Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sausage: an eater's manual

My continuing obessession with charcuterie manifested itself in an order to Powell's books for Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. For those of you longing to know the details of boudin noir prep (that's blood pudding sausage) I highly recommend this book. That is, if you have an extra thirty bucks lying around. That's what you'll pay for wanting an obscure English cookbook.

Seriously, Grigson is such a fine writer that she makes even the oft-unsettling mechanics of sausage-making compelling. It is safe to say I will never prepare a recipe from this book, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Why won't I prepare anything? Well, I haven't a cool larder to hang meats, nor stoneware jars, ham kettles, fish kettles, or metal lettuce baskets. I haven't a temperature-controlled cellar, a real estate oversight that continues to haunt me. Nor do I have ready access to snouts, ears, tails, flair fat, back fat, mesentery, green bacon, brains, or tails. I cannot purchase pig blood (maybe in Chinatown...except I'm a white girl...), spleen, lights (them's the lungs and windpipe), or kidneys. But I did once see a package of frozen trotters at Andronico's. They were quite an alarming sight.

Nonetheless, it's fascinating to read about the incredibly inventive ways people came up with to fend off hunger, which is what pork preservation and its friends the confits are really about. Somebody figured out that pig's blood could be mixed with onion, cream, spinach, or garlic and be nutritious. Somebody actually cooked up the pig's testicles (yes, really) and called them a delicacy.

(Should you want to try this, breading and frying are recommended.)

Then, after people figured out this stuff and survived to reproduce, Jane Grigson came along. Originally a translator of Italian, Grigson spent four years researching and writing Charcuterie, which appeared in 1967. The book is laced with suggestions for those without refrigerators and contains this tart observation about offal:

"Organs, offal in other words, or variety meats if you live in the United States, can be a point of prejudice. Before the war I remember hearing 'Ai never eat Offal', spoken with emphasis and pride...yet another pea felt through twenty mattresses. War shortages taught better sense." (286)

Few Americans my age can relate to such shortages, or the suggestions about cleaning pig intestines for those possessing bathtubs with taps. And it is indeed easy to recoil from recipes for blood, spleen, and tongue, a personal, ridiculous prejudice I find myself unable to transcend.

Still, should you ever wonder how a pig is slaughtered and divvied up into parts, this is the book for you. And if you agree with Anthony Bourdain that life resides in the nasty bits, you'll love Jane Grigson.

Here she is on pig's ears:

"Here in England your butcher will very likely give them to you free...If you buy a whole head...ask if you could have some extra pairs of ears as well; then you will have the making of a separate dish for the whole family." (246)

But take care:

"Charred ears are not attractive." (248)

(An observation that leads inexorably to Quentin Tarantino and Steeler's Wheel...along with David Lynch and Hamatramack's finest, Bobby Vinton...)

Like Bourdain, Jane sings the praises of tripe, which she lived on whilst a poor student of Italian. After giving precise preparation instructions and many recipes, she comments that tripe in cream sauce--a blanquette--is possible but:

"...the only word to describe the texture of tripe under these circumstances is slithy." (285)

Slithy! Is that not the greatest adjective ever? Would you ever see it in a contemporary American cookbook?

How about this?

"I find larding one of the most satisfactory of the quieter kitchen occupations. It is a soothing and unhurried performance; and I like being reminded, too, of Perrault's Princess, in Riquet à la Houppe, who saw the ground open before her, and a number of roasting cooks emerge..." (310)

I am a worm who has never heard of Perrault's Princess. Maybe you haven't, either. See what you can learn from a cookbook?

Suppose, though, you are like me, and this blog has inspired a blinding desire for something piggish. Suppose, like me, you lack the necessary equipment, namely, a French farmhouse kitchen or an extraordinarily expensive facsimile thereof. What are worms like us to do?

Make this:

Sausage with Pasta and Tomato Sauce

This recipe, in the spirit of Jane Grigson and her great contemporary, Elizabeth David, does not much bother with measures. You know how many people you're feeding, right? Want to take it for lunch tomorrow? Make extra.

Sausage of your choice, squeezed from its casings. I bought 'Fra Mani, which is made by Paul Bertolli. It has recently become available in the Bay Area. It's fantastic. I used three links of Italian Sausage. I'dve used the spicy, but H-man doesn't like it as much.

Garlic to taste, minced. (I used two big cloves.)

A little olive oil for the pot.

A little salt--be careful, as the sausage is likely salty.

One sliced carrot.

As much diced onion as you can slide past your husband (cough...).

A tablespoon of tomato paste.

Cook the above ingredients down over moderate heat in a heavy pot, breaking up the meat, allowing it to brown a bit without getting overdone.


One 14 ounce can of Muir Glen (yes, Muir Glen and only Muir Glen) whole tomatoes.

One dried hot pepper, crumbled. (This is optional.)

A little pepper.

A goodly glug of white wine or red wine. I was out of red.

A bit of Armagnac or Brandy. Like a tablespoon. Not too much or it will take over.

Cook over medium-low heat, covered, stirring occasionally. Don't let it get too hot or the meat will become rubbery.

Now boil the pasta of your choice in another pot. I used De Cecco's Spinach Penne Rigate, which gave a the final dish a red-and-green Christmas in July effect.

Boil your pasta. After years of expensive dental work, I like my pasta somewhat beyond al dente. This is up to you. Drain. Add the pasta to the sauce (taking great care not to spoil your Williams Sonoma $48 apron). Stir. Serve with bread.

Try not to eat it all in one sitting.

Jane Grigson. Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. London: Grub Street. 2006 edition.


Blogger herschelian said...

I think Jane Grigson will have taken the word 'slithy' from Lewis Carroll's poem 'Jabberwocky'.
"Twas brillig and the slithy toves
did gyre and gimble in the wabe."
You're absolutely right it is exactly the right adjective to describe tripe. I use two of Grigson's books all the time, her vegetable book and her fruit book, but of all the recipe books she wrote I think 'Good Things' is my favourite.

July 12, 2007 4:20 PM  

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