If one word resonates the heritage left by the Germans, it would be sausage – a major player in products their farms and skilled butchers produced. The German style began with pork, wild game and wood smoking, later embracing French terminology such as andouille and boucherie, the fall custom of butchering hogs for winter.
If smoked meats once meant survival, they now are a preference on plates in the finest of restaurants, where chefs carry on the tradition with smokers and stuffing machines that are still a part of their urban kitchens.
For some chefs, including Donald Link, it’s all in the family. “My dad did the boucherie,” says chef and co-owner of Herbsaint and Cochon restaurants. “I grew up eating boudin.”
Link, recently named Best Chef in the South by the esteemed James Beard competition, grew up in Lake Charles, though his family is from Crowley. All sides of his family are German, including the Links and the Zaunbrechers who moved to southern Louisiana in 1880. They settled in Roberts Cove when 41 German immigrants landed that year in Acadia Parish.
And if Link isn’t making sausages in his restaurants, he’s back at Mowata (near Roberts Cove) making sausages with his family. They meet regularly in a camp behind the home of the late Nicholas J. Zaunbrecher, his great-great-grandfather who was instrumental in starting the rice industry in Louisiana.
“The families still make sausages once a month,” Link says. “I went in January and we made 2,000 pounds of sausage in one day between 7 a.m.-2 p.m. There were 10 guys representing different families.”
In the back dining room of Herbsaint, sausages hang in a converted wine cooler that keeps the correct temperature for aging. Link makes sausages there about once a week and every other day at Cochon, where sausages are a major specialty. He and his staff produce all kinds including pork, lamb and fennel sausages as well as salami, chorizo and andouille. Of course, boudin is a regular on both menus.
“Boudin’s actually very simple to make,” Link says, adding that the home cook can make it easily with the proper instructions. He also argues that the sausage we call andouille began with the type of pork sausage that Germans made here first. The French version originally used chitterlings to make both andouille and the smaller andouillette but today pork shoulder is widely used by all andouille makers.
Family histories of sausage making prevail throughout the river parishes but none more obvious than the Schexnayder family who originated in Hahnville in the early 1700s.
“We came from Alsace-Lorraine of France and Germany (depending on who was in power),” Wayne M. Schexnayder Jr. says. “We were known as German Creoles and we came here making sausages.” The heritage lives on with Schexnayder, who learned the business in his father’s supermarket in Hahnville.
“I always liked to work in the meat department,” he says. Today, he’s president of Schexnayder’s Acadian Foods, Inc., based in Kenner and not only produces sausages but also an array of Cajun and Creole products. Asked how many kinds of sausages he makes, he answers “too many,” naming a dozen or more kinds including wild game, seafood and pork.
He sells most of his sausages at farmers’ markets and through catering and is a regular at the German Coast Farmers’ Market in Destrehan, the Crescent City Farmers’ Market and others in Luling and Gretna.
“I make sausages the same way my grandfather taught me,” he says. “Sausage making is an art.”
Although Schexnayder says anybody can make sausage, he adds that not everybody can make good sausage. Some key factors are the temperature of the ingredients during the grinding process and the condition of equipment being used. Deer season is a busy time for Schexnayder, who takes in hunters’ wild game and turns it into sausage.
For the adventurous cook, sausage making can be a challenge worth taking. Mixers and food processors have sausage making attachments and special equipment and casings can be ordered on the Internet. Link recommends www.sausagemaker.com.
SIMPLE PORK SAUSAGE
6 pounds pork butt
1 1/2 pounds pork back fat
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground fennel
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons seedless chili flakes
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic
Cut pork and back fat into 2-inch squares. Place in a large bowl and mix in all remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Grind the sausage through a meat grinder on medium grind and stuff into casings. Twist into links every 6 to 8 inches. Makes about 8 pounds of sausage. These can be cooked by poaching in water, slowly cooked in beer, smoked or grilled.
Tip: For a finer, more emulsified texture, you can take half of the sausage meat, put it through a food processor and mix it back in with the other half before casing it. For this recipe, Link uses about 14 feet of 7-inch casings and a sausage maker to stuff the casings.
Tip: Keep everything cold when grinding meat. Link puts grinder pieces in ice water before using them.
2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into
1/2 pound pork liver, cut into
1-inch cubes (or chicken livers)
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium poblano pepper,
stemmed, seeded and chopped
3 medium jalapeño peppers,
stemmed, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon curing salt
2 teaspoons cayenne
1 teaspoon chili powder
8 1/4 cups water
7 cups cooked white rice
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped scallions
(white and green tops)
Combine the pork, liver, vegetables and seasonings and marinate from 1 hour to overnight.
In a large pot, cover meat with water (water should cover the meat by 1 to 2 inches) and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the meat is tender – about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and strain, reserving liquid. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and put all ingredients through a meat grinder (set on coarse grind) though Link usually chops his with a knife.
Place the ground meat in a large bowl. Using your hands or a rubber spatula, mix in the cooked rice, parsley, scallions and reserved cooking liquid and stir vigorously for 5 to 10 minutes. Feel free to use a mixer if you have one. Cool this to room temperature or even overnight to allow the mixture to absorb the rice.
At this point, feed the sausage into rinsed natural casings (they come packed in salt.) To do this, slide about 2 to 3 yards of casing onto the nozzle of a sausage stuffer. Tie a knot on the casing once the meat starts to come out. Guide the sausage onto a sheet pan that has a little water on it to keep the casings from drying out and cracking. Twist the sausage into 6 to 8-inch links, depending on how big you like your sausage. Makes 4 pounds of sausage.
From here, you can poach the links gently in a water bath for about 10 minutes. Do not cook on a grill or the sausages may split open. Also, you can take the sausage from the casings and use it as a stuffing for chicken. Or, roll it into boudin balls: Dredge sausage in an egg wash and then bread crumbs and fry in hot oil until golden brown.
Link uses 8 to 10 feet of casings for this recipe.