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This week’s ingredient was certainly not the most unusual to ever appear in Kitchen Stadium, but that doesn’t mean that the task of impressing the judges was any easier for the Iron Chef and the challenger. In fact, such a well-known ingredient can often be tougher than a more exotic one as the chefs will have to be even more creative to avoid producing dishes that everyone has seen before.
Despite its familiarity, it’s well worth having a look at the history of the humble sausage to see where it originated and how it is used in the cuisines of the world.
What is sausage?
By definition, a sausage is made of ground meat, most often pork and beef, that has been mixed with salt, fat, herbs and spices. It is either sold in bulk or encased in tubes made of natural or synthetic materials. This sausage is then either cooked from fresh or cured to preserve the meat to be eaten later.
The exact origins of sausage-making are hard to pinpoint, but probably date back to the origins of butchery and the development of the spice trade. Sausages were one way of making sure that every part of the animal, including the blood, was used and preserved after slaughter.
Some of the earliest mentions of sausages appear in Ancient Greek literature such as Homer’s Odyssey and the word “sausage” itself is derived from Greek words “salsa isicia,” which means salted forcemeat. It was the Romans, however, who really spread the good news about sausages, particularly those that were smoked or cured, and many of the world’s best examples can find their origins in the settlement of Roman soldiers or citizens.
Where does sausage come from?
On my eating adventures around the world, which have now taken me to nearly 70 countries, I have encountered very few very cuisines that do not offer up at least one type of sausage. Even in countries where the consumption of pork or beef is forbidden, other meats will be used, such as lamb in the deliciously spicy merguez found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Where pork and beef are a major part of the diet, the varieties of sausages to be found are almost endless, from the smoked pork sausages of Eastern Europe to the Longaniza of the Philippines to the strongly flavored Boerwors or “farmer’s sausage,” of South Africa.
Because of its history of receiving immigrants from all parts of the world, the U.S. cook is blessed with having just about every sausage imaginable to choose from. German immigrants to the Midwest brought with them the bratwursts that bring a tear to Iron Chef Michael Symon’s eye, while no visit to Louisiana could ever be complete without eating at least one French-inspired andouille sausage.
How do you cook with sausage?
The way that different types of sausages have been prepared will determine how they can best be used.
Fresh sausage can be cooked in its casing or crumbled up to use in sauces for pasta and as the topping for pizza. I particularly like mixing fresh, spicy Mexican chorizo with my breakfast eggs and using a peppery Italian pork sausage for making down-home Southern gravy to serve with light, buttery biscuits.
Cured sausages like Italian salami or smoked sausages like a German Knackwurst are perfect to plump out soups and stews as well as making fantastic bases for sauces, where their strong flavors really contribute to the depth of the final dish. I love frying firm cured chorizo as the beginning for a traditional Spanish paella, but am just as happy eating slices of cured meats on their own or with strong cheese and a glass of wine.
If you can get your courage up to sample blood sausage, I really recommend doing what the Irish do and serving it fried in the rendered fat of slices of smoked bacon and eating it for breakfast with eggs and slabs of hot soda bread.
Where can I buy sausage?
Of course, you can find sausages of some description in any supermarket in any part of the country. However, I really urge everyone to get out and be just a little bit adventurous. Wherever you live, you are bound to have large communities of ex-pats from countries all over the world. Visit your local butchers and supermarkets and see what kind of sausages are available to you. If you are unsure how to use something, just ask one of the staff how they would prepare them. And, if you really want to take your cooking to the next level, why not try making your own sausages?