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Jun 9, 2010 09:48 PM

The best sausage you ever had

I have to say that sausage - in all its uncountable versions - is truly the king of meats. Nothing short of a miracle, really. You take the cheapest, toughest, fattiest parts of the animal, grind them up with some plants and seeds, stuff them into an intestine, and the result is a creation which in my opinion surpasses any other food that comes from an animal.

The summer after senior year of college I took a two-week trip with my South African roommate to visit his family in Johannesburg. I'll never forget my first sight of boerewors, a huge continuous link of pork that never seemed to stop coming out of the cooler. This thing was coiled up on a charcoal grill like a rattlesnake, and if you wanted some you would just bring your bun up to the grill and cut a length off the outer edge of the coil. Split open from the heat, dripping with juice and fat, the char of the casing mixing with the flavors of clove and nutmeg, truly the world's best sausage. Eating boerewors on a cool African night, drinking Knob Creek and insulting each other as only the best of friends can, all against the Jo-burg background chorus of distant police sirens; sometimes great things just come together perfectly.

A couple summers later I spent some time in Chicago, living just across the highway from Depaul. In the evenings I would walk across the highway bridge and stroll around the area. Is there any place and time that says "Chicago" more than Taylor Street on a summer evening? It was on one of these nights that I discovered Jim's Original, a street stand right out of a Hopper gallery, the florescent light filtering through a grease-spattered window to paint yellow the cross-section of urban citizenry waiting in line for a Polish sausage. One bite, the natural casing snaps, the garlicky juice blending with the rich sweetness of the grilled onions with the mustard tang cutting through it all. Really the perfect sticky, greasy meal for a sticky, sweaty, summer night in Chicago.

So maybe it's not just the sausage, but also the circumstance? I don't know. All I know is that a good majority of my most satisfying meals have involved sausage of some kind. So what is the best sausage you ever had?

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  1. There was a Swiss butcher in my Washington hometown who made the ultimate bockwurst. This was a springtime sausage made from "young milk-fed calves who haven't eaten grass yet". The sausage was white, fine-ground, about 5 to the pound and flavored with chives, I think. The texture was incredibly light and quenelle-ish. The local supermarket versions of bockwurst are better than no bockwurst at all, but not in the same league.

    In Frankfurt, the standard lunch counter sausage is bratwurst, and this is also a white, fine ground wurst. It's made from pork, and large (3 to the pound) Served on a brotchen or as a plate lunch -- sehr gut!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sharuf

      The only bockwurst I've ever tried came from a little butcher shop in the German quarter of Cincinnati. It was mealy and bland, and the casing was more gummy than crunchy. Your post has inspired me to give the bockwurst another try, thanks.

      1. re: RealMenJulienne

        Cincinnati doesn't have a German quarter. At least not when I lived there. It was more like a German three-quarters.

      2. re: Sharuf

        Homemade pork and sage sausage from a friend's farm in Georgia.

        1. re: rccola

          Pork with sage seasoning is the king of breakfast! It is available commercially straight from the Kirby & Holloway plant in Harrisonville, DE. One would never guess that it wasn't homemade. I had a 10-pound case shipped to me, and it disappeared quickly. Their other products (ham, bacon, scrapple, etc.) are also delicious. Highly recommended.

          1. re: inspector71

            Thanks, missed this somehow. We need to find people to split this with here in CA as we'll never get through 10 lb and it's not the same after freezing.

        2. The best sausage I ever had was at the late lamented Chanterelle in New York City. They had a seafood sausage that was heavenly. It was served with a beurre blanc and the whole thing was startling and amazingly delicious. My husband now makes an equally delicious version, and I want to cry with happiness every time he does. He also makes an amazing port sausage which he serves with homemade biscuits on New Year's Day as part of our open house buffet. It's just delicious.

          3 Replies
          1. re: roxlet

            I remember that seafood sausage very, very fondly.

            1. re: roxlet

              Roxlet, I enjoyed your recollection, but a seafood sausage is completely new to me and very intriguing. Could you prevail upon your husband to share his seafood sausage recipe?

              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                I will ask him, but he is known to improvise and cook without recipes, so what you'll get is probably just an approximation of what he does. But I believe that there is an actual recipe in a Chanterelle cookbook that was published some years ago. I don't have access to it right now, but maybe your local library might?

