"What's in sausage, do you think?" I asked him.
"Well, it depends what kind of sausage you're talking about and where you buy it. Clearly," I add.
"Nice try," he said "but clearly you don't have a good answer handy. Call me back when you figure it out." And he hung up.
friend may have been an ass, but he was right: I needed an answer. I
did know this: the ancient meat wizards originally conceived of sausage
as a way to serve up the less appetizing parts of an animal and make
butchering as efficient as possible. In recent years though, sausage
making has become a culinary art, and, being a patron of culinary arts
(the meaty variety in particular), I realized some research was in
The sausage my friend was picturing when he answered my
question was the basic pre-made stuff that you might find snuggled up
under cellophane in the meat department at your local supermarket, or
getting a wicked case of freezer burn in your grandmother's
side-by-side. But that's not the sausage I was thinking of when I asked
the question. I was thinking of the fresh, handmade varieties you can
pick up at a good butcher shop. Those tightly packed tubes of mystery
meat that taste like the meat of gods. How are they made, and why are
they so good? It turns out that the answer is simpler than you might
think. It's also probably grosser than you think, so caveat lector
(check my Latin chops out, bitches - means "reader beware" - a
variation on caveat emptor, which I learned from the Brady Bunch when I
was about 10).
At its most basic, sausage is ground meat and
spices wrapped in a casing. Sounds fairly innocuous, doesn't it? Not so
much, not always. For example, most people reading this will know, even
if they've shoved the knowledge way down in a dark and scary place in
which only evil dwells, that the casings are traditionally made from
intestines. More specifically, hog, sheep, and cattle intestines. And
that, when you really think about it, is pretty gross. But what if I
told you part of the cleaning process was called sliming? Or that the
terminal section of pig intestines is called the bung? Bummed out yet?
I am. Because I while I was researching this I learned more than I
wanted to (did I really need to know that "submucosa" was a part of my
diet?), and certainly more than I'll publish here (I believe we call it
"editing for content").
But if we pretend that blood sausage
doesn't exist and that pig bladders are always thrown away (which is my
story and I'm sticking to it), the rest of the process is far less
likely to cause people to turn to vegetarianism (a good thing, that: I
don't think the world needs any more Subaru Forresters sporting "Be
Kind To Animals, Don't Eat Them" bumper stickers driving around).
Because to make the kind of sausage most of us eat, meat is ground up
with a blend of spices and other ingredients then put in an extruder.
The end of a length of casing is slipped over the output of the
extruder, and the the sausage maker presses the meat into the casing,
twisting off each individual sausage as it reaches the desired length.
Imagine a Play-Doh Fun Factory stuffed with ground pork filling up an
endless condom, and you'll get the idea.
But all of that is
incidental to this simple fact: sausage can be as complex and delicious
as any gourmet meal you can think of, and it's all wrapped up in a
package that's portable and easy to cook: a little tubular suitcase of
meaty delight. As for ingredients, tradition calls for pig and cow
meats but Mr. Chicken and Mr. Turkey have arrived at the party, and
they've brought their friends Assorted Fruits and Tasty Cheeses (Fresh
Vegetables tried to sneak in the back door, but my bouncer caught them
and 86'd them - you might enjoy having them around though). This
morning I spoke with the sausage maker from the Gallery Gourmet Market
in Tequesta, who makes a variety which includes a traditional South
African sausage that he grinds upon request for a group of local
Which, when you think of it, really sums of the
beauty of all that is sausage, doesn't it? It doesn't matter how simple
or complex it is, and it doesn't really matter what the ingredients end
up being (well, except for blood, bladders, and other nasty shit that
I'd personally prefer to keep at arms length - though I'll admit to
being willing to at least try a good blood sausage, even if the idea is
almost as gag-inducing as the deep fried candy bars at the South
Florida Fair) what matters is the skill of the artist making the
Look, say what you will about Picasso, Rodin, Van
Gogh, blah, blah, blah, but in my book true artists aren't necessarily
the ones who understand the interplay of light and dark, or can shape
clay, or stone, or metal into something that lasts for millennia. True
artists need only find the right combination of meats, spices, and
other ingredients, grind them up, and jam them into some pig intestines.
folks choose to make their own, something I'd love to do someday, but
there are plenty of butchers in south Florida making fresh sausages
that can help get you started on the road to sausage nirvana. Here's a
list of three that I know of that make it fresh.
Gallery Gourmet Market
387 Tequesta Drive, Tequesta
Smitty's Old Fashioned Butcher Shop of Coral Ridge
1980 NE 45th St., Fort Lauderdale
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Charlie's Gourmet Meat Market
10800 N. Military Trail, Ste. 116, Abbey Road Plaza, Palm Beach Gardens
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and believes that any conflict can be resolved with the help of meat.