Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
May 12, 2013
04:25 PM
Small Dishes

Beyond Bratwurst

Beyond Bratwurst

Chorizo at Underground Butcher

I know it's heresy hereabouts, but most summers I get my fill of bratwurst. I know if I ever moved away it would be one of the things I would miss about living in Sconnieland. Brats may be top dog but they’re literally not the only dog in town. There are a whole lot of other sausages out there sure to add variety and spice to life.

Traditionally speaking, a sausage is made from ground or chopped meat and meat byproducts forced into a casing—either clean intestines or made from collagen, cellulose or other synthetic materials. Tied off at regular intervals, it gets its signature shape. Sausage is then sometime cured, smoked, or dried for both preservation and flavor.  When fresh sausage is made without a casing, it’s properly called “sausage meat,” or depending upon the ingredients, “pâté.” Sausage can be and is made out of just about anything. Pork and beef first come to mind, but for better or worse, every form of fowl, game, fish, and vegetables are used in sausage making. Obviously, the inspiration for this delicacy originally was economy and is a culinary tradition enjoyed by almost every culture.

Germany—who gave us our much beloved bratwurst—alone boasts over 1,200 varieties of sausage. Granted, not every sausage will take to grilling. I’d certainly shy away from many of the dried and aged varieties like salami. I’d also think twice before throwing Braunschweiger on the Weber. Most fresh sausages and many smoked or cured ones are just fantastic grilled over an open flame. Here’s my short list of barbecue favorites.   

Andouille
Being a fan of all thinks Creole or Cajun, I naturally love andouille, a smoked pork sausage. Originally from France, it’s now an essential ingredient in so many Louisiana dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo. In France, they concoct andouille from the intestines and stomach of the pig and tastes relatively bland, but the American version is more coarsely-grained and heavily seasoned with garlic and pepper. It’s excellent charcoal-grilled and served on a chewy bun with the same condiments you’d contemplate for a brat. The best andouille I’ve ever tasted this side of New Orleans are those made at the Underground Butcher.

Chorizo (Mexican)
It’s a tale of two sausages that have little in common but their name. The Mexican version is loosely based upon the uncooked Spanish version known as “chorizo fresco.” Mexican chorizo, however, is made from finely ground fatty cuts of pork or beef and highly seasoned and usually contains vinegar. It’s often removed from the casing and then cooked to use as a filling for tacos, or mixed with scrambled eggs, or added to refried beans. I especially like it grilled until slightly crisp on the outside and then served with caramelized onions and fresh cilantro. Combined with ground beef, it makes a flavorful burger. Most grocery stores now sell chorizo but most of it’s made far away. An exception is El Rey, made in Milwaukee. Chorizo is also easy to make at home and here is a recipe. If you don’t want to fool with stuffing it into casings, it can be formed into patties and then cooked.

Chorizo (Spanish)
Most commonly, it’s a cured and smoked pork sausage with a deep-red color, the result of the addition of lots of pimentónsmoked paprika—which also gives it its distinctive taste. A similar sausage is produced in Portugal and there called “chouriço.” Spanish chorizo comes in many forms that are short, long, hard, and soft.  The harder varieties are usually consumed uncooked. A popular way to serve it is grilled on a toasted roll with roasted peppers and arugula, dressed with a little olive oil.  I frequently find Spanish chorizo at Whole Foods, Jenifer Street Market and other specialty markets.

Italian Sausage
Despite its name, it’s All American. A fresh pork sausage notable for its seasoning of fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, it’s marketed as sweet (mild) or hot (more red pepper flakes added). It’s long been a favorite at Italian-American barbecues, slathered with grilled peppers and onions, and of course, red sauce.  For almost 50 years a family-run business, Fraboni’s is a fixture of Madison’s Greenbush neighborhood and revered for its homemade Italian sausage.

Kielbasa
Often called “Polish sausage,” by either name it can cover a lot of sins. It comes both smoked and not. Quite honestly, at times it can be difficult to distinguish from bratwurst. I’m partial to what in Chicago is known as the Maxwell Street Polish—a smoked polish sausage, butterflied, charcoal-grilled, and topped with onions and sauerkraut. That said, Willow Creek Farm makes an exemplary uncured, fresh kielbasa from its flavorful Berkshire pork using a recipe from the owner’s grandfather.

Knackwurst
By any other name it’s a fat hot dog, usually made from a combination of seasoned veal or beef and pork that’s smoked.  In Germany, it’s most often steamed and served on a plate, looking not unlike a big, pink zeppelin. Knackwurst is so much better grilled over an open flame until slightly charred on the outside. Unlike biting into a limp frankfurter, a good knackwurst bursts with juice and unmistakable garlicky flavor. As you would expect, Bavaria Sausage features a whole lot of superior wurst and the knackwurst is world class.

Linguiça
Originating in Portugal, it’s a spicy cured and smoked sausage that’s a staple in places with large Portuguese populations, such as New England. In Hawaii, linguiça shows up on the breakfast menu and in Brazil it’s an ingredient in the national dish, feijoada. A bit reminiscent of Italian pepperoni, the texture is less dense and just perfect for grilling. It can be a bit difficult to find around here, but well worth the search. I’ve occasionally unearthed it around town at places that specialize in gourmet foods. It can also be ordered online … Gaspar’s is a popular brand.

RECIPE: Chicken and Sausage with Peppers, Onions and Potatoes

An Italian one-pan recipe that’s just as good made ahead and served at room temperature—perfect for a summer Sunday night supper!

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, finely chopped
2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp minced fresh garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, unpeeled, washed, cut into quarters
Half a red pepper, cut into strips
Half a yellow pepper, cut into strips
Half a green pepper, cut into strips
1/2 cup diced red onions
3/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch heavy bottom skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté the sausage until browned. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl, reserving the fat in the skillet.

Add the chicken, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and pepper flakes to the skillet. Brown the chicken, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to moderate, add the potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.

Add the peppers and onions and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just softened.

Add the wine and reduce to the liquid to about 1/4 cup. Season with salt and pepper and combine well. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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