ROBERT ST. JOHN: For the Love of Sausage

ROBERT ST. JOHN

ROBERT ST. JOHN

Bacon is good. Bacon is popular. Bacon gets a lot of press. I love bacon.

Bacon gets the prime slot on grocery store shelves – front and center, eye level in the breakfast meats cooler. Sausage, bacon’s redheaded stepbrother, is relegated to a few shelves next to the pressed luncheon meats and water-filled hams. It’s not fair.

As good as bacon is, it is not overwhelmingly better than sausage. Today I’m taking a stand for sausage. I am ready to rally the troops and lead the fight for sausage’s breakfast meat prominence. Sausage has played second fiddle long enough.

Your honor, allow me to state my case on the beauty of sausage.

First, there are far more varieties of sausage than bacon. In addition to breakfast sausage and all the varieties and flavors that fall into that category – spicy, mild, sage – there is andouille, kielbasa, boudin, bratwurst, knackwurst, bockwurst, Polish, Italian, mortadella, chorizo, chicken, duck, apple and a several dozen other varieties that can be named.

Upon further study, bacon starts to look boring. Sure, one can smoke bacon over different types of wood and cure it for varying lengths of time, but in the end, it’s basically the bacon everyone else is cooking.

Sausage has endless possibilities. There are so many things that can be added to it to modify the flavor profile.

Sausage is universal. Most every culture or country has a variety of sausage. So much so, the case for bacon begins to fall apart under closer cross-examination. There are a few variations of bacon in Italy and Spain, but after that, most bacon is the same wherever one travels. That is not the case with sausage.

Most countries have a favored sausage. Many countries have dozens of varieties of sausage within their borders. Sausage is not just a Germanic, Central European specialty. Sure, countries in that region lead the way, but there are so many varieties in other countries, each highlighting an ingredient, spice, or herb indigenous to that region.

Bangers are eaten in England, in Scandinavian countries sausage tends to fall on the cured-meat side. All of the Asian countries make sausage. The chorizo made in Mexico is one of my favorites. But chorizo is also made in South America and probably originated in Portugal or Spain. In America we have taken sausage to another level and it crosses all ethnic and social lines.

Lately, friends have been gifting me sausage. I see it as a sign. A good sign. One of my surrogate mothers, Virginia Culpepper, was in Nashville visiting family and scored a pound of sausage from Benton’s Country Hams. Benton ships bacon and ham all of the time, but they can’t ship sausage. The only time I have eaten their sausage is when I have picked it up at the smokehouse or when it has been brought to my house in an ice chest.

The Benton’s sausage that Virginia Culpepper gave me lasted five minutes in my refrigerator. As she was pulling out of the driveway, I was reaching for the cast iron skillet. It was 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon when she drove away. By 4:30 the Benton’s sausage was a memory.

A devout foodie and avid column reader, Woody Davis, of Meridian gave me a pound of sausage when he was visiting one of our restaurants a few weeks ago. It came from a place called Sugarbear’s in Meridian, but the wrapper was stamped “Katie’s Sausage.” I think Sugarbear’s opens only during deer season, so they must be extremely busy because the sausage was excellent.

The best sausage I ever ate was at a gentleman’s log cabin, high on a hill near the trailhead of the Natchez Trace in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn. The sausage had been given to him from Southern food writer and historian John Egerton. It was ground pork perfection.

We make all of the sausage we serve at Purple Parrot Café and Crescent City Grill. Chef Mike Gillespie and Chef Jeremy Noffke handle all of the charcuterie duties. At any given time, one of those guys is making Andouille, mortadella, chorizo, Jagerwurst, kielbasa, bratwurst, olive loaf and several dozen others that make their way into entrees or charcuterie platters.

Sausage is versatile. Sausage is tasty, and sausage makes an excellent gift.

Your honor, the defense rests. Now pass the sausage.

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.