Sausages are considered the earliest convenience foods of civilization. A clever butcher had the ingenious idea of gathering all the small bits and pieces of meats unsuitable for eating or cooking to salt, spice and enrich the mixture with a binding agent. Then he stuffed the mass into a clean intestine for immediate cooking, smoking or drying. Smoking was, and still is one of the most popular methods of preservation. It imparts a special taste.
The word “sausage” is derived from the Latin salsicia (something salted). Today, sausages are produced in many countries throughout the world. The following nations continue to produce sausages reaching the epitome of taste and texture: Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Armenia.
Sausages can be produced using beef, veal, pork, chicken, turkey, or lamb. They can be soft or hard. Pudding sausages must be cooked prior to consumption. The oldest of all pudding sausages is called “haggis” which, since the eighteenth century, has been quite wrongly regarded as a specialty originating in Scotland. The word goes back only to fifteenth-century English, and may have a French origin. The idea may be traced to the earliest days of cooking food. This excellent pudding is made by stuffing a sheep’s stomach with chopped sheep’s offal (variety meats), oatmeal and seasonings. Now it is also made using calf’s stomach and offal. Indeed, the sausage may have started out as an economical convenience food; thanks to the ingenuity of European cooks. Over time, it has become a delicacy enhancing many meals and feasts. Today haggis is famous in Scotland only and celebrated annually, particularly after the Scottish poet R Burns wrote an ode to it.
Good quality sausages prepared by caring craftsmen and presented in an appealing fashion can increase restaurant sales. An enticing sausage selection can lead to positive word of mouth advertising.
Sausages by definition are prepared from the flesh of meat animals, ad from their fat, blood, offals including brains, heart, liver, lung, jowls, kidneys, stomach, tongue by addition of preservatives such as salt, herbs, spices, beer, wine, milk, dairy products, and eggs; ingredients are finely chopped or worked to a puree and put in natural or synthetic material casings.
The incorporation of breadcrumbs, soybean meal and other stretchers are permitted, although all dilute the taste and change the texture of the sausage. It is best to buy sausages from reputable manufactures of butchers even if the cost may appear to be somewhat high.
There are hundreds of sausages, which may different names and forms in various cities, pending on the history, and/or the perceptions of the citizens.
There are various classifications.
Germans, great sausage makers and consumers, recognize four main categories:
Raw sausages – may be hard or soft. Cervelat -, salami, schinken-, knack-, mett-sausages are raw, and served as they are.
Cooked sausages – are subjected to heat and may be consumed as sold. They are; mortadella, jagdwurst, bierwurst, Wieners and Frankfurters just to name a few. (Some people like to eat Frankfurters and Wieners hot). Cooked sausages may or may not contain offal or organ meats. Liverwurst for example contains liver, whereas blood-sausage contains pork blood, fat, binding agents, water and spices.
Frying sausages resemble in their composition to raw sausages, but contain less water. Sausages that burst while frying contain too much water. Some sausages have short shelf lives and must be consumed soon after production (white sausages are one example).
Miscellaneous sausages are those that do not fall into any of the above mentioned categories. For example, brain sausage, lung sausage. North American butchers classify sausages differently: by primary ingredient – most sausages consist primarily of pork. Some contain beef, and/or veal. Imitation sausages contain textured vegetable protein flavoured by herbs, spices and enriched texture enhancing substances.
Classification by flavouring – smoked sausage and turkey roll fall into this category. These products tend to be blends and of a mush texture.
Classification by shape – “link” sausage is the most common sausage shape, and comes in parts or in “chains”. The thin, hard and popular link sausage, landjager, is often called a sausage stick.
Classification by smoking type – this process imparts flavour and prolongs shelf life. Long smoking yields dark, smoky, and dry sausages. Different woods such as (hickory, maple, apple or other suitable smoking woods) impart a variety of flavours.
By degree of dryness – air-dried sausages fall into this category. They are hard but can be stored in a dry cool place for long periods;
By precooking – sausages can be uncooked, partially cooked, or fully cooked. A fully cooked sausage can be consumed as purchased; others require the application of heat. Salami may be eaten raw; bratwurst on the other hand must be sautéed.
By origin – Wieners, Frankfurters, Genoa and Bologna, Debreciner, Krakauer are but a few sausages named after the city of their origin. Small ethnic butchers in North America are famous for their tasty sausages. Restaurants featuring quality sausages are likely to enjoy higher traffic than their competition.
