It speaks volumes about a store that presents a thoughtful, diverse, and adventuresome sausage selection, much in the same way a beautiful cheese display or a magnificent pastry case can make a statement. Also very democratic, sausages, from simple franks and beans to boudin blanc, appeal to all classes and budgets. The range of ingredients, type of meat or seafood (there are even sausages that contain no flesh, fish, or fowl at all), and the style in which they are seasoned offer sausage styles for anyone or any taste. In fact, with so many low-fat sausages on the market, even starving supermodels can enjoy them once in awhile.


Sausages date to antiquity, evolving simply from the need to preserve the kill for eating later The term itself comes to us from the Latin word salsus, meaning salted or preserved. One of the earliest references to sausages in print is in Homer's Odyssey in a mention of Odysseus' decision to cook a batch of sausage (no doubt it contained lamb or goat meat seasoned with a melange of fresh Greek herbs and cooked in olive oil, but unfortunately, Homer doesn't get specific). The sausage-making tradition ran throughout Europe wherever there was livestock, especially pigs, raised for meat.

The varying climates in the different parts of Europe dictated what kinds of sausage were made. For instance, in the northern regions that had three or four months of natural refrigeration, fresh or partially cooked versions became popular In the south, where temperatures are higher, cured and smoked sausages were far more practical; at least for anything that was to be consumed at a later time. Reportedly, in this hemisphere, even the Native Americans created a kind of sausage by mixing buffalo or venison with dried berries and shaping the mixture into patties.

Our own sausage tradition has been shaped by waves of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, roughly in that order. More recently, Latin and Asian influences have become integrated into our domestic sausage making, as well as the results of a great deal of innovation and creativity on the part of talented American chefs. The vast majority of American sausages still bear the mark of traditional European recipes, often with the names such as boudin blanc, knackwurst, chorizo, kielbasa, and all manner of salami intact. We've added to the list with examples like Thai Chicken, Cajun, Chicken Apple, Turkey, and Southwest sausages that have ingredients such as chiles, pesto, cheeses, vegetables, and so forth.

Although for the past 20 or 30 years, French and Italian influences have dominated America's culinary landscape, it was German culture that formed so much of our basic food and cooking, including sausages. At times in the nineteenth century, Germans represented as much as 30 percent of the incoming immigrants. They established German neighborhoods and towns across the country still in existence today, and their cooking eventually melded into the collective pot. Foods like pot roast, potato salad, dense breads, beer, and of course, sausages became the very foundation of American cooking, especially throughout the vast Midwest. The Germans were also great farmers; accordingly, crafts that are natural offshoots of farming emerged, namely cheesemaking, meat curing, and sausage making. A visit to Berghoff's, the legendary Chicago hofbrau, brings this history deliciously back to life as you stand at the bar gobbling savory, hot sausages and gulping crisp, cold house-made beer.


When all is said and done, all great sausages are basically the same thing--a chopped or minced meat mixture that is seasoned and then stuffed into some sort of casing, usually the intestine or stomach of the same animal from which the meat is derived. Of course, that's like saying all beer is the same because it is made from cooked and fermented grain, or that all cheeses are the same because they all come from milk. Since our sausage industry is rooted in European traditions, we will focus on the sausages of that continent for categorization purposes.

In Europe's northern regions, where the climate is generally colder, fresh or fresh-smoked sausages have always been popular. The simplest forms of sausage, these compose the type that dominates the specialty market here and in England. Since they are a raw product, they must be kept refrigerated and cooked prior to eating. Although some fresh sausages are lightly smoked after they are stuffed, they still have to be cooked, or significantly reheated before they are consumed.

Across Europe's southern part, especially in Spain and Italy, cured sausages were necessary due to a considerably hotter climate. Also, the cool, dry winds that lace the mountainous areas and the seaside are essential for curing the meats. These sausages are meant for keeping, usually require little or no refrigeration, and typically, are hung from the rafters in homes, or dangled above shop counters.

They are uncooked, but like prosciutto in Italy and Jamon Serrano in Spain, they are anything but raw. Air cured, they are sometimes smoked for many months or even years until they are ready to be eaten. They are almost always meant to be sliced and eaten at room temperature as ingredients in antipasto, sandwiches, or tapas. Also, they can add tremendous flavor to soups, stews, and pasta sauces. This type of sausage includes Spanish chorizo and morcilla (a blood sausage that sometimes contains rice as well), Portuguese linguica, French saucissons sec, and the entire realm of Italian salami crudo. In American homes, this kind is usually used for snacking, in sandwiches, or as a pizza topping.

