Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Braised Sausage

New cookbooks on home cooking by Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal will soon hit bookstore shelves in the United States. These offerings promise to rank as the most exciting cookbooks of the year. However, I predict that these books from the internationally renowned chefs of elBulli and The Fat Duck will get a run for their money from an outstanding new cookbook by a former Bar Tartine line cook and a UC Berkeley doctoral student. Together, for only four Thursday nights, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz operated a pop-up food stand out of a rented Guatemalan snack cart on San Francisco’s Mission Street. Mission Street Food [2011] chronicles this experience and its happy aftermath. Wonderfully heartfelt and idiosyncratic, Mission Street Food easily makes my shortlist of the best cookbooks of 2011. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Mission Street Food does not lend itself to easy categorization. It bills itself as “Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant”, but it is much more than that. Myint and Leibowitz tell the story of how a brief street food/fine dining experiment served as the catalyst for a series of successful, unique and exciting San Francisco restaurants. The book contains three main sections: The Taco Truck, The Restaurant, and The Food. Each section employs a range of styles: traditional prose, two-person dialog and comic book/graphic novel illustrations. The book’s quirky design reflects the playful quality of Myint’s delicious food and the married couple’s restaurant projects. In the section titled “The Food”—the book’s longest—Myint and Leibowitz share the recipes and cooking techniques that underpin their book.

Why do I like Mission Street Food so much? The book both delights and educates. (I particularly enjoyed reading Myint's expert advice on how to portion a rib roast and salt, temper and cook the meat.) Mission Street Food perfectly captures the current zeitgeist among a creative community of young, talented and generous San Francisco cooks. I applaud Myint and Leibowitz for building a philanthropic component into each of their projects. (Slow Food USA gets a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales.) At the cookbook’s outset the couple present a tongue-in-cheek business plan for Mission Street Food. Under the heading “Unprofitable Agenda” they write: “If The Restaurant earns any profit, The Management will distribute it to unrelated nonprofit organizations.”

But in the end, what is the test of a good book, cookbook or otherwise? For me, reading it brings me insight and joy. After arriving home with my copy of Mission Street Food I spent the next couple of hours reading it through cover-to-cover. I cannot remember the last time I’ve done that with a standard-issue cookbook.

The first recipe that I tried from the book remains my favorite, a simple recipe for Braised Sausage. Myint writes: “Braised sausage is a luxurious and uncomplicated dish, but is surprisingly uncommon on the West Coast.” A perfect dish for an informal gathering, you can even set it up in a slow cooker. Here’s Myint’s recipe (and asides) from Mission Street Food.

  • 8 uncooked sausages of any kind (I prefer a neutral variety, like Bratwurst)
  • 3 onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup stock, cider, or water
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, drained over a colander (optional)

1. Brown the sausage in a pan with some animal fat or oil.

2. Place the browned sausage in a deep ovenproof pan or in a slow-cooker pot.

3. Brown the onions briefly, then add them to the pan with the browned sausages.

4. Optional: heat sauerkraut in a pan, and add on top of the onions and sausages.

5. Add a combination of stock/wine/cider/water/beer to just cover the contents.

6. Cover with a layer of parchment and two layers of foil.

7. Braise at 300°F for a few hours, until the sausage is extremely soft.

And how good are these sausages? They taste rich and satisfying. I served them to my father-in-law who grew up on the shores of Lake LaBelle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He knows a thing or two about bratwurst and these braised sausage suitably impressed him.

I suggest adding the sauerkraut; I wouldn’t make it any other way. I used beer as my liquid and braised the sausages for 3 hours.

Normally I buy my bratwurst from Usinger’s in Milwaukee; they are the best I’ve tasted in the United States. However, for this recipe I tried a locally made bratwurst from Taylor’s Sausage in Oakland, California; they tasted delicious. If you plan to go to Taylor’s, call ahead because bratwurst is not a regular offering in their meat case. If available, buy them and also pick up a few of Taylor’s boudin blanc sausages for another meal. You won’t be disappointed.