How To Cook The Best Sausages
For Canadians seeking new sources of culinary pride, here’s a uniquely interesting tale. A hockey player turned master sausage-maker is by any measure a remarkable Canadian transition.
In the mid-1960s, Jean Cusson, a talented hockey player and a member of the Canadian national team, capitalized on his athletic gift and became a professional, playing in Switzerland for 15 years. But recognizing that hockey careers have a limited shelf life, he and his brother consulted about a new business they could “import” from Europe and open in Montreal. When it came to food, it was obvious that traditional immigrant consumers from Europe, typical members of the Canadian melting pot, wanted food they had enjoyed back home. And from every country on the continent, that included sausages. People in Montreal’s ethnic enclaves always sought out local butchers that sold products from “the old country,” so the Polish population would search for a transplanted butcher from Warsaw selling kielbasa and the North African Arab population would seek their authentic merguez, just as the French looked to leur boucher who offered Toulouse and new Canadians from Germany wanted their Weiswurst and Knackwurst. So the brothers Cusson opened a shop in the ethnic area of Cote des Neiges, designed to appeal to all. But, they were neither “authentic” nor specialists. Expressed kindly: the shop was considerably less than a success.
Ah, but here’s the Horatio Alger story. Herein lies the tale of how initial failure (“obstacle” sounds better!) coupled with entrepreneurial spirit, a dose of reflection and a large helping of Canadian tenacity has led to the most exciting and fascinating range of truly gourmet sausages in Canada. And, it’s more proof of how Canadians in all areas of the culinary world are evolving their own unique (and certainly exciting) culinary products. William J. Walter, master sausage makers are a Canadian phenomenon.
The master stroke of genius that led to a runaway success, was their choice to circumvent the traditional age-old market recipes. They tried again and opened a shop in the predominantly French Canadian area of Laval, Quebec’s second largest city, where there were no preconceived notions of what to buy. The locals were open to new tastes, and through second and third generations of intermarriage led to households that were open to something new. Who would have thought of mixing pork with pure honey and garlic? Three basics, all sourced locally. Or a fruit-flavoured variety, where pork is married with zest of orange, a touch of juice, a smidge of garlic and freshly-grated ginger? William J. Walter, developing into a master sausage maker, was only getting warmed up. Ah yes, warm: even spicy, perhaps? Coarsely ground lamb with homemade harissa and garlic, or Louisiana-style by adding Cajun spices and a dot of jalapenos.
Success began to breed success, and with French Canadian taste in mind veal and pork were mixed with savoury mild cheddar and bacon, and a deer and pork mixture with red wine and garlic became an instant success.
Eventually they began to experiment with new recipes, inserting vegetables such as fresh spinach and mild curry with fresh white mushrooms, and the inevitable touch of garlic. Even more fruit-enhanced sausage recipes emerged, where a mixture of apples and cranberry were flavour-enhanced with a soupcon of the most cinnamon. Of course, all the traditional sausage varieties are available, and among the most popular. But it’s the inspiration for new varieties that make this so exciting.
Once the creative juices start running, if you’ll accept a pun, Jean Cusson recognized that there were large segments of the population that had aversions (or health limits) to his creative gourmet range. The most obvious is that many people do not eat pork. But others are lactose intolerant and cannot eat sausages that commonly use breadcrumbs as a binder, while others are allergic to gluten.
So with imagination undiminished, the William J. Walter Company’s test kitchens broadened the choices to include chicken with tarragon, veal with basil and lamb sausages mixed with mint, each with their unique mixtures. Garlic averse? There are choices that even include pork mixed with Quebec maple syrup and crushed pecans. For people who are lactose intolerant, there is a range without milk or breadcrumbs, and for consumers allergic to gluten, you can dip into a wonderful choice that is gluten-free.
The secret for this astonishing expansion in 25 years is the recognition that while everyone in Canada has heritage “from the old country,” the second and third generation of every ethnic group lose their hard ties to most things, including food, and are open and indeed willing and excited to try new tastes.
