When you get past family and friends, the part of American life I miss the most is the ability to make nearly any recipe from any international cuisine with all the required ingredients. At home, I can buy everything to master even the minor cuisines. And as a person who loves to cook – and to experiment – I miss that.
Over Christmas we went to New York City for the weekend. The first night I ordered a simple dish of orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage. “I could make this at home,” I commented to Pat. “It has like four ingredients.”
I found a recipe on line with exactly four ingredients. Unfortunately, two of those four ingredients were the hair of a unicorn and an egg from a spotted toad. OK, they were, in fact, Italian sausage and broccoli rabe – which in Budapest is pretty much the same thing.
A Hungarian friends knows of my frustration. “Julie,” she tells me, “This is ridiculous. You can find anything or you can substitute.” “She’s right,” I told myself. Off I went in pursuit of Italian sausage (how hard can that be?) and broccoli rabe.
Hungarians eat their weight in sausage. The first time I shopped in a Hungarian grocery store, I marveled at the lack of any type of meat beyond sausage. Not those puffy, artisan sausages in muted colors. These are the intense, deep red and very hard salamis which can double as a policeman’s nightstick (and, if needed, can be used to beat a burglar into submission until help arrives).
When I was young, my dad would buy me a Slim Jim at the beer store (back when that was legal). Sausage is that type of meat – firm, greasy and spicy hot with a wealth of secret, and most likely disgusting, ingredients.
This weekend, at my cooking class, I asked the chef, Andrew, about Italian sausage. “Oh, you won’t find that here. Hungarians hate that stuff. Who puts fennel in meat?” Even at a deli associated with one of the biggest Italian restaurants in town, Pomo D’oro, they do not carry Italian sausage.
Undeterred, I kicked my search into high gear, looking for Italian sausage the way King Arthur searched for the holy grail. Then it occurred to me. Italian sausage is nothing more than pork and spices. I made 100 pounds of sausage at a pig killing a few weeks ago. Pork is available by the bucket – so are spices.
So last weekend, I bought three pounds of ground pork and the associated spices – even fennel – mixed it all together and five minutes later, voila. Italian sausage. That night, I made orecchiette with sausage and threw in some lightly steamed broccoli. It was perfect.
Hey Pat, how do you like it?
Good or great?
Oh, yeah. It’s great.
Great as in the best thing you ever tasted, or just great?
Julie, what do you want me to say?…”
Saturday, I bought a tiny, plastic box of ten meters of pig’s intestines for about a dollar. Andrew, who took me on a main market hall tour as part of my cooking class, helped me find a sausage making funnel; stouter than a standard funnel with a thick nozzle.
That night, I defrosted the bulk sausage, soaked the intestines in water for 30 minutes, tied a knot in one end and then scrunched the entire length up onto the nozzle. As I pushed the meat through the funnel, a sausage popped out on the opposite end. “Pat, grab the camera!” He ran in and photographed me giving birth to two pounds of Italian sausage.
There is no stopping me now. Breakfast sausage, kielbasa, hot dogs. If it involves meat and a casing, I’m on it. Today, I cooked up a batch of homemade marina sauce with sausage and promised I would never buy sausage again.
My friend was partially correct. Some cooking dilemmas do have answers (I will assert injera bread has no answer). When you find, or make, that elusive ingredient, it’s like the best day of your life. “Hey Pat, can you please pass the sausage?”
Categories: Insiders Budapest