There are also sausages that fall into any of the above categories.
Andouille, from France, is quite fatty, but delicious. It is served sliced or sliced and fried.
Bauernwurst, a German specialty, means literally farmer’s sausage, is coarse-textured and heavily smoked. This delicious sausage is generally consumed raw.
Blood sausage (blutwurst in German, boudin blanc- or – noir in French and blood pudding in English) is produced and consumed widely in Switzerland, France, England, Germany, and Austria.
The Irish are fond of drisheens and Spanish of morciuas. All are produced using pork blood to which several binding agents and spices have been added. When pieces of tongues are added to blood sausage it is called Zungenwurst. Blood sausages are served raw or lightly fried.
Bockbeer sausages are usually produced in the spring and contain ground pork, veal, eggs, milk, chopped parsley and chives. It must served cooked.
Bologna, originated in the city of that name in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It contains very finely ground pork and beef. Occasionally it may be lightly smoked. In North America some manufacturers add to the mixture, finely ground turkey skins, rendering this otherwise delicious sausage bland and grey.
Kosher Bologna contains beef, garlic, and other seasonings.
Bologna is consumed raw
Cervelat wurst, of German origin, is made of pork, of beef, or both and blended with herbs and spices. Cervelat can be consumed raw or served lightly sautéed.
Sweden, cervelat wurst butchers infuse into the mixture cardamom for extra flavour and for an intriuging oriental taste dimension.
Gothaer, (a city in Germany) sausage consists of pork, Kassler (Germany) is loop shaped and Thuringer (Germany) is heavily smoked.
Chorizo (Spain and Portugal, but also other Latin countries) produced from air-dried pork, spices, and other ingredients is highly spiced and generally used in cooking.
Frankfurter sausage originated in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The North American version hardly bears any resemblance to the original. Originally, Frankfurters contained more veal than beef; today authorities allow a mixture of 60 % beef and 40 % pork. Obviously, the taste is more beef than delicate. All Frankfurters may contain up to 30 % fat, and 10 % water. They are cooked before sale, but still in practically all instances Frankfurters are flash heated before service.
Head cheese is made from pork head meat, generally jowls, and tongues. The mixture is poured into a square form and cooked in a gelatine containing liquid. It must be consumed at room temperature, to best appreciate its subtle flavour. Pubs and beer gardens feature head cheese in an attempt to draw aficionados .
Kielbassa, (beef, garlic and spices) is also called Polish sausage. Ukrainians have their own version of Kielbassa, which is cooked and smoked, but should be heated or fried before service.
Knackwurst is a delicious German sausage that “knacks” when bitten into.
Landjager (hunter’s sausage) is small, hard, rectangular, and smoked with a long shelf life. It must be eaten thinly sliced with the appropriate bread.
Leberkaese (liver cheese) is really a pate and must be served hot. General contractors buy it from street vendors during breaks. In Germany construction workers are alowed to enjoy a bottle or two of beer during their breaks.
Mettwurst (a k a teewurst) contains a high amount of fat, some beef and pork. This lightly smoked sausage is soft and easy to spread.
Mortadella originated in Bologna, and consists of cubed pork fat, minced pork, beef, whole black peppercorns and spices. It is extruded into casings, smoked and dried. Properly made mortadella served thinly slices on crusty Italian bread is gustatory experience no gourmet should miss.
Salami’s roots are in Italy, but today many countries produce their version. The original recipe consists of pork, beef, seasonings, wine and garlic. (German butchers omit the garlic). This sausage is dried before sale, and should be served very thinly sliced.
Salami cotto (cooked salami) is sometimes featured in Italian butcher shops. Genoa, Milan, Sicily, Hungary, Germany, Lyon and Arles (France) produce their own versions of salamis.
Kosher salami must contain only kosher ingredients.
Zampino (or Zampone) is another sausage of Italian origin. The casing of this visually striking, cured and air-dried pork sausage is the boned pig’s foot, skin and all. It requires a long, gentle simmering before consumption. Zampino is always served at room temperature.
Sausages must be purchased from reputable manufacturers and/or butcher shops. If slimy, wet, or mouldy on the surface the product must be rejected. A rosy-red hue often indicates and abundance of chemicals (nitrates) and preservatives.
Sausages do not freeze well because of their high fat and salt content.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu