I’m one of those people who thinks that a good sausage is better than a good steak. If I’m at a restaurant and there is an interesting sounding sausage on offer, I’ll order it in preference to just about anything else. About a month ago I went with my wife and her parents to a Greek restaurant call Il Greco and had a great meal.
The name Il Greco means “The Greek” in Italian.
What! And why?
At first I thought it was a reference to El Greco the painter and we’d be eating Spanish food, but then I realised that “il” was Italian for “the”, and if it was a Greek restaurant it should’ve been named something like “O Hellene” (Ο Έλληνας). It turns out that restaurant is owned by a Greek guy with an Italian wife and he told us that she would’ve killed him if he hadn’t put something Italian in the name. To me, it’s further proof of how much more there is in everything that is written; if we take the time to think about it. Luckily for me, my wife and her parents are the kind of people who are engaged by trying to make sense of the world around them and the sign provided us with some entertainment as we tried to figure out the story behind the choice of words and language.
Here in Australia there once lived a famous old bush walker called Paddy Pallin and he once wrote something along the lines of, “that if you know the name of a few trees, the bush is no longer just bush”. I’ve always taken that to mean, that the more one knows about the world, the more one gets out of it.
Enough of that thinking stuff and back to the more important matter of sausages!
As part of my meal at Il Greco I had an entree of some fabulous Greek sausages called, “loukaniko”. The loukaniko we had were Cyprian and were made with beef, pork, leeks and chilli. They were so delicious that I asked the owner of the restaurant if he made them himself . His answer was that he buys them from a Greek butcher and he even told me where to get them. Usually when one asks about where a business gets their supplies, one is usually told politely to, “go forth and multiply with oneself”.
Last Friday night, I invited a bunch of friends over for a bit of a “sausage fest”.
Most Australians of Anglo-Saxon decent will willingly to admit that the traditional Aussie “snag” (sausage) is crime against nature. The Aussie snag is based on the English sausage that isn’t that much better.
I once heard a story (probably apocryphal) that the continental Europeans in their in the drive to standardize the terminology used for food in the E.U. Common Market, didn’t think that the English sausage had enough meat in it to be legally called a sausage, and allegedly the French had suggested that the English should be forced to call their sausages “offal-tubes”. Apparently a compromise was reached and the English were allowed to call their “offal tubes”, “English sausages”.
So in preparation for the Friday night sausage fest, I spent four and a half hours driving around Sydney (it’s a big city of nearly 4 million people) buying different sausages. Sydney sees itself as a city that has a good food culture and there are some providores that really rape the consumer looking for “gourmet” foods. Unfortunately many peasant foods that have been noticed by the foodies (food-wankers), such as sausages, have been promoted up into the category of gourmet food.
It was an interesting experience going to the different kinds of sausage suppliers.
The first place I went to was a German delicatessen I found out about on the web, that some German guy raved on about. It was a very clean and upmarket establishment and the guy who made the sausages was out the back and a there was an amazingly “hochnäsiges Weibchen”, serving at a counter where the sausages were beautifully arranged like each one was almost like an event in it’s own right.
Our interaction went something like this:
Me: Hi! what’s in the Thuringer style seasoning?
Her: Can’t tell you, it’s a secret.
Me: O.K. So what does it taste like?
Her: How do you expect me to answer a question like that? How can anyone describe a taste?
Me: By telling me what the main spices or flavourings are in the sausage.
Nearly every question I asked was met with the same irritation and hostility and to add insult to injury the sausages were quite expensive at just under $20 a kilo (7.35 Euros a kg or US$7.20 a lb). The woman at the counter, seemed to me at least, to think that the public were so far beneath her and the product she sold was far too good for hoi poli such as myself. I bought half a kilo (just over a pound) each of Thuringer Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Bratwurst. I also bought a small slice of Leberkäse (a Bavarian meatloaf). I would’ve bought more but I didn’t feel like giving my money to a person with their head so far up their own arse.
I ate the Leberkäse in the car for lunch and it was lousy.
Not a good omen.
The next butchers I went to were the Rodriguez Brothers (485 Hume Highway, Yagoona, NSW) who are Spanish butchers and they are famous for their chorizos. I only bought 1kg (2.2lbs) of chorizos because everyone knows what they are like (pork with garlic and pimenton) and 2kg of parrillero (South American style pork and beef) at $9kg (US $3.25lb or 5.10 Euros a kilo) I knew I’d be writing about the sausages for this blog so I asked to take a photo of the Latin guy serving me. He was shy so I only took one shot of him because I knew it was making him uncomfortable,
but funnily enough, there was an Aussie butcher out the back who called out to me in a humorous voice:
“I better hide, you don’t want to get an Aussie butcher in your shot!”
Me: “That’s right, because every one knows what you guys put in your sausages, and I don’t want to bring down the reputation of this place”
He laughed, and shouted out, “yeah, noses and arseholes!”
I laughed and then I told him about my grandfather who was a butcher and how when he was an apprentice in England, the butcher who was training him was prosecuted for selling sausages with hardly any meat in them. The butcher then said to me, “you won’t surprise an old time butcher like me, with stories of what went into sausages back in the bad old days”. He then went on to tell me about a butcher he knew years ago, who won the “best sausage in show” at the Royal Easter Show (a huge annual agriculture fair here in Sydney) with a chicken sausage that didn’t have any meat in it at all, and was flavoured with chicken and veal stock. As we talked, the conversation was full of laughter and it served as a reminder to me of how confident, relaxed and open a lot of Aussies are. Most Australians are fairly friendly and laid back in a very natural sort of way. Such a contrast to the first place I went to.
The final butchers I went to was the “Illawarra Road Meat Market” in Marrickville. This butcher, is the Greek butcher, that the guy at Il Greco put me onto for the loukaniko and they offer two kinds, dry and fresh.
The dry loukaniko comes in lengths about a metre long (about 3′) and is flavoured with leeks and chilli whilst the fresh loukaniko is the size of a normal sausage and is without the leeks and chilli. I bought 2kg of dried and 1kg of fresh at $12kg (US$4.30lb or 6.80Euros a kilo).
So for the diner I cooked the sausages in a Webber kettle barbeque, over charcoal and served them with a French tomato salad (tomatoes, Spanish onion, capers, mustard, olive oil and wine vinegar) and mashed potatoes.
Everyone liked the expensive German sausages the least, which was surprising and a pity because the Germans usually make such good sausages. I guess it was just a reflection of that particular butcher rather, than German sausages in general.
The Rodriguez Brothers chorizos were so tempting that I made huevos rancheros with chorizo for breakfast on Friday morning for my wife and I. I make an excellent huevos rancheros (even if I do say so myself) and the chorizos were so divine that I didn’t cook them up for the sausage fest but kept them for later on in the weekend. Everyone at the dinner enjoyed the parrilleros.
The sausage that was judged the best were the dried loukaniko. The fresh loukaniko were good, but the dried ones were spectacular.
So the lesson learnt here, in my statistically insignificant sample group, is that the expensive place that had removed itself so far away from the peasant origins of it’s product, made the least enjoyable product. The butchers who remained true to their origins made the best product at a very reasonable price.