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World-Class Links

13 December 2005
World-Class Links

Sausages with distinct ethnic heritages are firmly entrenched on today's menus.

This article first appeared in the 1 September 2005 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. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

"People like sausage for its pure flavor, the familiarity, the everyman style," says Chef-proprietor Doug Sohn, a culinary-school grad whose modest eatery has gained an ardent following in its four years. "To me it's the perfect food: salt, fat and meat in one tasty little package." In fact, he calls Hot Doug's a Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium.

Despite growing popularity of exotic varieties featuring creative combinations of meats, herbs, fruits and vegetables, traditional sausage recipes remain most in demand on menus at Hot Doug's and across foodservice segments. In slices, links or crumbles, these classic cased meats fit almost any setting.

Can't-Miss Merguez

Moroccan lamb sausage may not be an obvious fit on a progressive American menu with French and Italian influences, but customer demand won't allow Chef-owner Josie Le Balch to stop serving skewered squid with merguez sausage at Josie in Santa Monica, Calif.

Part of the fine-dining restaurant's opening menu five years ago, the appetizer was conceived from Le Balch's desire to match the sausage's heat with lentils and cross the combination with seafood. She chose merguez, seasoned with garlic and hot spices, for its intense, unique flavor and leaner makeup than pork sausages.

"My family is European, so I didn't grow up with fruit in sausages and things like that," she says. "Merguez is more traditional flavor-wise."

For service, the links are lightly browned and sliced crosswise into small circles before being tossed with a lentil-and-fennel mixture and finished in the oven. Le Balch plates two skewers of marinated, seared baby squid atop the warm salad for each serving.

Appetizing Andouille

Somewhere between French bistro and English pub lies Rowdy Hall, an 80-seat eatery in East Hampton, N.Y. On the bar menu and available in the dining room as well, an appetizer starring grilled andouille sausage was a mainstay before Chef Ed Lightcap took the helm five years ago. It sells so well he's content to leave it in place.

Delivering more kick than its milder French cousins, the Cajun-style sausage at Rowdy Hall is a garlicky, spiced blend of smoked beef and pork. Grilled links are sliced on the bias and perched atop toasted French bread. Pickled pearl onions and tart cornichons-often paired with meats such as game and pÁ¢té-counter the andouille's bold flavor, which customers can accent with spicy Dijon mustard provided for dipping.

Charming Chorizo

Executive Chef Kristine Subido loves working with sausage for its flavor complexity and menu versatility at Wave in the W Chicago Lakeshore Hotel, where smoky Spanish chorizo is at home amid the inventive, Southern Mediterranean-style fare.

"Sausage has a lot of complexity as far as flavor profiles, and it's easy to complement it with other ingredients," she says. "You can add so many things and play with it in so many ways."

For a crisp, pizza-like flatbread that guests order both as shareable appetizer and as lunch entrée, Subido turns to Spanish-style chorizo. Seasoned with hot paprika and sherry, the sausage delivers tangy sweet flavor against a backdrop of subtle heat. A drizzle of aioli on the warm bread readies it for the sliced sausage. Manchego cheese, slivers of piquillo peppers and frisée salad tossed with a simple sherry vinaigrette finish the preparation, striking perfect accord with the crackly-crisp bread.

Another of her menu items, served as a special, finds grilled chorizo sliced in one-inch pieces and sautéed with mushrooms, toasted garlic and white wine for a tapas-style dish that is accompanied by warm bread.

Long Live Linguica!

Only one type of sausage earns a menu berth amid 15 cuts of beef, pork, lamb and chicken at Dallas-based Fogo de ChÁ£o: linguica, a slim Portuguese variety marked by its spicy, garlicky flavor.

The Brazilian barbecue tradition called churrasco drives the five-unit chain, where chefs called gauchos not only cook but serve the skewered sausages, roasted rotisserie-style over open fires fueled by charcoal and a small amount of mesquite. Fogo de ChÁ£o's linguica, drawing on the Argentine influences that often color southern Brazilian cuisine, features a pork shoulder blend with bacon for moisture and added flavor. Ground, roasted Argentine red pepper also distinguishes the sausage, whose traditional heat is toned down.

It's not the top-selling option at the protein-rich concept, but the company nonetheless uses about 1,200 pounds per restaurant every month, says Operations Manager Selma Oliveira.

Czech, Please!

True Texas barbecue means sausage on the menu, and Houston-based Goode Company Barbecue is no exception. Three varieties-turkey, jalapeÁ±o pork and Czech-make the lineup, but Czech sausage leads in popularity at the two-unit, family-run operation.

"It's the most traditional Texas barbecue sausage, so it benefits from recognition more than anything else," says Vice President Levi Goode. "We slice it for sandwiches, or if the customer wants it [as part of a barbecue] plate, we do that as well."

House-made in a central production kitchen that also serves Goode's four other concepts, the 50-50 blend of beef and pork with garlic and herbs is slow smoked over mesquite wood and finished in barbecue pits at the restaurants. Customers place orders in a cafeteria-style line and choose among accompaniments such as jalapeÁ±os, pickles, onions and, of course, tomato-based, Texas-style barbecue sauce.

Daily Grind

When time, resources and know-how allow, chefs get serious about charcuterie and craft savory sausages in their own kitchens. These house-made delicacies let creators showcase favorite recipes with total control over the final product while setting them apart from competitors.

Executive Chef M.G. Farris' Sicilian-style sausage at Eno in Atlanta features house-ground pork butt with subtle hints of garlic, the clean taste of fresh fennel and a modest kick from spicy chile flakes. Mild caciocavallo cheese lends saltiness and rich, creamy flavor to links sliced on the bias and nestled amid thick fettuccine with spinach, garlic and roasted tomatoes. To keep its hog casing intact, Farris cooks the olive-oil coated sausage in a convection oven rather than sauté it on the stovetop.

Making their own sausage helps Chef-owners Jordi Viladas and Carla Leonardi at Café Lago in Seattle capture the essence of the Italian food they grew up with. Skewered in a spiral aside pasta with tomato ragÁ¹, the links combine pork shoulder butt with provolone cheese, black pepper, salt and parsley.

"It's not on the menu all the time because it takes a long time for me to make," Viladas says. "It's a treat for customers, so there's always a pent-up demand for the dish."

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