Saturday, October 16, 2010

Boerewors in Brooklyn - the verdict

Now I hope that everyone is wearing their sober Sunday best, or in Afrikaans, their kisklere, or coffin clothes. If you are not, please go away, shave, wash behind your ears, change, then come back. This is a very touchy and grave subject and must be approached with great reserve and dignity.

Now: Above, we have the coriander seeds toasting in a pan, before I ground them and carried the spices to Los Paisanos for sausage made strictly for our own consumption (that's for the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets). The smell as the seeds were crushed, releasing just a whiff of smoke, was exciting.

Here is the ingredient list*** we used, for traditional boerewors from, recommended by Vissie in Australia. 

2 lbs beef
2 lbs mutton or lamb
2 lbs lean pork
1 lb spek (pork fat, cubed)
2 Tablespoons salt (25ml)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon coriander, roasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Malt vinegar (125ml)

Once ground in my mortar the spices smelled heavenly, and a lot like boerewors already.

***2012- this recipe is no longer in use. We have moved on. It was a good start.

I packaged them neatly in a baggie and carried them to Smith Street, along with a bottle of malt vinegar.

And went to fetch the first Broolyn boerewors (to my knowledge) when Pedro called to say it was ready.

He gave me 7 lbs, to the recipe exactly. And it cost as much as their most reasonably-priced sausage, at $6.50/lb. He made me inspect it there, and asked worriedly how it looked:

Well, it looked like boerewors, except maybe a little pinker. In South Africa it tends to be a darker red or more brown.  I have never thought about the sausage before. I have just eaten it. Taken it completely for granted because it is in every supermarket and every butchery.

When will you call me to tell me how it is? he asked.

Tonight! I said.

I even had a new, double, wire grid to sandwich it for easy flipping. But this one was quite flimsy and groaned under the weight of this 2lb coil of sausage. Vince went out and bought hardwood charcoal. No chemicals were going to interfere with this wors.

The smoke that started up as the first fat began to drip onto the coals smelled just like braaivleis. The smell of early evenings and afternoons in South Africa, drifting across lawns, through hedges, over roadways. It was very strange to smell home here, on the little Brooklyn terrace, 7,798 miles from Cape Town.

Who thought I would ever be nervous to eat boerewors? I was tense.

The flavour, once chewed twice, spoke eloquently of boerewors and braaivleis. Until now I had never analysed what was in this sausage, so it is only now that I know that it is the combination of vinegar and coriander that makes it what it is. Back in the day the vinegar was for preserving the meat in a hot climate, and the coriander and spices were probably an influence of the slave trade from Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Contrary to what one would expect there is a sweetness that comes from both, with a slightly tart, mouthwatering balance, probably aided by the nutmeg. I found the character of the spice mixture spot on, though I wanted a bit more if it, a greater intensity. On reflection I think that this recipe could do with more coriander, and maybe some more vinegar, too. Only now does Vissie tell me he puts more coriander in. He thought it was just him. No, it needs it.

But as for the myriad minute differences between styles of sausage in South Africa, I realize that I need more help, and have started to email South African butchers, starting with the deli at Joostenberg, whose sausage I know. I may not hear back from them. They might be too busy making sausage to answer a stupid email about what makes good wors...

Now, texture. The meat was ground and mixed very well.  Pedro followed the recipe exactly, and he has never seen or eaten boerewors. The fat was a problem for me. It was in cubes, as old school butchers would do it, and the cubes were mixed in after grinding, not during, so they retain their cube-ish integrity, which is the traditional way of doing it. I remember quite well the boerewors of my very early childhood, made by Meneer van Vuuren in Bloemfontein. I loved the little cubes of fat. But I think his were smaller, and there were fewer. Or perhaps I was a fat-loving infant.

Below: And to wit - and this is the last time you'll see such an ugly picture on my blog, and I'm sorry about it but to illustrate: I removed all my fat after eating 3 cubes of it. The red on the plate is not blood - I made a slaw of beetroot, carrot and radish.

So the question is, is the modern boerewors that we buy  in South Africa less fatty than old style, traditional boerewors? Or is it the size of the cubes that made the fat seem omnipresent? I am not afraid of fat - I like it, but this distracted from the meat and had an overwhelming mouthfeel. So, my feeling is less fat (it was 1 lb/fat per 6lbs/meat), and smaller pieces.

This morning Vince and I shared the last piece of cold boerewors, and it held up very well. The flavour is definitely right. Still slightly mild, but unmistakeably the real deal.

We still have two more coils and will then go back to Los Paisanos with a tweaked recipe. If you have an opinion on what makes good wors, please weigh in.

Pedro says that whenever we want it, we just have to call.

So I'll be taking orders.

Update - 2012: If you want to follow the sausage saga from its hopeful beginning, here are some links. It's been a two year journey and we have finally arrived:

A grand idea
We plead our case
My favourite butcher to the rescue
2012 Boerewors spices
The recipe
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