The third general type of sausage is one that is partially cooked in advance and sometimes smoked. Although some, like German Braunschweiger and hot dogs, need to be refrigerated, many of them can simply be hung up like salami. This general category is divided into two camps: 1) those that are intended to be sliced and eaten cold such as Italian mortadella, or the American version, bologna (named for the Italian city in the heart of Emilia, whence mortadella hails, somehow over time, it has come to be pronounced in the hinterland as "baloney"), and 2) those that need to be cooked or reheated like frankfurters, Polish sausage, kielbasa, and Vienna sausage. A note here--even though mortadella and bologna may be eaten as is, they are greatly enhanced by frying.


In their excellent book, Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Cookbook (Ten Speed Press) by Aidells and Denis Kelly, the authors muse about renowned Southern cook and cookbook author Edna Lewis, who says, "that having some country ham in your refrigerator is like owning one good black dress." They insist that one could say the same thing about sausage because, besides being a delicious entree unto itself, sausages lend so much flavor to whatever they are added to. Also, like country ham, they are a product of Spartan farm cuisine that in the right setting, can be elevated to haute cuisine.

Sausages are also an important link (no pun intended) to America's regional cooking. Some form of sausage or another stars in many ethnic cultures and communities across the country. Each year, New Yorkers eagerly anticipate the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy and the Feast of St. Anthony in Soho, both of which feature a wealth of Italian sausage sandwiches smothered in cooked red peppers and onions. Across the river in the old Portuguese neighborhoods of Eastern New Jersey, one can often relish the aroma of cooking linguica sausage, their tie to the old country.

The Cajuns in southern Louisiana have their own sausage spectacular in the form of a boucherie, or butchery. A day- or weekend-long community event, it is centered around the slaughtering of a hog. What follows is a pork extravaganza at which every conceivable part of the animal is cooked and consumed, including the incomparable boudin noir and boudin blanc. Traditionally, the boudin noir, or blood sausage (boudin is French for "pudding"), is the favorite. The blood of the freshly slaughtered hog is mixed with ground pork and organs, rice, and spices, and then stuffed into casings. They are cooked on the spot along with boudin blanc (sans blood), pork cracklings, and other pork treats. Although it can be made for personal consumption, homemade boudin noir is illegal to sell now due to strict health laws, but versions of boudin blanc are sold across the country. Another favorite at the boucheries is a form of sausage similar to mortadella, fromage de tete de cochon, or hogshead cheese. It is made by slowly cooking the head, feet, and shoulders of the hog, and then by mincing the mixture with spices. It is left to jell in the refrigerator for a while before serving. Chaudin is a singular type of sausage in which fresh pork, spices, rice, and vegetables are sewn up inside the pig's stomach and baked or steamed for several hours. As the stomach contracts, the whole thing becomes taut like a sausage, and ultimately, is sliced and eaten cold or reheated. The Cajuns also produce terrific andouille sausage and a version of chorizo, as well as alligator sausage. How does one make alligator sausage? Very carefully.

What all of this means is that wherever your store is located, you have countless cultures and traditions to draw upon to merchandise your selection of sausages. Country promotions, festivals, holidays, and other special occasions are all great times to sell sausages in the store. In fact, in the aforementioned ethnic communities around the country and at all sorts of street fairs, carnivals, and parades, sausages are usually abundant. Whether you are simply highlighting your sausage assortment or actually cooking and selling hot sausages, they should be an adjunct to just about every special event. Some retailers even go so far as to set up a sausage or hot dog cart, steaming the dogs in beer or cider, and serving them with the same.

Sausages have been sorely overlooked by many cookbooks, but there are a few that make up for it. Aidells' and Kelly's previously mentioned Complete Sausage Cookbook is a wealth of information about making your own (something to think about if you already have a fresh meat department), or cooking with them. They offer an international compendium of recipes--both for and with sausages--and cultural asides about eating sausages around the U.S., such as "Feast of San Gennaro," "Hot Boudin and Dixie Beer," and "Polish Wedding in Chicago." The book is a great addition to their other sausage books, Flying Sausages, Real Beer & Good Eats, and Hot Links and Country Sausages that explore regional American cooking (all Simon & Schuster), and The Complete Meat Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin), which includes sausage tips.
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Title Annotation:love of sausages
Author:Mellgren, James
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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