SAUSAGE. Essentially, sausages are just seasoned forcemeat. In cuisines around the world, however, countless variations have been played on this simple theme. Sausages were probably first invented as a means of preserving blood, offal, and small scraps of meat in convenient edible containers—the stomachs and intestines of the slaughtered animal. The earliest known reference to sausage dates to Greece in the eighth or ninth century b.c.e. It appears in Homer's Odyssey (XX: 24-27), where Odysseus, lying in his bed, is seen
rolling from side to side
as a cook turns a sausage, big with blood
and fat, at a scorching blaze, without a pause,
to broil it quick
They are also found in Apicius's De re coquinaria (Rome, first century C.E.), a cookbook that was clearly intended for diners with discriminating palates. While sausages may have begun in frugality, they had already evolved into delicacies worthy of a gourmet's attentions.
In form, sausages may be patties of freshly chopped and seasoned meat or they may be stuffed in casings, dried, fermented, smoked, or produced using any combination of these techniques. The meats can be ground exceedingly fine (weisswurst ) or simply cut into large chunks (headcheese). Some are eaten cooked, using any of the traditional methods for cooking meats, while some are so heavily cured and smoked that they can safely be eaten raw (salame crudo ).
Pork is the meat most commonly used to produce sausages, although almost any sort of protein will do (sausages have even been made from gluten and soy proteins) providing they contain enough fat to maintain a juicy product. Beef, chicken, duck, lamb, seafood, and veal have all been used in sausages. Game, such as venison or rabbit, tends to be very lean, so pork fat or beef suet are usually added. Typically, a sausage forcemeat contains 20 to 30 percent—and sometimes as much as 50 percent—fat by weight. Fats chosen must be flavorful and not too soft, so that they don't melt out too quickly during cooking. Depending on cooking method, much of the fat may be removed before the sausage comes to the table.
All sausages contain salt (indeed, the word "sausage" is descended from the Latin salsus, meaning 'salted'). Salt serves three purposes. It acts to preserve perishable meats, killing some bacteria through osmotic pressure. In addition, salt dissolves some globular protein from the meats, which then acts as a binding matrix for the bits of meat when the sausage is cooked. The globular protein is released when the meats are ground or kneaded (the sausagemaker can see when this has occurred because the forcemeat becomes sticky). Salt, of course, also provides flavor, and it reinforces the flavors of other seasonings, especially in foods that are served cold.
Seasonings vary according to the cuisine producing the sausage. Black pepper is almost universal; in fact, the simplest fresh Italian sausages contain nothing but pork, salt, and pepper (Italian sausages made in the United States almost always add fennel seeds and red pepper). Garlic is a key ingredient in sausages of many countries, including Germany, Hungary, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. Chili pepper, in forms ranging from dried flakes to cayenne to paprika, appears in sausages around the world (although its use in sausages is limited in northern cuisines that typically avoid hot pepper). Fresh breakfast-type sausages usually contain sage, and often marjoram. Cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg are sometimes used, especially in black (blood) sausages. Chinese sweet sausages (lop cheong ) are flavored with sugar, soy sauce and five spice powder (a mixture usually consisting of ground cassia, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and Szechuan pepper).
Natural casings include sheep casings (breakfast links, chipolata), hog casings (Italian sausage, bratwurst), hog bungs (liverwurst), caul fat (crépinettes ), beef middles (salami), and beef rounds (mortadella). Haggis, the Scottish national dish, is nothing more than a large sausage made of seasoned sheep organ meats and oats, stuffed in the sheep's stomach. Synthetic casings, made of cellulose, collagen, or plastic, can be made in any size, and are used for spreadable pâtélike preparations (braunschweiger), salamis and other cold cuts, and skinless frankfurters. Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of seasoned lamb and rice, can even be considered a form of sausage.
Sausages are often dried by hanging, in cool circulating air, to preserve them as well as enhance their flavor and texture. Once they are fully dried, they can be kept unrefrigerated for weeks. Before they are dry, however, they can spoil, so a curing salt—such as Prague powder, a mixture of salt and sodium nitrite—is used to prevent the development of the bacteria (Clostridium botulinum ) that cause botulism. The nitrite has an additional advantage; it prevents the cooked meat from turning gray (the characteristic pink color of cured hams results from the nitrite in the cure). Nitrites, used in recommended quantities, do not cause the development of carcinogenic nitrosamines that were formerly found in cooked meats containing nitrates (saltpeter). Some dried sausages are also fermented, either with naturally occurring organisms or through the addition of a starter (lactobacillus) to the forcemeat. These bacteria produce lactic acid, which preserves the meat while providing a tangy flavor. Sopressata and some kinds of chorizo are fermented, but quick recipes for fresh chorizo substitute a little vinegar for the lactic acid that would have developed through fermentation.
Smoking adds flavor to sausages. It acts as a preservative, both by adding a number of phenolic compounds found in smoke, and by forming a tough coating on the outside of the sausage. This impervious layer is known as the pellicle.
Sausages continue to appear in recipes around the world, even after the development of other means of preserving meats. In many peasant cultures, the largely vegetarian diet is enhanced by small quantities of sausage. In modern diets sausages make up for their high fat and sodium content by contributing more flavor and variety than their size would suggest. Thus sausages satisfy sophisticated palates with lower quantities of food.
See also Apicius ; Meat ; Meat, Salted ; Meat, Smoked ; Pig ; Preserving .
Aidells, Bruce. Bruce Aidells's Complete Sausage Book: Recipes from America's Premier Sausage Maker. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
Apicius. De re coquinaria [On cookery]. Translated by John Edwards. Point Roberts, Wash.: Hartley and Marks, 1984.
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Grigson, Jane. Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. London: Michael Joseph, 1967.
Hippisley-Coxe, Antony, and Araminta Hippisley-Coxe. The Great Book of Sausages. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1992.
Kinsella, John. Professional Charcuterie: Sausage Making, Curing, Terrines, and Pâtés. New York: Wiley, 1996.
Kinsman, Donald M. Principal Characteristics of Sausages of the World, Listed by Country of Origin. Boston: American Press,1983.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribners, 1984.
Wise, Victoria. American Charcuterie: Recipes from Pig-by-the-Tail. New York: Viking, 1986.
There are six main types: fresh, smoked, cooked, smoked and cooked, semi‐dry, and dry. Frankfurters, Bologna (polony), Polish, and Berliner sausages are made from cured meat and are smoked and cooked. Thuringer, soft salami, mortadella, and soft cervelat are semi‐dry sausages. Pepperoni, chorizos, dry salami, dry cervelat are slowly dried to a hard texture.
In the UK pork sausages must be 65%, and beef sausages 50%, meat (‘meat’ includes flesh and the skin, gristle, rind, and sinew ‘naturally associated with the flesh’). A 150‐g portion of standard British varieties of pork or beef sausages, grilled, is a rich source of protein, niacin, and iron; beef sausage contains 25 g of fat, of which 40% is saturated and 50% mono‐unsaturated; supplies 400 kcal (1700 kJ); pork sausage contains 35 g of fat of which 40% is saturated and 50% mono‐unsaturated; supplies 450 kcal (1900 kJ).
sau·sage / ˈsôsij/ • n. a short cylindrical tube of minced pork, beef, or other meat encased in a skin, typically sold raw to be grilled, boiled, or fried before eating. ∎ a cylindrical tube of minced pork, beef, or other meat seasoned and cooked or preserved, sold mainly to be eaten cold in slices: smoked sausage. ∎ [usu. as adj.] used in references to the characteristic cylindrical shape of sausages: mold into a sausage shape.