            2. Mine was in a hut in the Mala Fatra National Park in Slovakia. It was a steaming hot kielbasa that when I cut into it spurted blood over everyone. It was a spicy, potent concoction that was all the better since we had it in a remote place we had to hike to (but only about a mile).

              4 Replies
              1. re: Steve

                Steve, that's fascinating. I've never heard of a kielbasa with blood in it. Were you served in a restaurant or in someone's home?

                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                  It was actually in a hut (sometimes called a 'refuge') in a national park. Throughout Europe, huts are set up in the mountains for people to sleep and get a meal. Everything has to be backpacked in.

                  When I cut into the kielbasa, it spurted deep red, so I don't know if it is actual blood or deep red juices, or even what the difference is, but it sure surprised me.

                2. re: Steve

                  More than likely that was paprika and juice that it had dyed....

                  1. re: mamachef

                    Cooked blood would not be bright red, more like brown.

                3. Here in Lubbock there's a tiny cue joint called Big E's, which serves a jalapeno sausage wrap to harelip the guvner. My understanding is that he gets his sausage from Klemke's, which is a highly reputable local purveyer of sausage. Not sure if it is beef, pork or some combo thereof.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    When I was in high school I used to eat breakfast on occasion at a friends house, his family was from portugal. His mother made the best chourico I have ever had (homemade)

                  2. Ahhh, sausage, such an important and delicious topic indeed - downright story-worthy. In fact, if you'll just indulge me . . .

                    Three out of four of my grandparents were of Central European descent. I was 12 before I realized that meat could be eaten before it was ground, seasoned, and stuffed into a casing. To this day, I cannot look into a butcher’s case and see a sausage I have not tried without deciding upon its preparation before the fellow can even get a piece on his scale.

                    Lately, it seems that cured sausages and the more exotic varieties from the Iberian Peninsula are the rage thereby gaining greater exposure both at the market and on my plate (palate). For me though, the all-time favorites were the sausages of childhood. Perhaps it is due to their association with a time of joy and innocence, a time when cholesterol was irrelevant and pork still had flavor, but these sausages were special.

                    The first was a breakfast sausage known only for the man who made it - Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry’s was butcher shop located in a small back building down a 30 foot gravel driveway from a modest farmhouse. The entire place somehow seemed oddly out of place across from the declining Camp Kilmer in 1970s suburban New Jersey. Uncle Henry was no relation, but my family visited routinely and he treated us very well. His breakfast sausage was savory and sweet, sage-scented, and slightly spicy. I even recall the anisey notes of the fennel seeds. The smell of the frying patties was the potpourri of nearly every Sunday morning or Birthday breakfast. Uncle Henry passed in the 80s and, sadly, no one has been able to replicate the treasure ever since.

                    The second sausage was the Easter kielbasa. Easter kielbasa was not red like the "normal" kielbasa we got from the Polish deli, instead it was a rather unnappealing grey color. The Easter sausage was fresh, not smoked. It was made every year by an old Polish widow whose surname was practically devoid of vowels and sounded nothing like it looked. A diminutive, quiet lady - the type who would sit praying the rosary in the back of St. Mary's anytime a funeral mass was offered. She also made God's chosen kilebasa.

                    The sausage was fragrently spicy, deeply garlicky, and decadently fatty. The meat was primarily pork, but even the butcher that sold her the meat (scraps) would never betray her secrets. Perhaps there was beef, chicken fat, offal - we'd only guess, it didn't matter it was devine. The ring was always cooked over a bed of 'kraut prepared with caraway seeds and onions. The casing was broken at the table as the sausage was sliced - oozing the precious juices onto the cabbage. Mmmm . . . Inevitably, someone would ask, "Why did Grammy make that ham???"

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: MGZ

                      MGZ, you come from a good sausage-making heritage. I hear you about the nostalgia. You know how smells can trigger memories more strongly than any other stimuli? Well the smell of sausage spices frying in pork fat has got to be the strongest trigger of all.

                      1. re: RealMenJulienne

                        The Easter kielbasa -- my great-uncle was a butcher who made his own, had converted his one-car detached city garage into a smokehouse. So we had homemade fresh and smoked kielbasa at Easter (and Christmas). But there was something about the scent of the cooking kielbasa married with the several pots of Easter lillies that I can never forget.

                        And then the traditional beheading of the butter lamb ...

                        1. re: lsmutko

                          Wonderful image of smokehouse garage

                          and also Kielbasa and those Easter Lillies.