"If you're going to grill, you can mark it first on a hotter part of the grill," says Chris Ying, editor in chief of Lucky Peach and co-author of The Wurst of Lucky Peach. "Then move it to the cooler, indirect heat to finish cooking gently and slowly, and let all of those fats and everything break down inside of the sausage."
David Leite: Why sausage? What is it about sausage that made Lucky Peach and you write your first single-subject book?
Chris Ying: Can I be totally honest with you about this? A lot of things that we do at Lucky Peach start as a joke. When we were trying to come up with what our first subject would be for this series of single-subject cookbooks, this pun The Wurst of Lucky Peach occurred to me. I suggested that as a book title. From there, we kicked around some other ideas, but realized that a sausage book called The Wurst of Lucky Peach was really the best idea we had. So that's why we decided on sausage to begin with.
DL: That's just as good of a reason as any. It's very Lucky Peach. Speaking of very Lucky Peach, this is not a traditional cookbook.
CY: It's not exactly a cookbook. We imagined it as a Lucky Peach issue gone crazy. There are a lot of essays, information, humorous bits and rants, and then a good number of recipes to go with it.
DL: You have all of these op-ed pieces, or what you call rants, throughout the book, which really give a lot of humor and a lot of voice to this particular topic of sausage. As you were going through the book, writing it and collecting all the information from your contributors, what are some of your favorite international sausages?
CY: Each continent has its own things that it's known for -- Europe being the mothership of sausages from which so many of these other ones spring. Anywhere that colonialism has gone basically, European sausages have gone as well.
In Europe you've got the käsekrainer, the cheese-stuffed sausage from Austria, which is a favorite of mine. In Thailand you've got your isan sausages, which are these little, tiny, sour orbs that look as though they're cells that haven't fully split. Those are some favorites of mine.
In America I've got to say just the chili dog is my favorite hot dog. I grew up with chili dogs. Those were my formative sausage experiences.
DL: As you and your contributors were basically globe-hopping writing this book, what are some of the must and must-nots that you fell upon and came up with when it came to making sausage, eating sausage and cooking?
CY: Sausage cooking can be a delicate proposition because you've got this thing that is being held together by, in most cases, this natural intestinal casing. If you're not careful, it can burst early in the cooking, and you're going to lose all of the goodness of what's inside the sausage. That being said, they are also more forgiving than, I would say, a steak, a piece of chicken breast or something like that.
It's about being intelligent with your heat management when it comes to cooking a sausage. If you're going to grill, you can mark it first on a hotter part of the grill. Then move it to the cooler, indirect heat to finish cooking gently and slowly, and let all of those fats and everything break down inside of the sausage.
DL: Talk to me about some of the dos and don'ts for braising sausage and smoking sausage.
CY: Braising sausage is a really underutilized form of cooking sausages. People who are from Green Bay and have eaten brats will probably be more familiar with that method than the rest of the country. We usually think about sausages as being cooked in a pan, over a grill or occasionally smoked.
But when you braise a sausage -- that is to say sear it briefly, nestle it in whatever aromatic herbs and vegetables (onions, alliums and things like that), and then cook it gently with liquid -- you get this really entirely different thing. It's not a sausage that you snap into and have the juices come out. It has the same effect as braising a pork shoulder or anything else like that. The meat becomes this really soft and succulent thing that is not how we generally think of sausage. Then once you've braised it, you can take it out, cool it, and then grill it to get a little char on there.
I find braising sausage to be such a thing that not enough people are doing. Smoking sausages, for those who have access to a smoker or have the patience and wherewithal to set up some indirect heat, is amazing too. It's an art form that is probably best practiced in Texas, in Hill Country barbecue establishments -- at least that's where I've had my favorite ones.
But when you're making a sausage, you're basically recreating this cut of meat -- you're using these cuts of meat that have lots of collagen and things in common with slow-cooking cuts. The indirect smoking or braising break these down really slowly and gently, like I said, just like a pork shoulder, a pork belly or a lamb shank. You get this very different but equally delicious end result.
DL: What is the takeaway that you would like people to have when they pick up The Wurst of Lucky Peach?
CY: With sausage making and being able to dictate all of the terms of what your end results are, I find it to be such a rewarding process. We provide the instructions for making your own sausages and for what to do with them. We don't want people just singeing their sausages on the grill. There are aspects of sausage making and sausage cookery that are unexplored. I would like for people to go out there and try them.