In the past, the generally accepted idea of sausages were those of mega-producers like Maple Leaf Foods, who offer prepackaged products found in every supermarket. In almost all cases, you have to buy three, four or five in a package. Wouldn’t it be nice, instead, to go to a shop where you can speak to a trained salesperson who can offer expertise so you can try different varieties, buying one sausage at a time from 10 to 20 different choices? This is a food development that every Canadian can be proud of. The sources are as wide as the selection, with shops in Montreal’s two major markets The Atwater and Jean Talon, and another dozen shops across each sector in the Montreal area, extending to the Laurentian Mountains.
We can share Jean Cusson’s 25 years of pride, share in the range of tastes and find what we want almost anywhere in Quebec’s 25 stores. See williamjwalter.com for shop locations.
So keeping it all simple, what’s the ideal cooking method? There are, of course, a few different methods to cook sausages, but the master sausage maker suggests the best technique is the simple one; place your favourite sausage in water that’s barely bubbling, or even in a beef stock, perhaps with a little wine added. Heat it, but never let it boil. By keeping the temperature at just about the boiling point, barely quivering, the result gives you the juiciest flavour and the maximum taste.
Here are the steps:
In a pot or casserole, add your liquid just to the point of boiling. Make sure there’s enough room for the sausages to be fully covered.
Once the liquid has reached the boiling point, reduce the heat to medium and plunge the sausages without piercing or cutting. It is important that they remain whole.
Let the liquid do its work for about 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the sausages from the liquid.
To finish, either put them in a lightly oiled pan on medium heat to bring out that nice brown colour, or grill them on the barbecue, again without piercing or cutting, which also provides the firm crunchy texture on the outside. Minimal effort, maximum taste.
Cooking tip: To remember which sausages you like more than others, since you’re likely to buy one each of different styles, add a toothpick into your number one choice, two toothpicks for number two, and so on. You can do this just before cooking the sausages and become a true sausage taster.
And to finish: a couple of inspired recipes.
pasta and sausage à la st. bruno
1 lb of Italian sausage (or similar)
3 handfuls of fresh linguini (pepper or basil if possible)
A dollop of olive oil
1 medium package of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
3 cups of roquette (arugula) or fresh baby spinach
Freshly ground pepper and salt
Grated or finely sliced Parmesan cheese
Boil the sausages for 8 minutes and cut into small slices. Cook the pasta 5 minutes in rolling boiling salted water. Drain without rinsing.
At the same time heat the oil in a saucepan, and add the sliced sausages and cherry tomatoes for about 5 minutes on high heat. Add the garlic and roquette or spinach and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the pasta to the mixture and salt and pepper to taste.
Before serving, add a splash of oil and dress with the grated or finely sliced Parmesan.
sicilian tagliatelle carbonara after inspiration by jamie oliver
4 Italian Sausages (2 spicy and 2 mild)
Extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of thick pancetta, broken into small pieces
450 grams of tagliatelle
4 egg yolks
100 ml of 35% cream
100 grams of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 zest of lemon (grated yellow peel only)
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
With a sharp knife, cut and remove the skin of the sausages. Remove the meat and roll into small balls.
In a big frying pan, heat a little olive oil and add the sausage balls and cook until golden. Add the pancetta and cook for a few minutes until browning,
Meanwhile in a big pot, bring salted water (about 2 L) to a boil and add pasta. Do not add oil to the water.
In a big bowl mix the egg yolks, cream, half of the cheese, and all the grated lemon peel and parsley.
When the pasta is cooked, drain though a strainer. Reserve a glass of cooking water, add the tagliatelle into the egg mixture with the cooked sausage meat and mix thoroughly. The eggs will be cooked by the heat of the pasta. The sauce should be smooth and velvety in texture. If the pasta is too thick and viscous, add a little more cooking water.
Sprinkle the rest of the cheese and a splash of (preferably Sicilian) olive oil.
At the end, why not pair with a glass of Sicilian red wine?