RFD Maine — The Wonderful World Of Sausage
In view of all the attention given to such things as the election and the recent hurricane, I thought it good to address something really important – sausage.
Okay, the other stuff is important too. But sausage rates way up there with the best of them. Sure, too much sausage can raise cholesterol figures and it’s supposed to clog the arteries as well as causing other grievous kinds of harm to our bodies. But on the other hand, it tastes sooo good.
Unlike people, all sausages are definitely not created equal. First, sausage comes in two basic forms; links and patties. Which form do I most favor? Well, it depends upon the maker. Let’s begin with links.
Some links serve best as breakfast sausage. Others work at any time of the day. Breakfast links are always fried, with some exceptions. Pre-cooked, frozen links can go in the microwave. But this always makes them too dry for my taste.
Also, locally-made sausage generally trumps those offered by big-name makers. But sometimes, local sausage doesn’t live up to expectations and in that case, the name brand variety wins. All the same, always go with local sausage first or at least Maine-made sausage. You see by now the complexities of dealing with sausage.
Last night, for supper, I had a large German sausage made by a southern barbecue place in Monson. I stop there every chance I get and not only have fresh barbecue, but also buy frozen products such as sausage to take home and enjoy.
Anyway, I’m of two minds regarding the Monson German sausage. One link will feed one person, they are that big. But proper cooking requires constant monitoring. Too much heat, or too long on the heat, and the sausage becomes too dry. But when everything comes out just right, these sausages excel. In the end, I would buy these again.
And then we have the name brands, the kind they sell in every supermarket and small grocery store. These come four or five to the package and for sure, it would take a concerted effort to make them come out dry. Their high fat content sees to that. Such sausages are okay in a pinch, but not as a mainstay. Even for me, these are much too greasy.
Then we have the commercially-produced “healthy” sausages. These are made of chicken or turkey and come in a mind-boggling array of flavors. They also fetch a mind-boggling price. Even so, they are of quite good quality and taste. But sausage lovers know that real sausage is made of pork, not chicken or turkey. So scratch these off the list.
Breakfast links also have their quirks. Some, such as those sold in larger supermarkets, are quite fatty and also very plump. They have a mild taste, but that mostly comes from the fat. Even for me, “Mr. Sausage,” these are only an occasional treat because they are so very greasy.
But then we have the tightly-packed, thin breakfast links. These have much less fat, but also have just the best taste. Perhaps sage content, an important constituent in any breakfast sausage, has something to do with it. These sausages become even more shriveled and hard when cooked. Also, they snap when you bite one, much like the Slim Jim sausages of 40 or so years ago.
One Maine company out of Lewiston makes the best breakfast sausage I ever ate. Unfortunately, these rarely show up on local shelves, a real pity. When they do show up, I buy several packages and freeze them for later use.
For me, the key to great patties is a fine, yet grainy, texture. Unfortunately, we rarely find such sausages on supermarket shelves.
Oh, some of the medium- and even thick-texture sausages have a good flavor. This morning, I dined on thick-grained sausage from a butcher shop in Sangerville. These had no chewy bits of gristle, something often present in thick-grained sausage. And the price was right, too. For less than three bucks, I got enough for several breakfasts, plus enough to freeze for use in spaghetti sauces this winter.
But to dine on the best of the best of fine-grained sausage, we need to go to a restaurant. Two of my favorite sausage joints, one in Belfast, the other in Stockton, keep me coming back again and again, yearning for those fine, flavorful sausage patties that I can’t find anyplace else.
However, having breakfast at a restaurant every day doesn’t work for me, and so I must seek reasonable alternatives. And surprisingly, frozen, pre-cooked sausage patties come to the front here. These have a fairly fine texture, not too much fat and a good, spicy taste, something I attribute to a high black pepper content.
For special occasions, I will thaw out a roll of Smithfield ham sausage. These are only available by mail order and cost way more than they ought to. But they have the best flavor of all.
This sausage comes six rolls of ground sausage to an order. The frozen sausages are packed on dry ice and placed in an insulated shipping container. As it turns out, the trip from Virginia to Waldo, Maine, takes just long enough so that the dry ice completely thaws and the sausage begins to thaw just a teeny bit. Perhaps people in northern Aroostook County would find their Smithfield ham sausage completely thawed.
I have a pal who lives in Bangor and who shares my passion for sausage. We usually exchange Christmas presents and, of course, the presents come in the form of sausages.
We haven’t seen each other for a year now and we plan on getting together soon. And for sure, sausage will comprise a large part of our conversation.
Everyone, or most everyone I know, has some small vice. Mine is sausage. It could be worse.