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The Meatist Cases Out Sausage

sausagecoil.jpg
Photo by flickr user jgiacomoni.


Recently, I tried a small exercise in perception. Specifically, sausage perception. As in, what people think of when they think "sausage". So I called up a friend.

themeatist.jpg
"What's in sausage, do you think?" I asked him.
"Sausage? I don't know - the crap they can't sell whole? Lips, hooves, ears - stuff like that?"
"No, that's not really so true any more." I tell him.
"Oh, like head cheese isn't actually made from heads?"
"No, that actually is true. They basically boil a pig skull, let the meat fall off, chop it up, then form and cool."
"Gross."
"Yeah, kinda."
There was a pause.

"So you tell me, genius: what's in a sausage?"

Good question. And, having called my friend on impulse, I didn't actually have a good answer handy. I tried buying some time.

"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.

My 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 order.

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).

chixapplesausage.jpg
Photo by flickr user chinadoll.
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.

grindingpork.jpg
Photo by flickr user jgiacomoni.
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 families.

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 sausage.

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.


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Some 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
561-746-3966

Smitty's Old Fashioned Butcher Shop of Coral Ridge
1980 NE 45th St., Fort Lauderdale
954-771-9341

Charlie's Gourmet Meat Market
10800 N. Military Trail, Ste. 116, Abbey Road Plaza, Palm Beach Gardens
561-622-9988


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.
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