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Sausages are Red-Hot – US Food Trends

12 June 2009
Sausages are Red-Hot – US Food Trends

Diners dig well-appointed dogs and links, and these days they don't have to hit up sausage stands to find them.

This article first appeared in the 1 June 2009 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

No food better represents the intersection of nostalgia, comfort and economy than hot dogs. Classic dogs and other savory sausages are cropping up on all kinds of menus from upscale boîtes and gastropubs to campus dining halls and drive-thrus, but the latest versions go way beyond the simple street snacks of the past.

"Before, it was acceptable for hot dogs to [just] come out of a warmer wrapped in foil," says Eric Borgia, executive chef for Delaware North Cos. at San Diego's Petco Park. "Now people like to see different flavor profiles; they want the toppings put on in front of them."

Borgia now serves fans at the ballpark fancier franks such as the bacon-wrapped, jalapeño-spiked Sonoran Dog, loaded with pinto beans, tomatoes and jalapeño sauce, and the jumbo all-beef Diego Dog, topped with shredded cabbage, diced tomato, salsa and grain mustard.

On the other side of the fence, gourmet sausages have become a hit with high-end chefs; among them Daniel Boulud, who will dole out a dozen globally inspired house-made sausages at the new DBGB Kitchen & Bar in New York City, which at press time was slated to open in May. And fun bites such as mini corn dogs are just as likely to show up on menus at upscale restaurants as at casual-dining chains.

It's a trend that makes sense these days. "Sausage is economical, for sure," says Chef-owner Paul Virant at white-tablecloth restaurant Vie in Western Springs, Ill., which regularly features recipes such as house-made cotechino, an Italian pork sausage. "Sausage, if it's done really well, has a lot of flavor. It's versatile, and unless you're a vegetarian, most folks enjoy it."

Here are some of the inspiring ways menus are going to the dogs, with tips and techniques from Virant, Borgia and others for executing similar recipes.

The Sausage: Kobe Beef Hot Dog with pork shoulder and country bacon, seasoned with mustard seed, paprika, coriander, garlic and fresh herbs
The Place: Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, San Francisco
The Price: $12
The Build: Topped with house-made stout-beer mustard and chile ketchup; on a bun from nearby Acme Bread Co. with house-made yogurt-and-dill potato chips on the side.
Prep Keys: Making the dogs is a three-day process, so Executive Chef Jamie Lauren saves time by adding thick-cut country bacon to the protein mix to introduce smoky notes without actually smoking the sausages. A panade of brioche and egg helps bind the meats and creates a smooth texture. Curing salt (often known as pink salt) is added to prolong the dogs' shelf life.
Tip to Take Away: For extra flavor, try Lauren's trick of brushing the bun with a combination of warmed bacon fat and butter.

The Sausage: Grilled Lobster Sausage (seasoned with mirepoix, garlic and thyme)
The Price: $16 (appetizer)
The Place: Eve, Chicago
The Build: Topped with sautéed maitake mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, pearl onions and maple béchamel (served sans bun)
Prep Keys: Executive Chef Troy Graves mixes the lobster meat, poached medium-rare, with scallop mousse to bind the sausages, which are stuffed into hog casings and grilled to order.
Tip to Take Away: Developing a distinctive, sophisticated take on a homey staple can be a winning formula for any operation. Graves' lobster sausage quickly has become the restaurant's top-selling starter.

The Sausage: Sonoran Dog (bacon-wrapped, foot-long beef dog spiked with jalapeño)
The Place: Petco Park, San Diego (Delaware North Cos.)
The Price: $11.50
The Build: Topped with pinto beans, diced tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño sauce on a potato bun
Prep Keys: Instead of using a traditional side slice, the buns are hollowed out on top, and fillings are piled on lobster-roll style. Tip to Take Away: The dogs are cooked in convection ovens and held on roller grills for service at the park's Hall of Fame Bar & Grill.

The Sausage: Jumbo Chili Dogs (pork and beef)
The Place: Carl's Jr., multiple locations
The Price: $1.79 each or two for $3
The Build: Topped with spicy beef chili, mustard and chopped onions on a bakery bun
Prep Keys: In the name of speed, the quick-service chain simply heats the ready-to-eat hot dogs in microwaves and ladles them with generous helpings of chili and onions. "If the dog itself [rather than the toppings] were the showcase item, like in a traditional build, we might look at another method," says Executive Vice President of Marketing Brad Haley.
Tip to Take Away: For purchased hot dogs, a recognizable brand name lends valuable cachet. Carl's Jr. promotes the fact that its dogs come from the same vendor that produces the popular Dodger Dogs at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium.

The Sausage: Chicken Sausage (seasoned with lemon zest, garlic, sage and parsley)
The Place: Vie, Western Springs, Ill.
The Price: $13
The Build: Topped with cipollini aigre-doux, black truffles and local-potato purée
Prep Keys: Chef-owner Paul Virant typically uses leg and thigh meat for chicken sausages, but this recipe relies on whole chickens (including the offal) from a local farmer. With such lean meats, Virant uses pork fatback to boost the fat ratio, which he prefers at about 30%. Stuffed into hog casings, the sausages are poached in water and roasted in whole butter for service.
Tip to Take Away:

The Sausage: Smoked Venison (seasoned with roasted garlic and caraway seed)
The Place: Magnolia Gastropub, San Francisco
The Price: $7
The Build: This sausage stands alone; no toppings.
Prep Keys: Because venison is so lean, extra fat is a must. Executive Chef Ronnie New currently buys ground venison that includes 15% beef fat but sometimes adds extra from the fat caps trimmed from steaks. To dry the sausages' exteriors so that fat doesn't drip and cause flare-ups on the grill, the sausages hang for six hours before being smoked over applewood for an hour.
Tip to Take Away: Sides are an opportunity for guests to get creative. At Magnolia, customers who order one of the menu's five sausages can choose two sides from a selection including braised carrots, sauerkraut, German potato salad and cheese grits for $6 extra.

