There’s a simple artistry about sausage: meat ground coarse or fine, mixed with just enough fat, spiced in the tradition of its home country (and nearly every country has some form of sausage). A sausage is culture wrapped in casing, and it’s finally getting its due.
The public, certainly, has more confidence, says Tom Prince, owner of Southborough’s Tomasso Trattoria and the adjacent market, Panzano, which has used the same pork sausage recipe since 2004. “In the past, people didn’t know what was in [sausage]. It was thought of as ‘mystery meat.’ But now a lot of restaurants make their own,” he says. As consumers grow increasingly curious about their food’s pedigree, restaurants are happy to tout their sourcing practices — because higher-quality meat means tastier sausages. (Prince uses sustainably raised Berkshire pigs, known for their juiciness.)
For chefs, the attraction lies in creativity: Sausage-making lets them experiment with meats, spices, and textures. There are countless permutations of sausage, limited only by imagination. Recipes are fluid and suited to whim, from the paprika-spiked linguica of Portugal to the harissa-packed lamb merguez popular in North Africa.
Jeff Fournier, who frequently works with whole animals, cooks sausages on a radiant charbroil grill at his new Waban Kitchen in Newton. The chef favors Vermont Quality Meats, a farm consortium that sources animals fed a no-hormone, antibiotic-free diet. “The animal will grow in the way they’re meant to,” he says. “They’ll have the basic fat-to-meat ratio” necessary for a juicy sausage (usually two parts meat to one part fat).
Knowing the pedigree of the animal has an added benefit. It’s not necessary to grill or sear the sausage through, because the meat is already high quality. “A good sausage should be pink in the middle, with its juices still there,” Fournier says. (Timid diners might note that the USDA recommendation for ground pork is 160 degrees and shouldn’t be shy about asking for their sausage cooked through.) The rooftop garden at Fournier’s sister restaurant, 51 Lincoln, in Newton Highlands, serves as inspiration. “You can put anything into a sausage; that’s what’s so cool about it,” he says.
Tim Wiechmann makes sausage for his Cambridge restaurant, T.W. Food, and for a new Eastern European spot in Somerville, Bronwyn, named for his wife. He likens the process to art. “There’s something about it as an artist that’s very formative,” he says. “It reminds me of pottery, actually shaping things with your hands. You can’t use a perfect recipe.”
Samuel Monsour, executive chef at jm Curley and Bogie’s Place in Downtown Crossing, thinks there’s an excitement in the ritual. He hand-grinds sausage, a laborious process that reminds him of its humble history. “It puts me in tune with the way sausage-making was 200 years ago, in the early professional kitchens,” he says. “It feels like honoring the trade.” Right now he’s working on andouille and cold-smoked bratwurst.
At The Blue Room, Robert Grant, who also helms the charcuterie-centric Belly Wine Bar next door, anchors his menu with a dish called “One Perfect Sausage.” “You can make a sausage out of almost anything,” says the Cambridge chef. And he has, from boudin blanc (a mild white sausage) to merguez. Grant enjoys the flexibility: “It’s a melting pot in the United States. All sausages here are adapted from another culture.” His latest “perfect” creation is German: knackwurst with a side of spaetzle, spinach, sweet mustard, and green garlic.He excitedly describes the dish as “smoky and snappy, with an amazing fine texture.”
Of course, not every chef longs to tinker. Alma Nove, the Italian restaurant in Hingham run by Paul Wahlberg, is known for orecchiette with braised greens and Italian sausage. Chef-owner Wahlberg sources his meat from Bianco & Sons in Revere. “It’s always consistent, with a great moisture content,” he says. “Plus, it’s a multi-generational, local company.”
And then there are purists. If there’s any such thing as an iconic American sausage, the closest you’ll find are the sizzling Italian links slung outside Fenway Park. David Littlefield, dubbed the Sausage Guy, has sold sausages outside the ballpark since 1992.
Littlefield’s proprietary blend is manufactured by Florida-based Peppino Foods, and it comes frozen. The signature dish is a sweet Italian sausage spiced with garlic, paprika, and fennel, served with caramelized onions and splashed with hot sauce, cooked on a flat griddle. “I keep it simple,” he says.
If there’s any sign that sausages are fashionable, Littlefield can confirm it. Recently, he’s been inundated with requests to cater weddings.Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.