The Story of A Sausage
I‘m gonna let you in on a little secret…I’m not really a bacon guy. Don’t get me wrong, I like bacon. I think ours is better than most. It’s just that it has become so trendy I keep expecting someone to open a Bacon Bar where you walk in and have 50 different iterations of pork belly to choose from, with a wide variety of herbs and tonics you can ask your hipster bacon-tender to prepare for your noshing pleasure. He of course would have too-tight pants, a vest of some sort and an ironic mustache and will look down his way-too-angular nose at you when you ask if the pigs led a happy life. Wait a minute… scratch all the above. Now that I think about it, I could open that place in The City tomorrow and make a mint! Email me if you want to invest, the proforma will be ready tomorrow.
But I digress..
What I do love is sausage: the perfect blend of meat and fat mixed with any variety of spices and herbs your mind can conjure up. I love the fact that you can be sitting in a five-star restaurant or bellying up to a late night food truck and you get a bite that takes you someplace. More often than not, that experience can be created in a sausage. Here is the story of how I came up with the Blackened Bourbon Chicken Sausage. Hopefully it will inspire you to share some experience that will result in your own special blend.
Don Payne is a great friend and owner of Cahil Wines and Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma. He is also the owner of Whole Hog BBQ and that massive BBQ/Smoker we use on those occasions we need to feed 800 of our closest friends. I was working on my Apple Brandy Pork Sausage and had run out of his amazing brandy (can’t imagine how that happened, I just know you must create, test, re-test, re-test…you get the idea). Anywho, I headed to Stillwater Spirits to pick up some more. As it happened, it was 10am on Butter & Eggs Day in Petaluma when I arrived at the distillery.
For those of you unfamiliar with Butter & Eggs Day, it was originally a celebration of the impressive agricultural history of the town of Petaluma when it reigned as the egg capitol of the world. Now it is a drunk-fest where the race is on to see who can drink enough to pass out before the parade actually starts. I would like to tell you that this is because the kids have taken over, but the bars open early in the morning and they are quickly filled with women and men alike that have been there for generations. This is serious drinking, folks, and experience counts.
So there I was, away from the party centre’, at Stillwater Spirits. Tim, the master distiller, was sampling some of his finest for a group of about 6 tourists who looked like the were stopping by on their way to the Cosmopolitan in Vegas. I waited patiently as they marveled at Tim’s latest ambrosia: Cougar Catcher Vodka. Dead serious… I’m creative, but even I couldn’t make that up. I was thoroughly entertained as these geniuses sampled straight vodka at 10am as if it was a bottle of ’96 Silver Oak. But I had a task at hand and this was starting to eat into my day. The last thing I needed was to get stuck in Petaluma once things really got rolling.
The tourists left and Tim and I got down to business. I picked up a couple bottles of brandy and asked what else he had in the works. This is where the magic happens. My grandfather, The Colonel, taught me at a young age that you collect “guys”. As in “Oh, you need someone to come to your house to fix your car? Yeah, I got a guy for that” or “I’m going to The City and need a driver for the night. No worries, call my guy and he will hook you up”. Everyone should have a list of guys. Anyway, Tim was my booze guy.
It’s pretty cool when two people of different planes converge to make something really amazing. This has happened with Don when he and I got into a bottle of his Zin and came up with the Beef Wine & Cheese Sausage we will make in a few weeks. So Tim starts moving about the distillery and comes upon a 50 gallon barrel. He pops the lid and inside appears to be about a thousand halved lemons floating in a brine of some sort. Turns out it was limoncello on steroids. No joke, he claims it was 180 proof. I have no way of knowing but I do know that when, days later, I finally got the courage to taste the sample bottle that he gave me I couldn’t feel my tongue for a week.
Finally, we were at the bar and I was running out of time to get out of town before the mayhem sucked me into it’s vortex. Tim is boxing up a few bottles for me and stops in his tracks. “Wait” he says, “you’re a whisky guy. You have to try this.” He grabs a bottle off the shelf with a big “M” on the label and pours me a two finger shot. Now, I like my whiskey as much as anyone, but 10:30am is a little early for me to be sipping whiskey neat (on the rocks. . . no problem!). But I was a guest here, I had to be polite. So I took a sip.
Damn. It was amazing. Not amazing in terms of it’s flavor. That was fantastic also. But amazing in where it took me. A warmth spread through me, and I was transported to a trip Laura and I took with our close friends- the Soares’- to New Orleans. I joke that in my 20’s I would have drank my way through the Big Easy, but when the four of us left we had eaten our way through town. I love spice, particularly chiles, and especially blackened anything. Catfish, chicken, shrimp…it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is the perfect balance of heat and smoke. It does not mean burnt. As I sipped this whiskey, a plan starting forming.
It was so powerful, that I actually stopped at a supermarket and bought Rocky chicken thighs. I had no fresh VF chicken to work with , but I had to get this working now before it escaped me forever. So that was the best available (a very low bar) and I went with it. I got the old Kitchen Aid cranked up, attached the meat grinder and got to work. I had my own blackening spice blend, so it was really a matter of adjusting for the power of the bourbon. This was honest-to-God straight Kentucky bourbon that had been brought out here to be aged in oak wine barrels. It had to be the star of the show. About 4 hours later, the family agreed that this was something special.
Now it is for you to decide. This week marks the first time since we opened the butcher shop that one of my double-super-secret recipes makes its debut. I am invested and involved in any flavor that we put out, but this one is all mine, and very few have tasted it. I hope you like it, and I hope it is memorable to you in some way. More importantly, I hope it inspires you to think about your own flavors and where they come from. I saw a quote somewhere recently that said “food is craft, not art”. I like that quote a lot. Your food should be crafted from your life’s experiences. There’s a reason that people say trite phrases like “Mmmm, just like Grandma made it!” See, Grandma lived a little before she perfected whatever that was. So start looking at your own experiences and create your own flavors. And for Pete’s sake… start collecting “guys”. How do you not have a list of “guys”???