From boudin noir to bangers to bratwurst to sweet Cantonese liver links, sausages are an important part of all major cuisines. Pauline D. Loh shares some recipes you can easily cook up at home.
No waste. That has always been the starting point for all village cuisine. In France, Spain, Greece, Germany or China, all parts of the slaughtered pig are turned into food, from snout to tail and everything in-between.
That's how we get delicacies like brawn, pork hocks with crackling, head cheese, and sausages.
Sausages are the perfect preserved meats. Using the animal's intestines, minced meat and fat are generously seasoned and stuffed. More often than not, the meat comes from off-cuts, or tougher pieces that are finely minced to make them more digestible. Even the blood from the pig is carefully reserved and minced with jewels of fat to make the lovely black pudding.
Some sausages may be eaten fresh, while some are draped over rafters and beams and slowly dried out in the winter winds and enjoyed throughout the long cold season.
And it's all the same all over the world. The meat used may be different, the seasoning may vary but the basic principles are the same.
Pork, rich meat that is naturally marbled, is a world favorite and the major cuisines from France, Greece, Germany and China all have their favorite pork sausages.
In China, the sausages may be spicy, savory or sweet and the pickling may use wine, sugar, salt or Sichuan peppercorns - all depending on where the sausages are made.
In Sichuan and Yunnan, chili and Sichuan pepper are the main seasonings and the sausage links often advertise their heat with their color.
But red does not mean chili all the time. The bright red sweet sausages from Guangzhou are also a dark red, but it is a red that comes from meat marinated in sweet wine. These are the truly sweet sausages, with sugar used as a preservative. There are also the liver sausages, similarly marinated in wine before they are stuffed into the casings.
Cantonese sausages were always a part of the Lunar New Year meals.
The Spring Festival season lasts 15 days from new moon to full moon, and most housewives in the south of China usually buy a cache of preserved meats like the waxed ducks, meat and liver sausages to steam on top of rice and served when guests come to visit.
Sausages are not exclusively festival food as anyone who is a frequent visitor to Hong Kong or Guangzhou will tell you. The famous clay pot rice of the south is often flavored with the Cantonese sausages, and the delicacy is offered all year round.
Recently, I found out that in central China, they make their own sausages as well. One of my reporters comes from Jingzhou in Hubei province and her mother sent a care package to Beijing that had a beautifully salted carp and a bundle of preserved sausages inside. I got to taste both, and they were so good I asked for the recipe. (See sidebar)
Western sausages are often eaten fresh and they tend to be redolent of seasoning such as rosemary, thyme, garlic and onions. When I was working as a correspondent in Germany, my favorite sausages were bratwurst and liverwurst. Don't wrinkle your nose. The liverwurst was the best sausage I had eaten and the memory still activates the drool glands.
But the best fresh sausages I had eaten were made in Australia. To be precise, they came from a little butcher in Margaret River in Western Australia. Pork and thyme, kangaroo and rosemary they were all bursting with flavor. The smell of them cooking on the barbecue remains one of my best memories of that region.
Sausages are also fast food. If you were caught without a decent dish for lunch, you could pop a link or two of the Chinese sausages on top of rice and you had a fragrant pot of rice and enough meat to go with it.
If you make your own fresh sausages, you can fry up some with an egg, toast some bread and that's a balanced meal ready in 15 minutes. What could be better?
If you have questions on the recipes, feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.