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.

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.

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.

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 unmistakably 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


  1. Vrystaat!!!! 'n Boer maak 'n plan!!!!!

  2. It looks wonderful and I think I can smell it, too. So, here is a perfectly serious question.

    Could I take your recipe and my handy dandy Kitchen Maid mixer with the meat grinding attachment and make the sausage? I don't really have a way to put it into casing, but [sacrilege] could I grill it in patties and have pretty much the right taste?

    Or, are you really taking orders? I'd like to try the Boerewors bandwagon at least once. Mitchell is a huge sausage lover and I think he would really like it.

  3. Mal - nogal lekker, ek se. Kappie op die e asseblief...

    webb, yes, you could. Don't see why not. But: make the fat very, very small cubes, no more than an 1/8th of an inch per side. And I would reduce the fat amount by at least a quarter. Personally, I would use 2 Tablespoons of the coriander too. I roasted the whole seeds, then ground them. we're going to make changes to this recipe, but basically it tasted very good.

    Yes, I'm serious about taking orders, but not about shipping the sausage! That gets complicated - I had thought that anyone wanting it locally now would have a source.

  4. Ooohhhh it looks good! Would it be insane to have my husband fire up the grill at 12:51am? Of course, we don't have any boerewors, but I do have some bratwurst.

  5. Well done! En op die braai, dis goed. My main fears were coriander and texture, but it seems you have communicated those mostly successfully. Stiffness?

    A butcher here offered me "South African sausage" once, quite proudly (I think he hadn't noticed the accent). I peered at it, then decided against it: short links (think bangers) and a pale pink colour (think pork) didn't really get me excited.

    I can't remember our (the family's) recipe, but I do remember grinding coriander and pepper in the great grandmother's cast iron grinder in the kitchen (we never used it for anything else). Lots of coriander, you really can't have too much. You have about 4 Tsb spices on 3.5kg meat? Hmm...

    One time we had the butcher handle the processing, which also led to extensive discussions about increasing the coriander to meat ratio. He also did the cube of fat thing - quite scary once you get you to a leaner life. Maybe a coarsely ground spek next time?

    Also, do you think the vinegar is just for preservation, or also for hiding a slightly strong, well-matured meat? (one of my main vinegar applications)

    What you really need is a meat grinder. I'm looking at them right now. Yes.

  6. Monica, Germany = Bratwurst...that's quite funny. Ja, why not? A midnight sausage ("it came upon a midnight clear...").

    jvdh - nou lag ek eers. Stiffness. Ja, well. NO, I know exactly what you mean :-) It was quite stiff. Perhaps too stiff. Perhaps if the fat were more evenly spread that would help? I can see this all leading up to making it ourselves, and now I'm also beset by doubt: did I use 1 or 2 tablespoons of coriander after all. I can be a bit loskop. I think 1.

    Ok, so that is very helpful, thank you - can't go wrong with coriander. Perhaps you could prod your family for the recipe??? What is a better tablespoon/kg ratio?

    Vinegar, with venison? Or old mutton? Or as a specific against the rot that sets in with well hung game? Not sure. All of the above.

  7. Congratulations! My mouth is watering...

    You asked me about the wurst in Germany? My favorite would be the Weisswurst, a scary white pork sausage with the most delightful mixture of fresh herbs.

  8. We want to ask if our friend, Estorbo, had some "small piece sausage" and if he liked it.

  9. I have been following this with interest - we make our own boerwors here in the UK - we can buy it in many places but it is just not quite the same and painfully expensive! The recipe is adapted from the South African Cookbook which my husband used when he lived in Cape Town but we have had to change a little because sheep tail fat is not obtainable! We use streaky bacon instead of spek and get a friendly butcher to give us sheep kidney fat which seems to work well. Yes, there is always extra coriander but I can't give you an amount, we sort of do it by smell after adding it to the meat. We also make a little pattie and cook it if we are not sure. Our recipe includes Worcestershire sauce as well by the way. All the meet including the fat is minced together and then the spices added - the fat then cooks throughout the sausage and keeps it moist. The most difficult thing here is decent braai grids - they are usually a bit flimsy and designed for burgers and sausages or fish shaped. Guess what gets packed in our luggage to bring back!

  10. All looked good till the scary plate of fat.

    Love your sausage griller, might have to get one as a large stocking stuffer.

    A good reason to Brooklyn...

  11. Late entry from me but hopefully a useful contribution. Robert Smit's ma made the best boerewors ever and we lost her recipe. But I recall that the spek (fat) was finely cubed, never minced, and mixed into the final mengsel. She also told me not to pack too tightly. And she didn't use lamb, just beef and pork. However - it look absolutely delicious and I hope Don Es had a piece

  12. I've no insights or advice, just want to say I'm so glad your boerewors adventure had a (mostly) happy ending. Reading about your endeavours have given me a whole new appreciation for the wors. I've been to two braais just recently (yup, the season is upon us!) and both times I ate boerewors in a roll and it was delicious!!! Like most S'Africans I guess I've taken it totally for granted. This summer I'll be eating it with new awareness.
    As the others said, I hope the cat got a taste too. My big black cat has arrived home with bits of wors on more than one occasion, stolen from who knows where? The wors thief!

  13. Ons het vanaand gebraai, en ek het aan tafel vir my gesin gevra oor die geheime van boerewors, en hul het twee goed genoem - genoeg koljander, en dat die vet skaap- of varkvet moet wees, en dit moet ingemaal word saam met die ander vleis, nie in blokkies wees nie.

    Ek is so moerse opgetrek met hierdie ekspedisie van jul. Dit is vreeslik opwindend.

  14. I like the 'fat' picture, it tells the story of its chunky 'interference.' The lining up restores some order to the mess.

  15. thanks for posting on this. we tried to make some (here in Boston) with a meat grinder, etc. Had to hunt down casing, and ended up having a big party while we made it (the recipe made tons and tons of meat boerie). But we were silly and didn't add enough fat. Good to hear the advice on how to incorporate the fat, we were grinding it in with the meat. Maybe we'll give it another go, more successfully this time!

  16. ...there is a butcher in Stellenbosch that makes the Best Boerewors I know, don't eat the stuff anymore(sigh!) but will try and get you his contact details.


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