A recent lunch at Bavette in Milwaukee, WI created a growing sense of wonder. On her site, Karen Bell talks about “honoring time old culinary traditions as well as providing a direct link from farmer to consumer” which are deeply held values of Great Lakes Cuisine, but the particular bit of wonder on this particular visit was the sausage-making. First, perhaps we should set the scene – As you dine at Bavette, you can sit at tables in a classic bistro-style setting, but you can also sit at a bar, much like a traditional diner. Yet unlike any other diner, here you are not watching the kitchen at work, but rather a world-class butcher shop in full swing. So as my good friend Jay and I enjoyed a very nice sampler of dried sausages, a gentleman was actively preparing another batch of fresh sausage. Our sampler included (clockwise from the top) Gin and Juice, a lamb sausage with juniper from Smoked Goose in Indianapolis, Saucisson Sec, a traditional pork sausage from Underground Meats in Madison, and Pamplona Runner, a dried chorizo-style sausage from Bolzano Meats in Milwaukee.
The accompaniments were chili-pepper flecked jam, pickled pears, and house crackers. I enjoyed a Central Waters Brewing Co. Mud Puppy Porter with it and was in heaven. And that was before my sandwich. The menu at Bavette is great, filled with so many innovative appetizers, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. For me, the real treat was the diversity of cuts available. Here is where the joy of eating lunch in a butcher shop really comes through. All those cuts that we don’t normally eat on their own need to be highlighted, experimented with, and featured, and this is the ideal environment to do just that. Jay enjoyed a shredded beef cheek sandwich with braised kale and fresh red grapes, but I couldn’t pass on a beef tongue pastrami sandwich with braised red cabbage and a butternut mostarda.
The tongue was rich and brilliantly offset by the tang of the braised red cabbage and the creamy, mustard punch of the poached butternut spread. At this point I had moved on to a scotch-style ale, Dirty Bastard from Founder’s Brewing Co. which was a lovely, malty complement. Particularly nice with an ultra thin slice of bresola, which we got as a little complimentary taste from the chef.
And the whole time I’m enjoying this Great Lakes feast, I’m watching this guy make sausage from scratch. I understand that some people may not find this fascinating. Some may agree with John Godfrey Saxe when he said “Laws… like, sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made”. I beg to differ. My sense of wonder grows as I consider the process and the possibilities of sausage making (law making is another matter). Thankfully, I got an opportunity to explore that sense of wonder over a recent week-end.
Tom and I were using “In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods” by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller as our jumping off point to explore sausage making first hand. Tom has already produced some pretty spectacular pancetta and other treats from their work, but this was a first run at sausage making for me. Tom had selected a Saucisson Sec and fresh Hungarian sausage for us to prepare. The pork for the Hungarian sausage was pre-seasoned by Tom with paprika, peppercorn, oregano, mace and garlic and allowed to chill over night. Our last minute addition of finely diced bourbon-soaked orange rind was about flavor inspiration, and clearly moved us away from traditional preparation. The actual process of grinding and stuffing was fairly simple as a two-person job and the details of that process can be better learned from the above referenced text. One pound of Hungarian sausage was enjoyed that evening with a curried yogurt dipping sauce and another pound came home with me and was featured in our recent Spring Beer Tasting as part of modern take on the traditional Hungarian potato casserole – rakott krumpli.
The Saucisson Sec is fairly simple preparation with pepper, garlic, and bit of white wine. One critical issue is to use high-quality pork which will be the dominant flavor of the resulting product. The other critical issue is to find the right place to allow the sausage to dry in a relatively temperature and humidity controlled environment. I recommend a wine cellar if you have one, like Tom does!
Isn’t that just a beautiful thing? Each of these simple preparations yields insight into the process, and inspiration into the possibilities. Hank Shaw has a phrase in his excellent cookbook “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” when talking about meat yielding to “the caress of salt and time” in the sausage making process. Ah, the caress of salt and time.
Simply pork, salt, and some spices transformed in the sausage making process to rich, wonderful morsel to be shared with friends over craft brewed beers and good conversation. This is a formative element of Great Lakes Cuisine, taking an old-world preservation tradition and using it as a process to explore more flavor combinations. This is the spirit of Bavette, and the spirit of the Great Lakes.