Cookbook Review: Sausage

By Chef and Food Writer Victoria Wise

Cookbook Review: Sausage

By Chef and Food Writer Victoria Wise

When I told my husband that I was going to try and make my own sausage, he asked, "Why go through all that trouble when New York has so many great sausage makers?" An excellent question.

But after spending an afternoon with Victoria Wise's new book, Sausage: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Homemade Sausage ($23.00, paperback with color photographs, Ten Speed Press), I had several answers for him:


Author Victoria Wise is a former chef, a former purveyor of sausage and salamis, and a food writer. Her biography touts how she helped cook the first meal made in Chez Panisse's kitchen, that she opened and operated the innovative Berkeley, California's Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie, and it lists her many cooking and gardening books, includes a James Beard Cookbook of the Year nomination. But she's also a home cook who wants to cook fresh and flavorful foods for her family.

She defines sausage by its technique and not by its ingredients, including recipes not only for pork, beef, lamb, poultry and seafood sausage but also ones that are strictly vegetarian. The 164-page book has appealing color photos by Leo Gong that help make the case for sausage's versatility.

If you think that sausage making is in the same daunting category of butchering your own meat, this is clearly not the case. Ms. Wise's recipes need no special equipment. No special grinders or stuffing equipment or attachments for a KitchenAid mixer. For that matter, the sausage recipes need no stuffing into casing -- instead the sausage "meat" is formed into balls or patties or stuffed into wonton wrappers or becomes the main ingredient in a Shepherd's Pie.

The Appeal of Sausage Making for the Home Cook

Sausage is easy to make. It's economical because a small amount of meat or seafood can be stretched with other ingredients. And as Ms. Wise's recipes show, sausages flavor an international table -- Indian, Italian, Armenian, Jewish (turns out that gefilte fish is as much like sausage as it is a French quenelle), American, Spanish, Irish, Turkish, South African, Mexican and more. In a two-step approach, Ms. Wise first makes the sausage and then provides a recipe or two for using it in an interesting dish.

For example, there's a recipe for chorizo, the chile-flavored Spanish pork sausage. And then there's Paella with Chorizo, Shrimp and Baby Artichokes; Spanish Egg Cake with Chorizo and Potato; and Black Bean Chili with Chorizo and Chipotle Cream.

She does the same thing for American Breakfast Sausage, Sweet Italian Sausage, Creole Sausage, Merquez, Braised Duck Skin Sausages, Japanese-Style White Fish Balls, and others that are partnered with recipes like Hungarian Meatballs in Paprika Sour Cream with Hungarian Green Bean Salad, Bell Pepper and Tomato Dolmas with Lamb and Rice Sausage on a Bed of Potatoes, Shepherd's Pie with Northern Isles Lamb Sausage and Potato-Horseradish Crust, A New Orleans Plate with Crab Cakes, Creole Sausage, and Cajun Remoulade, Japanese-Style White Fish Balls in Shiitake-Ginger Broth, and Rustic Cornmeal Pancakes Dappled with American Breakfast Sausage and Slicked with Maple Syrup.

Her vegetarian sausages include ones made with quinoa, tofu, brown rice and bulgur along with this comment:

    "Well, the word sausage comes from the Latin salsus, which means "salted." Sausage also means small bits, often wrapped somehow. So, why not small bits of vegetables and grains seasoned and wrapped or formed into patties?"

Why not indeed?

If you want to be more expert by taking the process a step further by grinding your own meats and stuffing them into casings, there is a detailed appendix that will teach you how.

For the most part, all of the recipes are made with ingredients that are easy to find. If you want to experiment with the more advanced aspects, you will need access to a good butcher because you'll have to buy ingredients that aren't available at most supermarkets. Like caul fat and hog casings. Or you can shop from the virtual butcher, the Internet, where it seems anything -- even caul fat -- is only a click away.

We've been given permission to publish two of the recipes from the Pork Sausage chapter of Ms. Wise's book, Spicy Garlic Sausage, and then to make great use of it, Spicy Garlic Sausage Vindaloo with Dried Plum Chutney.  See our links to both recipes.

As for the famous snipe about how "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made," at least Ms. Wise has made one of them a pleasure to watch.

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