Getting the good sausage
It’s hard to buy good sausages these days thanks to Big MeatUpdated: Mar 24, 2018 23:23 IST
Ask me what my favourite convenience food is and I’ll tell you that it is the sausage. At any given time, my fridge is full of sausages. I have all kinds: spicy Italian sausages, meaty-but-sweet Chinese sausages, pimenton-packed chorizo from Portugal, little cocktail sausages which my wife wraps in rashers of bacon and then fries, Goan sausages full of vinegar and masala, and sliceable Thai sausages from Chiang Mai, waiting to be cut into chunks and eaten with garlic and peanuts.
Ask me what my least favourite convenience food is and I’ll tell you that it is...the sausage.
Yups. Because in most of India, the good name of the sausage has been dragged through the mud and then attached to the tail of a chicken. It is virtually impossible to buy good sausages in India.
I know because I have tried. The biggest problem is that an increasingly large number of sausages in the Indian market are made from chicken. This is worse than terrible; it is also bizarre. Rare is the nation that bothers to make its sausages with minced chicken. As we all know, chicken is not the most flavourful meat and it is particularly unsuited for sausages. And yet, manufacturer after manufacturer will finely mince poor quality, industrially-reared chicken and then shape the meat into a nasty little torpedo.
Oddly enough, the worst sausages in India are served at so-called deluxe hotels. Most hotel chefs prefer chicken sausages, positive proof, if any were needed, that they have no clue what a sausage should taste like.
Why do they do this? I am told that in the old days, chefs were taught to be careful of all pork because it went off easily and sometimes carried parasites. So chicken seemed safest, even if it was tasteless. The problem is that even now, when it is easy to source pork that is hygienically reared, chefs still stick to chicken sausages.
While researching this piece, I wandered around cold storages and grocers in Delhi, buying up whatever Indian sausages were available.
Every single sausage (including those recommended by five-star hotel chefs as “great pork brands”) was utterly revolting. All were tasteless and some had a nasty synthetic texture as though someone had filled a length of pipe with a rubber solution (or Fevicol or Quick Fix) and allowed it to solidify.
As I went from one tasteless rubber torpedo to another, I thought back to my childhood. The sausages of my memory were flavourful and juicy, made with pork fillings that had texture and taste. How, in this age of globalisation, was it possible that sausage quality had actually dropped all over India?
The answer seemed to be that in the pre-liberalisation era, Big Meat had still not arrived. It was a time when chickens were free range, and when small piggeries raised their own animals and either made the sausages themselves or gave their pork to butchers to make small batches of sausages by hand. There was no mechanisation and the meat processing industry had not taken off.
Now, in the age of Big Meat, manufacturers care more about increasing their profit margins than they do about taste and quality.
It is interesting that at some hotels, where the kitchen is run by quality-conscious chefs, the sausages are either imported or made on the premises. For years, I went to Celini at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai for the sausages because they were made in-house. At the Leela Gurgaon, Ramon Salto, the son of a butcher, would not use any chorizo-style sausages he did not make himself. Manu Chandra makes his own merguez and chorizo for his restaurants.
If you know a good artisanal sausage-maker, then you will be fortunate enough to be spared the plastic torpedos of Big Meat
And then there is the example of the Oberoi chain. Two decades ago, fed up of questions about the provenance of the charcuterie and weary of the crap sausages available in the market, the Oberois set up their own deli unit.
To this day, they import pork from Australia and Holland, their chefs chop it themselves and the Oberois then make the best artisanal sausages in India from high-quality pork. It’s meant not only for their own restaurants but also for retail sales at the delis in their hotels.
All of which begs the question: if the Oberois can make their own sausages and if many individual chefs have identified the problem, then why are the majority of the chefs in India’s hotel sector content to serve rubbish industrial sausages?
I cannot be certain what the answer is. But I’m pretty sure it does not reflect well on India’s five-star chefs.
So what do you do if you want to eat good sausages in India? Well, there is always the Oberoi option. Some food stores will sell imported sausages. And if you know a good artisanal sausage-maker then you will be fortunate enough to be spared the plastic torpedos of Big Meat.
Alternatively, you can look for the delicious Goan chorise (a descendant of the Portuguese chorizo) which is always made by artisans, and which more and more chefs seem to be sourcing. Thomas Zacharias gets it for The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro. Manu Chandra serves the real thing at many of his restaurants. (Though Manu may well be making his own.) So do many others.
If you can get your hands on good sausages, what should you do?
Well, speaking for myself, I nearly always look for something interesting to do with sausages. This is a lesson I may have learnt from my mother who, though she was hardly a passionate cook, had perfected an Indian-style curry made with chunks of pork sausage sourced from a local cold storage in Mumbai.
Of late, I have been experimenting with the use of sausages to flavour rice. Most Goans are familiar with the idea of a chorise pulao (though they may call it something else) in which the white rice is streaked red from the vinegar as it escapes the sausages in the pan and in which, the fat from the chorise coats each grain of rice even as the masalas flavour the pulao.
If you are fortunate enough to gain access to more unusual sausages, then the possibilities are endless. One of the advantages of going to Bangkok so often is that my wife and I are able to buy Thai sausages fairly regularly. There is one sausage in particular – easily available at branches of the Tops supermarket chain – called a Northern Thai Sausage that we always bring back. (This is a fresh sausage, unlike the salami-style Chiang Mai Sausage which I also like).
The wife does it best: Seema’s Sausage Curry
Oil: 4 tablespoons
Thai sausages: 4
Thai red chillis: 3
Green Onions: One small cup – chopped small
White onions: One small cup – chopped small
Garlic: One whole bulb, chopped small
Thai galangal: 3 tablespoons, chopped small
Lemongrass: Chopped into big chunks (easy to remove later)
Kaffir lime leaves: 6
Kaffir lime: Half
Coconut milk: One can
Green curry paste: One packet
Krapow paste: One packet
Fish sauce to taste
Basil leaves: A handful
Let the oil heat in a large pan. Make a vertical cut in the chillis and fry in oil. Add kaffir lime leaves and allow them to crisp up. Add ginger and garlic and sauté. Then add the green and white onions and cook until translucent. Chop the sausages into rounds. Add them to the pan and cook until they are browned. Then add the curry paste and krapow paste and stir. Once the paste has coated the sausages evenly, add the coconut milk. Let the curry boil for a couple of minutes and then reduce the heat so that the curry simmers.
Add fish sauce and lime to taste. Garnish with fresh basil leaves, roughly torn. Serve with sticky rice.
A note for vegetarians…
Vegetarians can substitute shiitake mushrooms and baby corn for the sausages and use the same recipe, using soya sauce instead of fish sauce. The recipe works with most artisanal sausages if you can’t get your hands on the Thai sausage.
From HT Brunch, March 25, 2018
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First Published: Mar 24, 2018 21:32 IST