It's fall and the air is filled with footballs which means I am thinking about appropriate food for watching the Ravens play. This time of year I always end up talking to Shane Hughes of Liberty Delight Farm to see if he's got any bratwurst to sell. I'm glad to say he always does. But why stop at bratwurst? As Chef Jerry Pellegrino would say, let's talk sausage.
Of course bratwurst is just one of dozens of German sausages from the Wurst Meisters of Deutchland. What's true in Germany is true in every other sausage producing country: you got your cooked and cured sausage and you got your un-cooked fresh sausage.
Bratwurst is the big boy of fresh German sausage, at least as far as football fans are concerned. This is a fresh pork and veal sausage, generously spiced, often sold in links. It can be grilled or boiled, and if it's the latter, try boiling in beer. It does make for a better flavor. Grainy brown German mustards are perfect with it.
Knackwurst is a plump sausage with a smooth, garlicky stuffing not unlike our kosher hotdog. This is the classic Oktoberfest sausage, served in a stew with potatoes, apples and lots of caraway seeds.
Visually speaking, the weisswurst is not very appealing. A pale, bland, insipid little blimp of a sausage, it actually tastes pretty darned good. Smooth textured, made from veal and fat back pork, it is gently seasoned with parsley, onions and lemon. Their tender casing necessitates boiling, which only enhances their flavor. By the way, this is a perfect sausage for sauerkraut dishes.
Germans do not have a monopoly on sausages, far from it. Just to the east lies Poland and the celebrated kielbasa. As it exists today, kielbasa is a large smoked sausage that is best served hot off the grill. The key to its flavor: garlic and the spice marjoram. We are told that in 21st century Poland so many varieties of kielbasa exist (well over 100) that the word kielbasa is meaningless by itself.
Italy is also a world leader in sausage, particularly the dried, cured varieties.
You know the words "salami and bologna and pepperoni and mortadella" so, I rest my case. Actually Italians developed their aged dry curing as a means of preserving meat. Village to village, region to region, the recipes and styles change, but what you often end up with is a spicy, firm, fatty sausage packed inside a tight casing that is most often served in thin slices.
The Hispanic cucina has given us the very useful and flavorful chorizo. The variations are sweet or hot and spicy, smoked or unsmoked. What all chorizo has in common is chopped pork and pork fat and a lot of smoked paprika, which is responsible for the dark reddish color. Originating in Spain, chorizo is made virtually everywhere in Latin America as well.