The Sausage: Texas "Haute" Dog Kosher beef
The Place: Max's Wine Dive, Houston and Austin, Texas
The Price: $14
The Build: Served on an artisan bun with house-made Texas beer sauerkraut or venison chili, as well as pickled jalapeÁ±os, cotija cheese, fried-onion strings and fries
Prep Keys: The hot dogs aren't made in-house, but the locally inspired toppings are. The hearty chili calls for venison and beef slow-simmered with five kinds of chiles and other seasonings as well as coffee and locally brewed beer. For the sauerkraut, green cabbage and onions are cooked in beer and vinegar with spices, salt and sugar.
Tip to Take Away: Consider poaching sausages in beer rather than water. "It gives a depth and richness; you get a little hoppy flavor," says Executive Chef Steve Super, who uses a local craft brew at Max's. The sausages' natural casings allow the flavor to pass through, so scoring isn't necessary.

The Sausage: Boudin Blanc (made of pork and chicken; seasoned with white pepper, bay leaf, thyme)
The Place: The Heathman Restaurant & Bar, Portland, Ore.
The Price: $4.50 for one 4-oz. sausage; $8.50 for two
The Build: Topped with whole-grain mustard, fruited mustard and gherkins; frites on the side
Prep Keys: Executive Chef Karl Zenk's recipe entails a three-day process of grinding the blend of pork shoulder, chicken breast, pork fat, eggs, cream, bread, onions and spices three separate times on increasingly fine settings.
Tip to Take Away: Poaching sausages ahead of time makes them a quick item to pick up at service. For emulsified sausages (such as boudin blanc or hot dogs), Zenk recommends poaching them very slowly so they don't explode and then shocking them quickly in ice water to hold chilled for service.

The Sausage: Wagyu Beef Hot Dog
The Place:
Langham Hotel, Boston
The Price: $16
The Build: Served with house-made baked beans, green-tomato piccalilli and Boston brown bread
Prep Keys: Executive Chef Mark Sapienza embraces the Wagyu dog's versatility. He debuted the 8-ounce beer-poached sausage a few years ago at the hotel's Café Fleuri, serving it split lengthwise over house-made molasses baked beans with brown bread on the side. Now he caters to the more-casual crowd at the hotel's new Bond Restaurant and Lounge by delivering it on a bun.
Tip to Take Away: Mustard and ketchup aren't the only condiment choices. Create simple standout toppings such as Sapienza's green-tomato piccalilli (a piquant relish made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, vinegar and sugar).

SAUSAGE-MAKING SECRETS FROM CHEFS

Hot dogs and sausages are red-hot on restaurant menus these days, so R&I polled five chefs who make sausages in house to find out their secrets. (For more tips and details on the sausages served in their restaurants, click here).

  • Working with chilled equipment is the golden rule of sausage making, because grinding creates friction and friction creates heat, and heat can cause meat to clump. Executive Chef Jamie Lauren at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco chills all parts of the grinder in an ice bath for 20 minutes before every use, while Chef-owner Paul Virant of Vie in Western Springs, Ill., stores his grinder attachments in the freezer.
  • The same strategy applies to the meat. Many chefs refrigerate their mixtures of chopped meat and seasonings overnight both before and between grindings. At Eve in Chicago, Executive Chef Troy Graves puts his sausage mixtures in the freezer for five hours.
  • Tasting the sausage mixture before stuffing it into casings is essential to make sure the flavor profile is correct. Form a small amount into a patty and cook it to get a quick sample, then adjust the seasoning as needed.
  • Casing can be tricky, so make it a two-person job. "We have one person who grinds and pushes the meat through and another who guides the sausage casing. It takes a lot of casing and a lot of practice," Lauren says.
  • Explore casings beyond hog or lamb. Virant suggests collagen casings for larger sausages such as salami and mortadella: "Those casings have a diameter of 3 or 4 inches. We'll poach off a whole log and when it cools, you can slice it and pan fry it in patties." Another option is caul fat, which Executive Chef Ronnie New uses for a rabbit crépinette at Magnolia Gastropub in San Francisco. The thin membrane, which lines the stomachs of pigs and sheep, melts away when cooked.
  • Curing salt (also known as pink salt) only is necessary for sausages held at temperatures outside the safety zone (such as for smoking or hanging), but it also has other applications. Absinthe's Lauren adds it to prolong the shelf life of her Kobe-beef hot dogs, while Magnolia's New uses it to enhance the red coloring in linguiÁ§a, a Portuguese pork sausage.
  • Emulsified sausages such as hot dogs and boudin blanc feature smooth, mousse-like textures that are more complex to achieve. Executive Chef Karl Zenk of The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore., binds his boudin blanc with a panade of eggs, cream and bread. Adding ice or ice water helps as well, as does nonfat dry milk powder.
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