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09/24/2011

~ Kielbasa: The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage ~

6a0120a8551282970b015435b4d00d970c-800wiOktoberfest, Germany's world-renowned annual fall festival, takes place in Munich.  This year it runs from September 17th to October 3rd.  When I hear the word Oktoberfest, I automatically think of copious amounts of traditional German food, beer swilling, lots of partying and lederhosen.  While I have never been to Munich when these festivities are in full-swing, I do have some experience drinking and eating in an authentic Oktoberfest-type beer tent. Lakewood Park (a now defunct amusement park located in Barnesville, PA) was about a 15-minute ride from my parents house.  In the late 1970's-1980's, each year it hosted The Bavarian Beer Festival, which was touted as the best Oktoberfest in the state of Pennsylvania!

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f59c4970c-800wiI've always enjoyed German food, probably because it is a close cousin to the Eastern European food I grew up eating:  sauerkraut, pickled eggs, potato pancakes (and all things potato), horseradish, hot mustard, pickles (and all things pickled), rustic caraway rye and dark pumpernickel breads were foods I encountered on a regular basis.  There were no discernible differences in the way my mom braised a pork roast and my mom's friend Mrs. Schmidt braised one. They both produced great apple cake, apple pie, apple sauce (and all things apple).  The difference surfaced in type of sausage we Eastern Europeans added to our 'kraut compared to what the German's added:  kielbasa.

(~ Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~ can be found in Categories 1, 4 or 12!)

Before I go any further, let there be no mistake about this:  The Germans are indeed the culture that gets claim to the title of Sausage-Making King.  How could the inventors of the Frankfurter (or Wiener) not be king... and I for one will be forever grateful for this.  They are responsible for an impressive list of other sausages as well:

Blutwurst:  (blood sausage) diced, cooked pork and blood (very short shelf life, not for the faint-of-heart)  

Bockwurst:  plump, lightly-seasoned (leeks, chives or green onions), white-colored, finely-ground veal with a little pork added; fresh or occasionally lightly-smoked

Bratwurst:  moderately-seasoned, white-colored, finely-ground pork/or sometimes veal; fresh or smoked

Cervelat:  heavily-seasoned, smoked beef or pork (safe to eat without further cooking)

Knockwurst:  well-seasoned (garlic), pink-colored, pork and veal (sometimes beef is added); lightly-smoked

Note:  The most common seasoning in German sausages are salt, white pepper (not black) and mace.  German sausage makers use a light-hand when it comes to spicing, with each having their own spice blend.  Common additives are cumin, coriander, cardamom, marjoram, thyme, sage, caraway, garlic and cloves.  Authentic versions do not contain parsley.

These sausages can all be boiled, broiled, grilled, panfried, and yes, even deep-fried.  Germans like to serve theirs warm with sauerkraut, potato-bacon salad, dark bread and beer!

Kielbasa:  The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage

PICT0940 My family comes from a long-line of kielbasa makers or friends of kielbasa makers.  "Kielbasa" is the Polish word for "sausage" but it's commonly called Polish sausage. And, just like its German cousin the "wurst", it can come to you in many forms.  So, don't ever wander into a Polish-owned butcher shop and order "a ring of kielbasa", because you will be asked "what kind", and after that, you'll most likely have ten or more types to choose from!

Each type of kielbasa has a second Polish name attached to it (for instance:  Kielbasa Krakowska, lightly seasoned with allspice, bologna-looking in appearance and served in the same manner).  That being said, the one I'm focusing on here today is the one we are most familiar with.  It is also the one our immigrant ancestors brought with them to America:  Polska Kielbasa Wedzona. Within the sausage making community, each maker takes some/limited liberties with his or her meat or spice blend, but the basics and the method for Kielbasa Wedzona have been well-defined for centuries:

~ It is made with all pork or a mixture of pork and beef (80/20) and seasoned with salt, black pepper, sugar, garlic and marjoram.

~ The meat is cured before it is mixed with the spices and stuffed into all-natural hog casings.

~ Traditionally, it is cold-smoked for 1-2 days.

Because I come from a long-line of kielbasa makers, I am here to tell you I never buy my kielbasa vacuum-packed in the grocery store.  I won't "name names", but I demand the REAL DEAL my friends.  Manufacturers can and do put anything they want into their sausage (and my blood boils when I see turkey on the ingredients list).  I am here to tell you, if you taste "it" side-by-side a real, Polish-butcher-made kielbasa, you'll walk away from the packaged "stuff" too!

A very close personal friend of mine for many years, Jamison Steffen, Executive Chef of The American Ale House & Grill, right here in State College, is my source for what I believe to be the best quality kielbasa in Pennsylvania.  Don't take this statement lightly folks.  In Eastern PA, where I grew up, my mom got hers from a butcher in Shenandoah.  In Scranton, where Joe grew up, his mom got hers from a butcher in Dixon City.  Both are indeed excellent.  That being said, after tasting the kielbasa I get via Chef Jami, both moms have put me in charge of obtaining kielbasa for their family.  Jami has nothing but the highest praise for the E J Weiss Co., a butcher shop located in Johnstown, PA and I couldn't agree more! 

PICT0945 When my kielbasa arrives it is not in 12" links or 1-pound rings.  It is also not vacuum-packed.  It is a thing of Polish beauty... a 5-pound rope of perfectly seasoned, meaty, garlicy goodness.  To make it more user-friendly, I just find a crease and slice through it, to form 5-6 rings.  If you prefer links, just slice each ring in half at the other end.  I will cook what I intend to use today and freeze the rest for another time!

PICT0949 I'm having some friends over this evening for an Oktoberfest tailgate after today's Penn State game against Eastern Michigan and we're serving kielbasa instead of brats! I'm serving it as an appetizer with some hot mustard for dipping!

~ Step 1.  Using the tip of a very sharp knife, across the surface of each ring or link, poke a series of shallow slits, spacing them randomly, about 1 1/2" apart.

PICT0958 ~ Step 2.  My all-time favorite way to "cook" kielbasa (it really just needs to be heated through) is to briefly simmer it.  This method keeps it plump, juicy and succulent!

Place desired number of links (I'm making 3) in a skillet (I'm using a 5.5-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides).  Add 1/2" of water to pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

PICT0967 ~ Step 3.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer. Cover pan and continue to simmer 10-12 minutes. The little holes you poked in the casing will have opened up a bit and there will be liquid bubbling out of them.  

Note:  If the casing on the kielbasi begins to split or tear:  the kielbasi will be still be edible, but slightly overcooked.  Error on undercooked!

~ Step 4.  Remove from heat.  Using a pair of tongs, remove kielbasa from pan and transfer to a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to cool at least 10 minutes prior to slicing and serving hot, warm, at room temperature or chilled:

PICT1009 Keilbasa:  The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage:  Recipe yields instructions for perfectly cooking authentic Polish Sausage.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; skillet w/lid, sized accordingly; tongs; plastic wrap

PICT1206 Cook's Note:  A really refreshing, simple appetizer that pairs perfectly with kielbasa (or brats) and hot mustard is my recipe for ~ Fun w/Fall Fruit:  Apple and Pear Hors D'Oeuvres ~.  You can find it by clicking into Category 1!  

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

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